Monday, May 21, 2018

New Designs at Redbubble

Not only do I write about food and take photos of food, I use those photos to create fabric designs. The four below are some of my latest designs and can be found on everything from travel mugs to duvet covers and more. I particularly like them on scarves, tote bags, and sofa pillows.

Check out the links below every photo to see my whole line, sold by Redbubble.com.

Good Morning

Koreatown

Little Italy

Taco Tuesday

* 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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Spotlight On - Cafe Gia

Not sure if anyone knows, but I've been writing a restaurant column for the City Walker App Blog. The purpose of the app itself is to give visitors a local's-eye-view of a city, so they are able to experience it in the same way residents do--on foot. (Not that anyone actually walks anywhere anymore.) The blog offers a bit more detail; I have endeavored to take users on a stroll through the city while pointing out restaurants along the way. In addition to the walking posts, I have been writing others that put certain favorite restaurants of mine in a spotlight. I thought I could share those here with you.
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The brick building at the corner of President and Fleet Streets--currently home to the Baltimore Civil War Museum--has seen a lot of action over the years. Originally a train station, it was involved in the Baltimore Riot of 1861, a skirmish that produced the first casualties of the Civil War. President Street Station was also the terminus for scores of Italian immigrants who had originally entered the U.S. through Ellis Island in New York and took the train to Baltimore. They came from all over Italy--from Genoa and Naples on the mainland, Palermo and Cefalu in Sicily--and many settled down virtually at the station’s doorstep in the neighborhood that became known as Little Italy.

So it came to be that multiple generations of the same Italian family lived in the same small rowhouse with hopes to raise future generations in the same place. Today, most of the neighborhood is still of Italian descent, but there are folks of other ethnicities living here and there, drawn to the neighborhood’s warmth and staying power, and its proximity to downtown. The Aquia family are relative newcomers to the area, having only arrived in Baltimore from Cefalu, Sicily, in 1953. Matriarch Giovanna has said, “at a time when no one liked to move around, our family traveled 3500 miles and we haven’t moved 200 feet since.” Gia Fracassetti, Giovanna’s daughter, is first-generation American and the third generation to live in Little Italy. She decided she wanted to own a restaurant that honored not only her family’s long association with the neighborhood, but also with their Sicilian homeland. She and her Mom opened their eponymous restaurant in 2006 in a corner building embellished inside and out with colorful murals, some depicting life in Sicily, including a replica of the wedding portrait of Rosa and Pasquale, the first generation of the Aquia family to settle in Little Italy. Painted images from old advertising posters decorate the interior, and even the tabletops sport colorful illustrations, all done by local artist Yuri Fatkulin who sadly passed away not long after he finished painting those tables.

The chef at Cafe Gia is Gianfranco Fracassetti. Gian, who hails from Lombardy in the northwest of Italy, worked for a few Baltimore restaurants before ending up at Cafe Gia in 2009. After eight years there, he’s a member of the family. Literally, as he and Gia are married and have added a fourth generation to their Little Italy legacy. Chef Fracassetti’s specialty is homemade stuffed pastas, but he’s no slouch when it comes to anything else on the menu. On a recent visit, hubs and I were able to sit outside on their shaded second floor deck and enjoy the pleasant sunny weather without actually coming in contact with the sun. We ordered a special that evening, a flavorful tuna tartare with the crunch of fresh white corn and a healthy dose of garlic from the pesto aioli that bound it together. We also enjoyed a beet salad, which is not to say a green salad with a few token beets on top, but a great mound of tender cubed red barbabietole (a fun word pronounced “barh bah BYIH toh leh”) in the lightest of dressings, with a lacy garnish of finely shaved fresh fennel. I was intrigued by a pork shank braised with beer (a Flying Dog IPA) and peaches accompanied by a risotto with walnuts and broccolini. It was a dish that managed to be both rustic and elegant in all its many flavors and textures, from the porky depth of the man’s-fist-sized shank and the light sweetness of the rich sauce, to the perfectly cooked rice with vaguely asparagus-like broccolini and crunchy nuts. I loved it. My husband went classic; his order of tender veal saltimbocca had a pronounced sage flavor and just the right amount of cheese. It came with sides of roasted multicolored potatoes and green beans slicked with olive oil. A cannoli for dessert (though we were sorely tempted by Giovanna’s delicious tiramisu) and glasses of Sangiovese rounded out our meal.

On past visits, we’ve enjoyed the grilled octopus served with garbanzo beans, the super-tender sous-vide calamari, the beefy Bolognese sauce over house-made fettuccine, and the eggplant Parmesan. Also recommended are the polpette di Luca, meatballs made with ground bison and ricotta. Though bison is a leaner protein than beef, these meatballs are very moist and tender and remind me of the ones my aunt made. She wasn’t Italian, but her father-in-law was, and his recipe made the very best meatballs on the planet as far as I am concerned.

You may, of course, prefer to have a cocktail or a glass of wine with a few nibbles rather than a full meal. Next door to Cafe Gia is Pane e Vino, a sweet little wine bar owned by Steven Blatterman, Gia’s brother, but definitely a family affair. We love their specialty cocktails, our favorite being the Spicy Sicilian, a sprightly combination of pepper vodka, limoncello, kumquat syrup, and lemon, but the vodka/grapefruit/ginger flavors of the Charm City Girl and the tequila, blood orange, and ginger beer concoction called Redheads Have More Fun are tasty as well. The full Cafe Gia menu is also available at Pane e Vino, in case the crispy chickpeas on the bar whet your appetite for more.

Cafe Gia
410 S High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 685-6727

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Flashback Friday - Cantaloupe Gazpacho

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 16, 2013.
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There's nothing like a cold bowl of gazpacho to cool one off on a hot summer day. Ok, maybe an air conditioner does a pretty good job, too, but you can't eat an air conditioner. :)

We had a couple of pretty large cantaloupes on hand and they were ripe. I figured we could eat one as-is, and do something, wasn't quite sure, with the other one. We also had a wilting red bell pepper in the fridge AND a cucumber, so I thought that was a sign to make gazpacho.

I checked the Interwebs for gazpacho recipes and most of them included tomatoes but excluded peppers. Bah - I'd just make up my own.

Cantaloupe Gazpacho

1 red bell pepper
1 medium cantaloupe
1 cucumber
slice or two of bread, crusts removed (optional)
sherry vinegar
champagne vinegar
pinch coriander
toasted pumpkin seeds
mint leaves
black walnut oil

Roast the bell pepper over a gas flame or under a broiler until charred in spots. Put in a paper bag or in a covered bowl and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove as much skin as possible, stem and deseed the pepper and cut it into pieces.

Cut the cantaloupe in half and remove the seeds. Scoop out the flesh into the container of a blender. Add the red pepper pieces. Peel the cucumber, cut it into chunks, and stuff it into the blender with the other stuff.

Puree the fruit and vegetables. If it seems too watery, add some of the bread, broken into small pieces before pureeing, until the consistency is acceptable.

The soup will be sweet, so add as much or as little vinegar as you think it needs. I put in a tablespoon of both sherry and champagne vinegars, but you can use one or the other. I also added a pinch of ground coriander, but that's entirely up to you. If you prefer cumin, go for it.

Serve the soup well-chilled. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, mint if you have it, and either a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or black walnut oil. I like Hammons, which adds a whole new and interesting earthiness and is available at Nuts.com.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Flashback Friday - Sugar Snap Pea Salad

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 23, 2013.
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I love sugar snap peas, especially raw. I've been known to buy a bag of them to snack on during the long train ride to New York - they take care of both the urges for crunchy things and sweet things, and are full of folate, Vitamin C, and fiber. Win-win!

I tossed a bag of sugar snap peas into the grocery cart one week with no plans for them. Eventually, I opened it up and started snacking. Before I got too far, however, I thought I should share their goodness with my loving husband.

After checking the Internet, I found a number of snap pea salad recipes that involved radishes. That made sense to me, because both vegetables have that horseradish-y bite (it's very subtle in the peas, but it's there). I didn't like any of the dressing ideas, and most of them had cheese of some sort, which did not photograph well at all. Then I found one that was Asian-y, with soy and sesame oil. It used fruit preserves too, which I thought was overkill. The peas are sweet already! Instead, I put in the tiniest bit of peanut butter, which helped emulsify the dressing.

The end result was delicious, and we polished off all of it in one sitting.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

1/2 teaspoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups fresh raw sugar snap peas
1 cup radishes, trimmed
1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

Put the peanut butter in a small bowl with the soy sauce. Beat with a fork until incorporated. Add the vinegar, ginger, sugar, sriracha, and oils and beat until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. The dressing should be boldly flavored, as the vegetables will water it down.

Julienne the sugar snaps and slice the radishes. Place in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Just before serving, stir in the peanuts. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if necessary.

Serves 2-4

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