Friday, September 21, 2018

Flashback Friday - Busy Mom's Cookbook

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on August 3, 2012.


Antonia LoFaso was thisclose to winning Top Chef season 4, and did extremely well again on Top Chef All Stars. Now, she's writing cookbooks. Her first is The Busy Mom's Cookbook: 100 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, Home-Cooked Meals. I got a review copy to read, and I must say...I wasn't quite getting it at first.

When I think of a busy mom, I think of a person who is too busy to cook a hot home-cooked meal because there's so little time between running kids to school and softball and ballet and whatever. Of course, I'm not a mom at all, busy or not, but I can tell you that on most nights, the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is to make dinner. Flipping through this book, I see recipes for homemade ricotta and other stuff that takes far longer than the thirty to sixty minutes that some people are willing to put toward preparing a week-night dinner.

But then I got to thinking. Antonia is a working mother herself - one who cooks all day long. If these recipes are ok with her, who am I to judge?

Mr Minx and I decided to put her recipe for spaghetti and meatballs to the test. It was fairly easy and pretty tasty (but probably won't replace our usual recipe).

The sauce is a simple affair of canned whole tomatoes (San Marzano, please), olive oil, and garlic. An Emerilesque amount of garlic - eight cloves each in the sauce and the meatballs. In both cases, the garlic is cooked quite a bit so it doesn't overpower. Honestly, I don't mind a little raw garlic now and again and think the meatballs would be better with two cloves of raw garlic rather than the eight cloves of lightly sauteed garlic, but that's just my personal preference. I also think a full cup of heavy cream in the meatballs is overkill. Not that it makes the meat mixture sloppy - surprisingly, it did not. But meatballs don't need cream - and neither do your children.

In other words, don't go thinking that this book is full of low-calorie, vegetable-laden, 30-minute meals. The title is misleading. This cookbook is for anyone who likes to cook and likes to eat, and hopefully has children who feel the same way.

All Top Chef is giving away one copy of the book, so if you're interested, head on over there and leave a comment on that post.

Posted on

Monday, September 17, 2018

Homemade Chubby Hubby Ice Cream

I am an ice cream fanatic. I could eat it every day (but I don't). One of my all-time favorite flavors is Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby (though it ranks a distant second to B&J fabulous Wavy Gravy). Chubby Hubby seemed to disappear from the market. I heard that it was discontinued. Now I hear it's back again, but different--the pretzels have changed or something. I still haven't seen it in the grocery store, so it seemed like high time to attempt to make it at home. And here's the recipe.

I changed the name to avoid copyright infringement. Also to be more inclusive.

Pudgy Partner Ice Cream

For the ice cream:
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons softened cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup malted milk powder

To finish:
Fudge ribbon
1 cup peanut butter-filled pretzels, lightly crushed (I used Trader Joe's)
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter, warmed in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to liquefy

For the fudge ribbon:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon fine or table sea salt
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the ice cream: Mix 2 tablespoons of the whole milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese and salt together until smooth. Prepare a shallow ice bath: in a large bowl or baking pan, place an inch of cold water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Cook the remaining milk, cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a large saucepan until it comes to a rolling boil, Boil for 4 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn't boil over (stir when it starts to expand), remove from heat, and slowly whisk in the slurry. Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Blend a few tablespoons of hot milk mixture into the cream cheese to loosen it, then pour the cream cheese mixture into the pan of milk. Whisk well until smooth. Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid and place the container into the ice bath until cool, ensuring that the water level doesn't come up as far as the lid. When the mixture seems mostly cool, refrigerate until completely cold.

To finish: Make fudge ribbon.

To make the fudge ribbon: Combine all of the ingredients except the vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook on low heat until everything is melted, then cook an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Freeze ice cream according to manufacturers instructions. Once  the ice cream is done, scoop some into a large lidded storage container. Drizzle on some of the fudge sauce--feel free to allow it to settle in big globs--followed by some of the pretzels, and some of the peanut butter. Continue to layer ice cream, fudge, pretzels, and peanut butter--ending with a layer of ice cream--until all ingredients have been used up. Press a piece of wax paper onto the surface of the ice cream. Seal container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

There will be a little bit of fudge sauce left over. Store in a covered container in the fridge. Warm it up in the microwave for a few seconds to use as hot fudge sauce, or eat it from the container with a spoon.

Posted on

Friday, September 14, 2018

Flashback Friday - A Tale of Two Burgers

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on June 27, 2012.

We went to Hamilton Tavern specifically to eat their Crosstown Burger. We'd both been jonesin' for some beefy goodness after eating mostly poultry and fish for the past several weeks. Word around town was that Hamilton Tavern had some of the best burgers in town and we needed some of that.

We also heard that the Tavern got crowded, so we got there just after it opened on a Saturday afternoon, took one of the few tables in the small restaurant, and settled back to admire the Art Deco bar back and the old tools that decorated the walls while we waited for our food.

Not long after we got our beers (Brewer's Art Resurrection for me; the owner is a partner in that restaurant, too), our fried pickle appetizer arrived.

The juicy slices of sour pickle slices coated in an armor of batter and deep fried were accompanied by a tangy goat cheese dip. Personally, I think a sweeter dip would have provided more of a contrast in flavors and would have worked better, but I enjoyed the pickles in their rather hard crusts.

After a bit of a wait (perfection takes time), we got our burgers. Mr Minx got his as advertised, but I opted to add sweet spicy bacon to my burger and swapped out the fries for a side of Boh-battered Os.

The burger portion of the meal was outstanding. The fat patty was juicy and moist inside, pink but not quite medium. The Tavern did not skimp on the horseradish cheddar, and the cheesy flavor was prevalent in every bite. The bacon added a bit of sweetness that I really enjoyed. My only problem with the sandwich was the bun from nearby Hamilton Bakery; it tasted terrific, but shedded something awful. Not exactly fell apart, it was sturdy enough to withstand the weight and moisture of the burger, but pieces of the crust adhered to my fingers every time I put the burger back down on the plate. Eventually I was left holding the insides.

The onion rings were a huge disappointment. If I thought of them as donuts filled with onion, they worked better, but as onion rings, they were a failure. They were too doughy, not crispy enough, and too sweet. Mr Minx's fries were bland and a bit undercooked.

Overall, however, a stellar burger experience that we're eager to recreate over and over again.

Flash forward to the following weekend, when we once again had a hankering for red meat. Not wanting to be boring and go back to Hamilton Tavern, we decided to head to Piv's Pub in Cockeysville. Their online menu listed a 10oz char-grilled burger on a brioche bun, which sounded pretty tasty.

And it was tasty. The meat had a good char on it and the grilled flavor took me straight to Summer cookouts. But, unlike the burger at Hamilton Tavern, Piv's burger was as dry as a desert. There was a slight tint of pink inside, but it was nowhere near the requested medium. And the burger was as flat as a pancake, with a dense, compressed, texture, which tells me that it was smashed unmercifully against the grill, which produced a nice crust but allowed all of the meat's moisture to escape into the flames.  

Honestly, why do people do that? Are they stupid? Are they in such a rush to get the food out to the customer that they willingly let quality slide? Eating this dry burger made us realize why the wait for our burgers at the Tavern seemed so long. Because they were cooked with care.

We also tried the slider sampler, which included one each of shrimp salad, crab cake, and pulled pork in addition to the horribly dry beef. The best of these was the crab cake, which was moist and had nice chunks of crab. The shrimp salad was bland, and the pulled pork was very salty. The rolls had been toasted, which might be a nice touch for larger burgers, however, these were very dry as a result. And the fries, the kind with the little bumps on them, what I call "shrapnel," clearly came out of a bag from the freezer. Disappointing.

Slightly less disappointing was the wedge salad, which inexplicably came deconstructed, with bland bleu cheese dressing and mass-produced croutons. Once everything was cut up and mixed together, it tasted fine, but it wasn't $8.50 worth of salad.

Neither meal was perfect, but you can probably guess where we'll be spending our money in the future.

Hamilton Tavern
5517 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214
(410) 426-1930

Piv's Pub
9811 York Rd
Cockeysville, MD 21030
(410) 666-7487

Posted on

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Thai-ish Supper

Ordinarily, I plan our weekend dinners a few days in advance, but other times I just wing it. We normally have enough raw ingredients in the house to produce something interesting without having to make a run to the store. On this particular weekend, I decided to use some of the Trader Joe's cod we had in the freezer. Cod's not my favorite--I'm not into its weird, almost-buttery, flavor-- but it's relatively inexpensive and cooks quickly. I thought I could do something like my old standby Sriracha Bouillabaisse, which is relatively easy. (I was feeling lazy.) Then I noticed a jar of Thai chilli paste with sweet basil in the cupboard, next to a can of coconut milk, and dinner suddenly veered off in a slightly different direction.

Both recipes start with sauteeing aromatics, then adding tomatoes, stock, and something spicy. In this case, the spicy element is provided one of my favorite condiments. I discovered chilli paste with sweet basil leaves at H Mart many years ago. There are a couple of variations and brands available, with holy basil, or labeled as "pad kapao" sauce. All of them contain some variety of Thai basil, chile peppers, soy bean oil, garlic, and salt. The flavors are spicy and aromatic, bright and fragrant, great with everything (I think). If you appreciate the licorice-like flavors of Thai basil and are into hot stuff, I think you'll like it.

I mostly had peppers on hand--an orange bell pepper and a bag of shishitos that I haven't gotten around to using. I chopped up a handful of those; while not really spicy, shishitos still have the flavor profile of a hot green pepper, which I vastly prefer over a green bell pepper. Green beans would work nicely in this dish, too, so if you have some, toss them in. Hell, any veg would be good, and shrimp or tofu would work just as well as the fish.

I simmer the veg and wet ingredients until they look more like a sauce than a soup, adding lots of fish sauce, lime juice, and a pinch or two of sweetener (sugar, agave nectar, honey) to get a balanced flavor. Restaurant Thai food, at least in this area, tends to be sweet. It's nice to be able to cut back on the sweetness when preparing food with Thai flavors at home, but I still think many dishes need at least a touch of sweetness to balance the more intense flavors of chiles and fish sauce.

The protein is added at the last minute and heated only until cooked through. Overcooked fish is a bad thing, so don't do it. I don't think you can overcook tofu, but probably best not to let that go too long, either. I served the dish with plain jasmine rice, your favorite grain would probably be fine. If you reduce the sauce even more before seasoning, you could probably eat this over pasta, should you be so inclined.

Thai Basil Coconut Fish

2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 orange bell pepper, sliced thinly
1-3 green chiles of your choice (jalapenos or whatever you have on hand), sliced thinly
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro stems
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
1 Knorr fish bouillon cube plus 1 cup water, or 1 8-oz bottle of clam juice
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can coconut milk
2 heaping tablespoons Maesri chilli paste with sweet basil leaves (or to taste)
Fish sauce
Lime juice
Sugar to taste
1 pound boneless, skinless cod filets, or similar white-fleshed fish
Rice for serving
Cilantro and sliced green onion for garnish

Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or large pan with lid. Add the onion, peppers, cilantro stems, and a big pinch of salt.. Stir occasionally, cooking until veg have softened a bit and starting to brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute or so. Add the bouillon or clam juice, tomatoes, and coconut milk and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes to evaporate some of the liquid and concentrate the flavors.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add the chilli paste and taste for seasoning. If you are serving this with rice, you'll need the sauce to be somewhat aggressively seasoned. Add fish sauce for salt--I used a couple of tablespoons. You can add some kosher salt, too. Add a few squeezes of lime juice and a bit of sugar. Once you have the sauce flavored to your liking (it should have a nice spicy/tangy/sweet balance, but do what works for your palate), slip in the pieces of fish. Cover the pan and cook until the fish is cooked through and easily flakes apart, about 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls, with rice on the bottom or on the side. Garnish with cilantro.

Serves 4.

* 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!

Posted on