Monday, April 24, 2017

B&O Brasserie Spring Menu

When Chef Scott Hines took over from his predecessor Mike Ransom, there was a bit of a transitional period in terms of the B&O Brasserie menu. With the new spring menu, Chef Hines has revamped the entire lineup. focusing on familiar favorites with sophisticated refinements and getting back to the true mission of a brasserie. To that end, you will find the burgers, steaks, and salads that you would expect in a brasserie alongside more adventurous items like sweetbreads and quail. Also, the daily specials--fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf--have a homey quality that should attract diners looking for comfort foods.

We were excited to get an opportunity to try out some of the new offerings.

Of course, we always have to start with an exotic cocktail from the wildly creative mixologist Brendon Dorr and his crew. Rabbit's Revenge, with flavors of gin, carrot, and beet, is reminiscent of a Bloody Mary, and would be lovely with a big fat shrimp or two perched on the rim. The Rook's Return is a refreshing cocktail using Ford's Gin; it reminded us of pickle brine with a floral aspect. That description might turn some people off, but it's actually delicious.

I certainly experienced a flash of nostalgia when I ate the salmon tartare. It reminded me a bit of the salmon mousse that my Aunt Kay always served for holiday parties. While salmon mousse is typically made with canned salmon, the tartare, a simple yet elevated dish, is made with fresh raw salmon mixed with tiger sauce (mayo and horseradish). The feather-weight, crispy salt and pepper crackers provide the perfect vehicle for the tartare. Even the Minx liked it and she is not a fan of raw salmon.

For some reason that escapes us, many people are turned off by sweetbreads. I think it's just the idea of eating the glands of an animal, but going on taste alone, they are tender and mild. (The Minx likes to think that the phrase "tastes like chicken" came about because of sweetbreads.) At the B&O, they are drizzled with a completely unexpected ancho and bourbon barbeque sauce with some straight-off-the-grill smokiness. The dish also has a scallion cornbread for a contrasting texture.

Chef Hines's sous chef Tyler Johnson once worked at Wolfgang Puck's Italian restaurant, so he has quite a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to Italian cooking. He has strong influence over the pastas and sauces at the B & O and his rich Sunday gravy is excellent. It has great depth of flavor, as if Grandma was cooking it all day, and is the perfect accompaniment to the tender beef, mortadella, and foie gras meatballs. Now it might seem odd to add fancy bologna and duck liver to meatballs, and I couldn't really taste them specifically. They're mostly there to add unctuousness. The Minx was all over this dish and would love to make it at home.

The lamb rib appetizer is braised in gin for a long time, and the constant reduction of the sauce coats them in a rich glaze that shines like glass. The apricot yogurt accompaniment cuts the meaty intensity with its fruity sweetness and the pea salad brings acidity and crunch.

The Minx loves carrots for some reason, so she was insistent about having the smoked carrot agnolotti with morels, onions, and peas in a simple butter sauce as her entree. This dish of tender pasta filled with a cream-enriched puree of mesquite-smoked carrots may be the vegetarian entree on the menu, but we carnivores found it immensely satisfying. The combination of smoke and mushrooms made up for the absence of meat. More restaurants should offer such well-thought-out meatless options.

As a pasta person, I really wanted to order this too, but we had to try as many dishes as we could so....

My entree was the crispy black sea bass in a spicy boullabaisse with potatoes and confit tomatoes. Crusty bread with rouille is a traditional accompaniment to a fish stew like this, and the B & O doesn't skimp with their coating of the garlicky sauce. Be careful with this; the flavors of garlic and saffron are pretty intense and can linger in your mouth for some time, so if you don't want so much rouille, feel free to scrape it off. As for the bass, it was perfectly cooked with a lovely crisp skin and silky smooth flesh, and the broth was spicy but mellow.

As if that wasn't enough food, we sampled three desserts.

The B&O Oreos, chocolate cookies sandwiching creamy marshmallow filling, are served two to an order. That would be plenty, but it also comes with a large bar of peanut butter mousse encased in chocolate along with several dots of creme anglaise on the plate. It's almost like one dessert to eat there (the mousse) and one dessert to take home (the cookies).

If not a trend, elevated versions of humble s'mores have become a frequent feature on many dessert menus. This particular version takes the unique approach of sandwiching toasted marshmallow flavored ice cream in between house-made graham crackers. A pool of chocolate sauce and some actual toasted marshmallow completes the flavor profile. The ice cream is really subtle, and I recommend that you try a few bites without the cracker to notice its toasty flavors.

Possibly our favorite dessert of the evening was the buttermilk pie with blackberry jam ice cream. The sweet lemony pie has the consistency of thick custard, and the blackberries provided a tangy counterpoint. The ice cream is served on a bed of feuilletine bits, which keep it from sliding all over the plate and also add a crisp texture.

It's a special treat to go to the B&O Brasserie because, while the food has evolved over time, it's always inventive and offers new taste sensations. I think Chef Hines is on an especially smart track with this new menu, blending the familiar with the exotic and evoking taste memories while creating new ones at the same time.

B&O Brasserie
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21201
443-692-6172

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Date, Walnut, & Nutmeg Cake

I am not a baker, although I love eating baked goods. I also love watching the Great British Baking Show and have really been enjoying the "Master Class" addendum series with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood demonstrating their recipes. It's actually more fun for me to watch people baking than to do it myself. In fact, the thought of making something more complicated than a bundt cake or brownies is more than a bit intimidating. How those people--amateur, home bakers--can make such incredible fantasias with meringue and gum paste and multiple layers of cake and icing is incredible to me. Also time-consuming and potentially kitchen-messing.

Sometimes I do go into the kitchen to bake, and sometimes it goes well. Normally when I cook, I alter recipes like crazy, but I can't do that with baking. Baking is science, and therefore shouldn't be messed around with because it could end badly. So I rely on cookbooks most of the time. Like The Cardamom Trail, by former British Baking Show contestant Chetna Makan. Chetna was known for using unusual flavor combinations in her baked goods, which is one of the things that endeared her to me. But she also liked to bake straight-up British favorites, like Victoria sponge and lemon drizzle cake. The recipe I've included in this post is for a cake somewhat similar to sticky toffee pudding in that it uses dates as a main ingredient. There's also a sauce component, which I have omitted, that would make this dish even more like STP. (And I would have made it, had we double cream on hand.) Without it, this cake is somewhat like a quickbread in flavor and texture, and it is lovely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a cup of coffee or tea.

Date, Walnut, & Nutmeg Cake (from The Cardamom Trail)
You need a kitchen scale for this one. Also, you can make your own self-raising flour by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a cup of flour. For this recipe, you'll need about 2 cups of flour. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then measure out the 10 1/2 ounces.

4 1/2 ounces pitted dates, chopped
1 cup water
5 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
5 1/2 ounces light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 1/2 ounces self-raising flour
1 3/4 ounces walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan and set aside.

Bring dates and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the baking soda and the flour and mix well. Fold in the dates and any leftover liquid, the walnuts, and the nutmeg.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes before unmolding cake. Allow to cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

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Posted on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wit on the Water Patio Opening Party

On April 26th, join the party at Wit on the Water, Wit & Wisdom's patio. The season opening celebration will feature a new all-crab-themed menu, plus new frozen cocktails, local beers, and live music.

The party runs from 5pm - 8pm. Advance tickets are $35 ($45 at the door), including tax and gratuity, and include unlimited food and a welcome drink. Get your tickets via Eventbrite.

If the weather looks bad, the party will still go on, it'll just be moved to Wit & Wisdom's indoor lounge.

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Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Meatballs a la Smitten Kitchen

The Minx has been a long time fan of Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen blog and recently purchased her cookbook aptly titled, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. She had bookmarked several recipes she wanted to play around with and one meatball recipe (or meatloaves as they are referred to in the book) sounded particularly interesting to me. Since I had a day during the week when I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner, Minxy suggested that I attempt this recipe. After all, she had already procured all the necessary ingredients on our last trip to the grocery store. I agreed and, in a break from my usual routine of using a recipe as merely a guide and coming up with my own riff on it, I was determined to cook the dish exactly as it was written in the cookbook.

Well, "best laid plans" and all that! It turned out, we didn't have precisely all the ingredients we needed. The glaze called for four tablespoons of tomato paste and the meatballs needed one tablespoon. I only had three tablespoons in the fridge and no spare can in the pantry. so I substituted two tablespoons of tomato paste and two tablespoons of ketchup in the glaze. Since ketchup already brings sugar and vinegar to the party, I reduced the honey and cider vinegar by half. Oh, actually, the honey in the pantry had solidified, so I replaced honey with agave syrup. The finished product turned out just fine.

Having successfully riffed my way around the glaze, I was totally prepared to make the meatballs exactly as described in the book. Trouble was, because of a peculiar layout choice in the book, three of the meatball ingredients were printed on the following page in a corner by the mashed potato recipe. I didn't notice them until after I had already assembled the balls. Since two of the ingredients were milk and eggs, I thought for sure the meatballs would be dry. Thankfully, they too turned out great.

All I had left to do was make the mashed potatoes. Whoops, I couldn't find buttermilk at the store, so that was out. Also, I thought Ms. Perelman's technique was overly fussy, so I just made mashed potatoes they way I normally do, but keeping the brown butter element since it sounded too delicious to pass up. The mash also turned out just fine, and the brown butter provided an added nuttiness that was quite wonderful.

So here it is: my intended-to-be-faithful-but-actually-not-so-faithful take on the Smitten Kitchen's Meatloaves and Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes.

Tomato-Glazed Meatballs with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes (adapted from Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

Glaze
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon table salt

To make glaze: Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Whisk constantly while bringing to a simmer over medium heat.The glaze should come together in a couple minutes. Put it aside for later.

Meatballs
2 slices sandwich bread
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
olive oil, for cooking
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

To make meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whiz the bread in the food processor until it becomes crumbs and set aside. Roughly chop the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot before adding to the food processor. Pulse it until the vegetables become a finely chopped pulp.

Pour a little olive oil into a skillet and heat for a minute over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add the vegetable mix. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently. When the mixture starts to brown, take off the heat and add to a large bowl with the breadcrumbs.

Add the remaining ingredients to the veg and breadcrumbs and mix the ingredients together with your hands. Once everything is incorporated, form twelve similar-sized meatballs. Arrange them in a baking dish, making sure they are evenly separated. Coat each meatball with a thin layer of the glaze. Place in the oven and bake until thoroughly cooked, about 20 minutes (160 to 165 internal temperature).

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

To brown butter: Melt the butter in a pot over medium-low heat. Stir regularly and keep a close eye on it. Once the milk solids have cooked away and the butter is a clear golden color, the butter will start to brown and take on a nutty aroma. As soon as it starts to brown, take it off the heat so it will not burn. Put aside for later.

To make the mashed potatoes: Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a medium saucepan and cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat so that it maintains a steady boil without boiling over. Cook the potatoes until they feel tender with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Drain the water. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add the browned butter and milk and incorporate with the potatoes until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Place a layer of the mashed potatoes on the plate and set two meatballs on top. Drizzle the meatballs with some of the leftover glaze.

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Posted on Minxeats.com.