Monday, July 28, 2014

Abbey Burger Bistro

Recently, as we were writing an article on burgers for Discover Baltimore, we felt the need to do just a tad more research. Also, we needed photos. We had been to Abbey Burger Bistro in the past on an epic day of eating. At that time, we were doing research for our first book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, and did a tour of Grilled Cheese & Co., Thai Arroy, Abbey, and Midnite Confection's (apostrophe theirs) Cupcakes all on the same evening. By the time we got to Abbey, we were stuffed with cheese and tofu and weren't able to enjoy our burgers as much as we could have. Still, we came away with good feelings about the place and vowed to return.

We arrived early on this occasion and were able to snag a table near the front door, which offered us a bit of light for photography. We eschewed the meats of the month (nothing against wild boar, but camel sounded a bit too strange) and the build-your-own-burger option and ordered straight off the menu.

We chose the fried pickles as our starter. Such things can be really hit or miss. We've had really bad ones and really mediocre ones, and were still looking for really good ones. And we found them at Abbey. The sour pickle slices were in a light crunchy batter that the menu billed as tempura but we thought was more similar to fish-n-chips-style beer batter. They were so tasty, they didn't really need the lightly spicy mayo-based dipping sauce (but we used it anyway).

As for the burgers, Mr Minx went for the Baltimore burger, topped with crab dip, applewood bacon, and cheddar. He enjoyed it, but my palate doesn't care for seafood + bacon (shrimp, scallops, and clams being exceptions). The bacon makes the seafood taste fishy to me. He also ordered a side of fries, which were perfect - very brown, crisp, and fresh-tasting.

The same cannot be said for my side of chips (the default), which were the unfortunate victims of humidity. Most of them were melded together into one damp mega-chip, and the loose ones tasted stale. But my burger, a mostly traditional "paddy" melt, was nice. The burger was cooked to medium, as requested, and there was plenty of cheese and sauteed onions. I did, however, miss the Thousand Island dressing.

Abbey offers myriad meats, toppings, and breads, so one can have kangaroo on an English muffin with brie, grilled pineapple, and salsa, or lamb, sprouts, white truffle oil, and relish on a pretzel roll. Or even a tasty combination of toppings. We'll give that a try next time, and I'm definitely ordering fries with my elk, nacho cheese, fried egg, and buffalo sauce on a pita.

Abbey Burger Bistro on Urbanspoon

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Chicken Bulgogi and Kimchi Pancakes

Long, long ago, I had my first taste of Korean food. My Dad, who is usually up for anything, decided that we needed to try the new Korean restaurant in Towson. Sadly, my young palate was not ready for the bold combination of spicy and sweet plus garlic, and I swore it off for many years. After I moved to Towson, well into my adult years, I thought I'd give Korean food another try. And what do you know--I loved it.

Mr Minx and I soon became regulars at that Towson Korean restaurant. Until it closed. A sad day.

Sometimes we venture out to a Korean restaurant in Ellicott City (like Honey Pig), but mostly we make Korean food at home. It's not difficult, and the results are super flavorful. And it helps that gochujang paste can be found in some supermarkets (those that carry Annie Chung products), as can kimchi (in the refrigerated produce section; Giant has it). Otherwise, there are plenty of Asian supermarkets in the Baltimore area (H Mart, Lotte, Great Wall) that have the ingredients you'll need.

Typically bulgogi is made with beef, but one can occasionally find it made with chicken. That's what I had in the freezer, so that's what I used. And I just happened to have a jar of kimchi in the fridge! Kimchi, even the Americanized stuff, is highly seasoned. However, don't skip the salt in the pancakes because you think the kimchi is salty enough. The rest of the ingredients are bland, so you'll need the extra seasoning to take care of the veggies and the batter. When I say "bland," I don't mean "not spicy." Even mild kimchi is quite hot, and so is the gochujang. If you're not into a lot of heat, skip the gochugaru in the bulgogi.

Chicken Bulgogi and Kimchi Pancakes

For the chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons gochujang
1 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon grated ginger
3 scallions, chopped

For the pancakes:
1 cup cabbage kimchi
1 cup chopped or julienned vegetables of your choice (I used thin asparagus but you can use carrot, regular cabbage, broccoli)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 scallions, finely chopped
Vegetable oil for frying

For the chicken: Slice the chicken into strips, removing any excess fat.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the chicken and toss to coat in the marinade. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

For the pancakes: Pour the juice off the kimchi and reserve. Add enough water to the juice to equal one cup. Finely chop the kimchi.

Combine the flours, salt, egg, and juice-water mixture in a large bowl. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before adding the chopped kimchi, veg, and scallions.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil. When oil is hot, add about 1/4 cup of the batter per pancake to the pan. Spread batter with a spoon to get approximately 5" circles. Cook until bottoms are crispy, then flip and cook other side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.

Serves 2-3 with pancakes left over

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Orchard Market & Cafe

We've been to Orchard Market & Cafe again recently for a signing of Baltimore Chef's Table so I thought I'd add to our original write-up from 2010.

Does anyone remember Orchard Market & Cafe, Baltimore's "premiere Persian restaurant?" I say "remember," even though the place is still around, because I seldom hear anything about it. Seriously, when was the last time you ate there? I think the one and only time we tried it - at the suggestion of my Mother - was in the early 1990s; the food was very good so I don't know why we never returned.

I thought it was high time for a revisit, especially since Mr Minx had never been.

Orchard Market is a bit difficult to find if one doesn't know where to look. It's down Orchard Tree Lane off Joppa Road, between Mo's Seafood and Gardiner's furniture, not far from Loch Raven Boulevard. Unassuming from the outside, the interior of the restaurant is quite pretty, decorated in soothing shades of cream and dark celadon, with tapestries and replicas of Persian art on the walls, and more art that appears to be for sale.

On our first visit, we tried the Mango Shrimp (Jumbo shrimp sauteed with onions and vegetables in a unique mango chutney and garlic sauce). I thought it would be overpoweringly sweet, but it was actually well-balanced. The shrimp was full of iodine flavor (something we very much enjoy, YMMV) and the sauce contained little bits of mango.

We also had the Sauteed Bulgarian Feta (Pungent Bulgarian Feta melted over farm tomatoes, onions, and black olives), which looked similar to the mango shrimp, except for the olives. But the sauce was tangy, not sweet, and while I'd have liked more feta, it was quite tasty. With a salad, this dish would make a fine lunch. My biggest criticism of these two dishes is that the pita had been toasted, making it somewhat difficult with which to scoop the sauce.

On our second trip, we tried the eggplant and artichoke appetizer. I must admit, when owner Jason Bulkeley emailed me the recipe, I was a bit skeptical. One of the ingredients is honey dijon mustard, which didn't seem particularly Persian to me. But it's delicious! One doesn't notice the mustard at all; what comes through, however, is the lovely tangy-sweet flavor of pomegranate molasses. This is a dish I'm certainly going to cook at home now. Oh, and this time the pita wasn't toasted, which made things much easier.

On our first trip, I had the Seafood Advieh, mahi, shrimp, and scallops in a mango and honey advieh sauce. The sauce had an interesting sweet-sour flavor punctuated by cinnamon and rose, but wasn't entirely to my taste.

Mr Minx had Duck Fesenjune (orange-poached leg and breast of duck with the classic Persian walnut-pomegranate sauce). I'd had this dish on my first visit in the 90s and remembered it as being quite delicious, but this one was sadly overpowered by the large quantity of grated orange peel atop the otherwise nicely tender duck.

The second time around, we were much more successful with our entrees. Mr Minx had the kubideh, a ground beef kabob. It was moist and juicy and nicely seasoned.

My bademjune was a stew of fork-tender lamb chunks with eggplant in a tangy tomato sauce punctuated with intensely sour pickled grapes. Can't beat the combo of lamb and eggplant!

Orchard Market & Cafe has been around for over 25 years now, and while the shopping center around it is mostly empty, the restaurant is still going strong. Not only do they specialize in fusion Persian food, but they have some pretty terrific live music during the week, including singer-songwriters and  lively Gypsy Jazz. If you've never been there, do give the place a try.

Orchard Market & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 21, 2014

Banana Puddin'

I've never made banana pudding before, and I've probably only eaten it a handful of times in my life. But I like the idea. Bananas, cookies, and pudding - what's not to like? It's a southern thing, and despite being south of the Mason-Dixon line, we don't see a lot of it in Baltimore. One of my co-workers brought it to a work party a few years ago, and despite my lack of experience with the dish, I thought it was the best I've ever eaten. Her secret: she used Pepperidge Farm Chessman cookies instead of the usual 'Nilla Wafers.

When I saw that the ShopRite had certain flavors of Pepperidge Farm cookies on sale, one of which was those Chessmen, I grabbed three bags and decided I needed to use them in a banana pudding. I asked my coworker for her recipe. To my great dismay, she said she used one from that racist, southern-fried, capped-tooth, diabetes medicine-huckster, Paula Deen. Regular readers will know that she's not one of my favorite people, so I wasn't going to use her recipe. Co-worker did say she uses cheesecake-flavored Jell-O pudding instead of Deen's French Vanilla, and Cool Whip instead of cream cheese. So really, she doesn't use her recipe at all, except for those cookies.

I wasn't going to use any artificially-flavored pudding mix. I was going to make my own.

There are cornstarch-based puddings and egg-based puddings. Mine is a combination of both, more of a vanilla pastry cream than a pudding, making the resulting dish rather like a banana cream pie with a cookie crust.

I made my pudding a day in advance. The Chessmen cookies are thick, and I wanted them to soften up a bit. If you want crunchy cookies, serve your pudding shortly after assembling.

Banana Pudding

2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessman cookies
4 ripe bananas

In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups of the milk to a boil. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and then gradually whisk in the remaining 2/3 cup of cold milk. Whisk in the eggs. Once milk is boiling, whisk it gradually into the cornstarch mixture.

Pour the mixture into the saucepan used to heat the milk and put over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook for an additional few minutes, until the pudding gets thick (it will happen all of a sudden) then remove from heat and add the vanilla. Set aside.

Place a layer of Chessman cookies in the bottom of an 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" square pan. Prop cookies up around the edge of the pan as well, creating a "crust." Slice the bananas and add a layer of them on top of the cookies. Pour over 1/3 of the pudding and spread to cover the bananas. Repeat cookie, banana, and pudding layers. Add another layer of bananas and the final layer of pudding.

Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. There should be 6-8 cookies remaining. Crush these into large crumbs and sprinkle over the pudding before serving. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Serves 6-8

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