Monday, February 08, 2016

Calbee USA

Just in time for Super Bowl snacking, we received not one but two boxes full of goodies from Calbee, a Japanese snack manufacturer that has been around since 1949. Perhaps best known for their shrimp-flavored crackers, they also make potato chips, potato sicks, and snow pea crisps, among other things. Available in Asian grocery stores (of which there are several on the west side of Baltimore County), Calbee snacks offer flavors that are a bit more unusual than the norm.

We immediately dug into the wasabi ranch Snow Pea Crisps and found them to have quite a nice punch of heat. The seaweed and salt chips were the next to be sampled, and we enjoyed their light "of the sea" flavor. Then I thought, as I was binge eating handfuls of the salty treats, we should do something with the snacks, you know, other than, um, binge eat them. Like cook with them.

Our first experiment was to use the hot garlic shrimp chips as a coating for tofu. (We have other ideas that we'll share in later posts.)

Not too hot, but pretty garlick-y, they're my favorite of the shrimp chip flavors, which also includes yuzu and black pepper, wasabi, and plain. All the flavors are definitely shrimpy, but I like that.

I crushed a couple ounces of the shrimp chips and combined them with a pinch of salt and some corn starch, using the resulting mixture to coat cubes of drained firm tofu. While the flavor of the chips was somewhat muted by the process, they lent a super crunch, almost as if the tofu had been deep fried rather than pan fried. With a little mayo-based dipping sauce, the tofu made a tasty dinner when paired with steamed rice and a vegetable. They'd make a great app, too.

Shrimp Chip-Crusted Tofu

(1) 14-to-16-ounce block of firm tofu
Calbee Shrimp Chips
Corn starch
Pinch salt
Oil for frying
2 tablespoons Thai chili paste with basil leaves (Por Kwan or Maesri brand, available at Asian supermarkets)
2 tablespoons mayo, preferably Kewpie
Couple splashes fish sauce

Remove the tofu from its container and blot dry. Wrap in paper towels, put on a plate, and weigh down with an empty saucepan or another plate. After an hour, remove the wet towels and repeat. Refrigerate drained tofu until ready to use.

Crush enough of the shrimp chips into a chunky dust equaling about 1/2 cup. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and the salt and put on a plate.

Cut the tofu into 1" cubes. Dredge each in the shrimp chip/cornstarch mixture, gently but firmly pressing the shrimp chip bits into the tofu. Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the tofu cubes and fry, turning pieces with tongs, until all sides are browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Drain tofu on paper towels.

Stir together the chili paste, mayo, and fish sauce. Serve tofu with sauce for dipping.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Valentine's Round-Up

We're staying in for Valentine's Day, but for those of you who want to spend the evening out on the town, consider one of these restaurants for your romantical feast. Open Table links take you directly to the restaurant's page on that site.

The French Kitchen
@ the Lord Baltimore Hotel
20 W Baltimore St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 539-8400

Enjoy a special V-day menu on the 12th and 13th as well as the 14th (or all three days!) For $55 pp, diners can enjoy three courses, including such tasty morsels as shrimp bisque with citrus creme fraiche and brioche croutons, lobster imperial, duck Chesapeake, and pot de creme au chocolate for two (pour deux). You can add a glass of wine for $10, two glasses for $15. Reserve your spot via Open Table.

The hotel is also offering a romance package they're calling "A Royal Affair, Truly!" for $179 per night (Feb 12-15). It includes complimentary valet parking, champagne with keepsake flutes, and a $50 restaurant credit, as well as a room for two. Hotel reservations can be made online at

B&O American Brasserie
@ the Kimpton Hotel
2 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(443) 692-6172

One can also have three delectable courses at the B&O. For $69 pp, choose from droolworthy dishes like oxtail agnolotti, Wagyu ribeye, and a pina colada sundae, flambeed tableside. $30 more will get you a wine pairing. Menu available from 2/12 - 2/14
Reservations via Open Table.

Prime Rib
@ Maryland Live! Casino
7002 Arundel Mills Circle #7777
Hanover, MD 21076

Their "Lover's Feast" includes an 8-oz Angus beef filet topped with blackened tuna, foie gras, and Beluga caviar, served with an 8-oz lobster tail. $150 pp, $250 per couple. Offered from 5:30pm - 10:30pm on Feb 14. Champagne (including Dom Perignon) and sparkling wines are half price. Reservations via Open Table.

Waterfront Kitchen
1417 Thames Street
Baltimore, MD 21231

Executive chef Chris Amendola has created a three-course prix fixe menu for $65 pp, (wine pairing + $45) that includes winners like oysters on the half-shell with pickle mignonette (which we can attest to being very delicious), pan roasted rock fish (ditto), and decadent chocolate truffle cake. The special menu is available 2/12 - 2/14.
Reservations via Open Table.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Craft Beer Pop-Up at ACC Show

Artist: Ping Wu
The American Craft Council show is one of my favorite annual events. I don't know how many years they've been in Baltimore, but I started going back in the mid-90s, when I was working for a retail jeweler. Not only is there a ton of great stuff to purchase (furniture, fashion, glass, pottery, jewelry, more), but it's also a great inspiration for the artists among us.

This year's show will be at the Baltimore Convention Center from February 19th - 21st. On-site admission is $16 for a one-day pass, $36 for all three days. If you buy tickets in advance online at, you save $2 on each.

Artist: Alex & Mona Szabados
If you can't get away from work to attend the show during the day on Friday, pop in after 5 for a sweet $5 admission. Think of it as an artsy Happy Hour. And yes, there will be alcohol! For the first time at the Baltimore show, the ACC will host special craft beer pop-ups on Friday, Feb 19 and Saturday, Feb 20. Attendees can meet with local brewers to learn about the process and taste a selection of microbrews. Presented by Bond Distributing Company, featured breweries include Union Craft, the Brewer's Art, Charm City Meadworks, Monument City, and Flying Dog. Woodberry Pantry will also be on hand to provide samples of their jams and jellies. The Balvenie, maker of Mr Minx's favorite Scotch, will be on-site too, hosting tastings of their handcrafted single malt.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Cowboy Meatloaf

The Classic Catering People, based in Owings Mills, Maryland, have been in business for a lot of years. They are the Ravens official training facility caterer, and they own Miss Shirley's. And they have a lot of recipes in their files, some of which they shared with us.

We had to test 'em out first, of course. Snowpocalypse/Snowmageddon/Snowzilla 2016 Edition seemed a good time to try the meatloaf recipe, supplied by chef John Walsh. With chorizo sausage in addition to the usual pork and beef, the dish was spectacular, tender and moist with lots of meaty flavor, a nice hit of herbaceousness, and a mild sweetness. Mr Minx said it was better than his (and his is fan-freaking-tastic). I'm not willing to go that far, but I will say that I would definitely make this recipe again.

As with most recipes, they're a guideline, not a law. Me being me, I made some adjustments, based on personal taste and on what I had in my pantry. (The recipe below includes the proportions exactly as given to me by TCCP.) I felt 1/2 cup soy and 2 teaspoons salt would be too much, so I cut the amounts of both ingredients by half. We don't have pre-ground pepper and rather than take 15 minutes turning the peppermill to produce 1 1/2 teaspoons (especially with sore arms from spending at least six hours of shoveling snow), I just put in a couple of cranks. Also, I'm not a huge thyme fan, so used only about 1 1/2 tablespoons rather than 1/4 cup (and that still seemed a bit much to my palate. YMMV). Finally, rather than open a whole package of bacon just for four slices, I smeared on a couple tablespoons of bacon jam before adding the bay leaves. Of course, if you don't have bacon jam on hand, you'll just have to use bacon strips.

Cowboy Meatloaf with Chorizo Sausage
By Chef John Walsh of The Classic Catering People
Serves 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 pound raw chorizo sausage (loose, removed from casings if in link form)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 1/2 pound ground pork  
3 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh thyme
1/3 cup finely chopped basil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup (divided use)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup Panko crumbs
3 bay leaves
4 slices of bacon
1/8 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large heavy skillet and cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low; cook until carrot is tender, another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in soy sauce, allspice, salt, and pepper.

Place chorizo in a large bowl with the ground beef and pork. Add cooked vegetable mixture, eggs, thyme, basil, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, heavy cream, and panko, and mix well to combine.

Form mixture into an oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish. Lay bay leaves on top and shingle bacon strips over loaf. Mix 1/4 cup ketchup and brown sugar together and coat the top of the meatloaf.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaves before serving.

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