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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Friday, July 18, 2014

Sidebar - Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

We were perhaps a bit overzealous when we wrote our most recent book, Baltimore Chef's Table, and handed in far too many words. Unfortunately, this meant some of them needed to be cut, among them several recipes and sidebars. We're posting some of those sidebars here on Minxeats. Think of them as supplemental material.

Back in 2009, after recognizing the popularity of the many kitchen competition shows on the airwaves, Baltimore native and SYSCO food service professional Erik Folkart, an amateur chef himself, decided that local food industry people deserved the same opportunity. While not televised, his competition would allow chefs and restaurants in the Baltimore-Washington area to participate in an event that would showcase their businesses, promote their geographic area, and help their communities through charitable contributions.

After talking to several chefs, restaurants, and suppliers, Erik realized that his idea could take off. He partnered with sister-in-law Karen Folkart, an experienced marketing professional, to start Mason Dixon Master Chef, LLC. And with the help of many people, including generous sponsors willing to supply food and financial support, chefs willing to give up their nights off to compete, and judges donating time and expertise, the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament became a reality.

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is a multi-week, single elimination tournament. In each battle, competing chefs have one hour to prepare three courses, which are judged on taste, plating, and creativity. One chef goes on to the next round, while the other chef is sent home. These one-on-one battles go on until the finale, when one chef ultimately emerges victorious.

The competition is open to the ticket-buying public, who are encouraged to watch the chefs complete their pre-match cold prep up close and personal, then sit back and enjoy the competition as it unfolds. Special “Judge Experience” tickets allow some audience members to taste the chefs’ entrĂ©es and assist in judging.

The first tournament was held in 2010, at the venerable Belvedere in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, with Moveable Feast acting as charity partner. After a year off, the competition was back in 2011 at Blob’s Park Bavarian Beer Garden in Jessup, MD and in 2012 was back in Baltimore City at Mari Luna Bistro. Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland was beneficiary of some of the proceeds in those years.

During the first three years of the tournament, numerous local chefs and food writers (including yours truly) participated as judges, masters-of-ceremony, and participants. This list of local culinary luminaries includes Sergio Vitale of Aldo’s and Chazz, Ted Stelzemuller of Jack’s Bistro, Chad Gauss of the Food Market, Jirat Suphrom of My Thai, Neal Langermann of Langermann’s, Chris Lewis of Iron Bridge Wine Company, Sarah Simington of Blue Moon Cafe, and Neill Howell, of Bond Street Social, who was the tournament winner in 2013. They competed using donated ingredients from local companies like Tulkoff, McCormick, Holly Poultry, Congressional Seafood, and Phillips Food, among many others.

2014 will bring a new season of competition, one that we hope will feature many of the chefs within these pages!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, a live, local, interactive culinary competition, completed Round 1 competition this week. The original field of 16 top area chefs is now down to just eight, as the competition enters Round 2 and the final weeks of competition. Each week the competition is getting more intense and the scores tighter, as chef teams vie for the over $10,000 in prizes and the title of Mason Dixon Master Chef Champions!

Matches are being held throughout the summer on most Mondays and Tuesdays at the Inn at the Colonnade in Baltimore. Round 2 matches are listed below. 10% of each ticket sold goes directly to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, the competition’s charity partner.

Tickets*: $25 for general admission (includes tax)
$45 for judging experience (includes tax)
Available for purchase at:
*Tickets must be purchased in advance for the above pricing. $35/ $55 day of and at the door (if available).

The $25 ticket price includes admission to that night’s competition, wine/spirit tasting, passed hors d’oeuvres during happy hour, dessert and coffee bar, all taxes and a 10% donation to charity. Tickets are on sale now, and are expected to sell out quickly.

Round 2 Matches:
The line-up for July 21 and 22 matches in “Battle International Street Food” include:

Match 9: Monday, July 21 - Chef Jeff Keeney of The Point in Fells versus Chef Adam Snyder of Chef’s Expressions

Match 10: Tuesday, July 22 - Chef Nina Swartz of Aida Bistro & Wine Bar versus Chef Jake Hack of Conrad’s Seafood

The line-up for July 28 and 29 matches in “Battle Parisian” include:

Match 11: Monday, July 28 –Chef Chad Medina of Kelsey’s Irish Pub versus Chef Janny Kim of Bistro Blanc

Match 12: Tuesday, July 29 – Chef Gerardo Gonzales of Tapas Adela and Anastasia versus Chef Kiet Philavanh of Basta Pasta

Happy Hour each evening will feature a complementary wine or spirit tasting, hors d’oeuvres, as well as special pricing on drinks and food for purchase from Alizee American Bistro both days. Guests will also enjoy a complementary dessert bar and coffee to top off their evening. Event details available at:

When & Where:

Round 2: July 21, 22, 28, 29
Semi-Finals: August 11, 12
Championship Match: Sunday, August 24
5:30 -7:00p.m. – Happy Hour (free appetizers and wine/spirit tasting)
6:25 p.m. – Cold Prep Begins
7:00 p.m. – Chef Competition
8:00pm – Judging Begins (complementary dessert and coffee bar for all guests)

Inn at the Colonnade
4 West University Parkway, Baltimore, MD 21218

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