Monday, October 15, 2018


I usually cook only two nights per week, Saturday and Sunday, with Mr Minx handling the grub the rest of the time. During the summer, I can be as creative as I want, doing homemade pasta or other more time-consuming things, but during football season, my Sunday dinner options must either be: 1) long-simmering; or 2) super-fast. We both grew up eating supper early, a habit that we've continued into adult-hood, so a game that starts at 1pm and ends around 4pm doesn't leave much time to put something interesting together. Even if I have a short amount of time I don't want to resort to a cop-out like grilled cheese sandwiches or frozen dinners. (For the record, we don't eat frozen dinners.)

Last year I was introduced to Keystone All-Natural canned meats. Originally I was like, "what?" But then when I considered that the idea of canned fish doesn't give me a problem, why should other canned proteins? And I have to admit, the stuff is actually quite good. We made two delicious dishes with their canned beef, a Thai salad and the obvious chili, so when I had the opportunity to work with Keystone again, I jumped at the chance. This time, we received canned pork and chicken, both of which will be featured here in upcoming posts.

This weekend the Ravens game started at 4:25pm. That put an even bigger time crunch on making dinner, considering we'd be eating while the game is on. I wanted something I could put together at halftime, for second-half consumption. Pork tacos were a natural. But I didn't want to merely heat up meat and slop it on a tortilla, because I'm a creative person. I decided to revisit the recipe for a Cambodian pork dish called nataing that I made a few years back. The original recipe, from the Elephant Walk restaurant in Boston, uses ground pork, but I thought the Keystone All-Natural Pork, which comes in large chunks that could be easily shredded, would be even better in a taco.

The pork and coconut milk mixture is pretty rich, so I wanted to add a tangy element to cut the unctuousness. Pickled red onion, a popular taco addition and something I already had in my fridge, seemed perfect. A healthy dose of cilantro was essential as well, for freshness. And a squeeze of lime. Chips and guac were a perfect side dish.

Already a pretty quick dish to make, the nataing was lightning fast with the canned pork. And it was quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

Nataing (Cambodian Pork) Tacos

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 14.5-ounce can Keystone All-Natural Pork, drained
1 dried New Mexico chile, seeded and deveined, ground to a powder or
2 teaspoons New Mexico chile powder (not chili powder!)
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts, coarsely ground
Taco-sized flour tortillas
Pickled red onion (recipe follows)
Fresh cilantro

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the pork and the chile powder, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic and shallot and cook a minute or two, stirring regularly, so the garlic does not burn. Stir in the coconut milk, sugar, fish sauce, and peanuts. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, until the shallots have softened. Taste for seasoning and add salt or more fish sauce or both.

Warm the tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds to make them more pliable. Add a few spoonsful of the pork mixture, top with pickled onion and cilantro and eat.

Pickled Red Onion

1 red onion
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
A few peppercorns and a bayleaf (optional)

Slice the onion very thinly and place in a quart jar with a lid. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally so the sugar dissolves. Pour the hot liquid over the onions, making sure the onions are submerged. Add the peppercorns and bayleaf if you want (chiles wouldn't be a bad idea, either.) Allow to come to room temperature before sealing the jar and storing it in the fridge.

Tip: keep the liquid after the onions are eaten to make more pickled onions. I just add fresh ones to the jar and seal up again.

* 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!

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Flashback Friday - Top Chef Bastards Part I

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This post originally appeared on on March 3, 2010.

I gotta say, reading this so many years later, I still laughed. I hope you do, too.


It's Wednesday! That means...some variation of Top Chef!

Cue theme music! Roll opening credits!

Welcome to the first episode of Top Chef Bastards, a competition in which any loser with a television show on the Food Network can demonstrate to the world that he or she really can cook - or not - while competing for a cash donation to the charity of their choice, plus a lifetime supply of GLAD® Force-Flex® and OdorShield® Trash Bags in the yummy "Fresh Vanilla" scent.

This week, four competitors meet in the Top Chef Bastards Glad GE Swanson Quaker Oats Macy's Product Placement Kitchen: Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri, Sandra Lee, and Rocco DiSpirito.

Guy is one excited dude, ready to slather hot sauce on everything in sight.

Rocco, on the other hand, isn't exactly thrilled. He thought he'd at least be competing against actual chef-type people like Tyler Florence or Bobby Flay.

Rather than dwell on the fact that he's facing a bunch of current Food Network schlubs, Rocco decides he actually has an advantage. Because he's facing a bunch of current Food Network schlubs.

And what's a reality show without some pure evil to liven things up?

Rocco suddenly remembers that Bourdain doesn't even see him as a chef anymore. Damn! He might have to dance his way out of this competition. Or not.

Whatevs. On to the always exciting...

The dish must be gum-able, and does not need to have any discernible flavor. Additionally, each dish must utilize one of the following ingredients, plus any other pantry items except salt: prunes, apple sauce, Jell-O, graham crackers, boneless skinless chicken breast, and toast.

The knife block makes an appearance and the chefs draw to determine who chooses what.

After Guy picks the prunes, Sandra Lee chooses the Jell-O and finally Rachael goes for the graham crackers. The time is set for 20 minutes and the cheftestants cooktestants competitors get started.

The contestants stumble around dazed for a few minutes, wondering how to put together a dish without a script or a teleprompter. Before they know it....Time's up! Utensils down! And poor Bourdain must ingest the fruits of their labor.

Not surprisingly, the dish with the highest alcohol content is the one Bourdain likes best.

That's right: get 'em drunk so they couldn't care less about what they stick in their mouths.

As winner of the Quickfire Challenge, Sandy gets an advantage in the next challenge. Or does she?

Coming Soon: Part II - Painful Eliminations of the Day.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Vida Taco Bar

When The Minx told me that we were invited to a special media dinner at the new Vida Taco Bar location in Harbor Point, I wasn't quite sure where she was talking about. I didn't realize that the 27-acre former industrial site situated between Harbor East and Fells Point had been given a new designation. Along with the new name, Harbor Point is being developed into a modern site for office. living, retail, and dining spots, and Vida Taco Bar is one of its newest tenants.

While Harbor Point is still very much a construction site, the completed buildings and streets are quite impressive and offer a terrific view of the harbor. As we arrived at Vida, mother nature was entertaining us with a spectacular sunset of orange and purple. To compliment the view, we were offered our first of five margaritas for the night.

The Paloma is a blend of Altos tequila, ruby red grapefruit juice, and lime agave.  Later, each course of tacos was paired with a particular margarita, which I'll get into in a moment.

You can't really be a taco joint without serving tortilla chips and ours were paired with tangy and creamy guacamole made of avocado, jalapeño, tomato, red onion, scallion, lime juice, and queso fresco. Sometimes I feel like I could have a meal of just tortilla chips and guacamole, but I had to save room for the main event: tacos.

Our first course consisted of two vegetarian tacos. The fried Brussels sprouts taco had slightly crunchy fried sprouts topped with cherry bomb peppers mellowed out with spiced agave and queso fresco. The Buffalo cauliflower taco featured fried cauliflower and cabbage slaw covered in Buffalo barbeque sauce, queso fresco, and cilantro. I was really impressed with how much flavor and texture they were able to create without any protein. In fact, these were probably my favorite tacos of the night.

They were paired with a smoked margarita made of Ilegal Mezcal Joven, Vida margarita mix, and a chipotle/cinnamon salt around the rim. To reinforce the smoky concept, the drink is served in a bucket of dry ice which, when hot water is added, smokes up like a concoction from Grandpa Munster's laboratory.

The next course was a seared scallop taco served with roasted corn salsa, chipotle aioli, and queso fresco. I was concerned that the chipotle aioli might overwhelm the subtle flavor of the scallop, but the aioli, corn salsa, and queso fresco combination nicely complimented the perfectly cooked scallops.

The scallop taco was paired with the 24 Carrot margarita: Suerte Reposado Tequila, carrot juice, gala apple, ginger, Vida margarita mix, and "dirty" salt. Full disclosure: I'm not a big fan of tequila, but I do like reposados and this particular margarita was my favorite. Such a great balance of sweet and spicy.

Next up was a taco that hadn't been served in the restaurant before: seared mahi mahi topped with eggplant caponata, curry spiced fried chickpeas, and a curry vinaigrette. Since The Minx gets tummy upset from chickpeas, she removed them from her taco, which is a shame because the curry spice on the chickpeas gave the taco a certain Indian flair. Let's face it, mahi mahi is a pretty bland fish and it needs some spice to compliment its meaty texture.

The margarita pairing was the Some Like It Hot, with jalapeño-infused Suerte Blanco tequila, Vida margarita mix, and a jalapeño-salted rim. I think this margarita had the most tequila flavor with a lot of heat and only slightly sweet.

Finally, we were treated to the lamb barbacoa taco with roasted corn salsa, salsa verde, and queso fresco. The lamb is the star of this taco and there's quite a bit of it. While I would have preferred it to be more tender and shredded, the meaty chunks of lamb were quite moist and flavorful.

For this taco, we had a margarita made with Herradura (Double Barrel) tequila. This tequila is a Vida Taco Bar exclusive and was showcased with a mix of mojito lime, Valencia orange, Herradura agave, and sugar cane. A bottle of the special tequila was passed around so we could use it in our photographs. It turned out that the Herradura (Double Barrel) was a reposado as well, so I drained my water glass and poured a shot of the special tequila for myself. Its smooth, slightly smoky flavor lived up to the hype.

Despite the variety of tacos and margaritas we experienced, there's still more on the menu I want to go back and try. I'm especially eager to try their octopus taco and specialty tequilas.

Vida Taco Bar – Harbor Point
1401 Point Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
Telephone: 443-835-3474

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Friday, October 05, 2018

Flashback Friday - Bourdain in Baltimore

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This post originally appeared on on November 12, 2012.

Bourdain was in Baltimore on my birthday in 2012, and though I spoke to him on the phone during a conference call, I regret not going to see him in person, too.
Photo credit: Travel Channel
So Bourdain is coming to Baltimore's Hippodrome Theater yet again (on my birthday!), this time unaccompanied by his Gallic BFF Eric Ripert. Bourdain's also hitting several other cities, including Houston, Memphis, Las Vegas, and Dayton. To commemorate the occasion, there was a grand conference call featuring journalists and food writers from those cities.

I participated, too. I hadn't intended to participate, just to listen in, but after the moderator announced the name of another local blogger who chimed in that she, too, was only listening, I realized that everyone on the line was automatically in the question queue, so I hurriedly came up with a couple of lame ones.

The first question I asked suggested that he do some shows with his wife, Ottavia, who seems like a formidable person. He could eat while she was off beating people up, that sort of thing. He stated that she had been on No Reservations a few times already, most notably in the Rio de Janeiro episode. Which of course I hadn't seen, so I suppose it made me seem a little dumb. But honestly, I can't say I've enjoyed No Reservations for several years. After a while, watching him eat and get plastered with the locals got boring. (Personally, I preferred the snark of his first global eating show, A Cook's Tour, which aired for one season on the Food Network and is finally available on DVD.)

The second question I asked pertained to Ruth Bourdain, a mash-up of Ruth Reichl and Bourdain that started as a Twitter account and has led to a book. I wanted to know if Tony (yes, I call him Tony) had any guesses as to her (his?) identity. He responded that he preferred not to think about it, because it was fun and he didn't want to spoil it. I then said he should forget that I asked, at which he chuckled.

The rest of the questions were from residents of Ohio and Texas who grilled Bourdain on whether he had been to their states and, if so, where did he eat. I had to laugh. The man has eaten raw seal with the Inuit, warthog anus in Namibia, and a still-beating cobra heart in Vietnam, and you want him to remember the name of the sushi restaurant he enjoyed somewhere near Cleveland?

Tony also mentioned that he was trying to complete another novel in 2013, for publication in 2014. (If you haven't read his novels, they are of the gritty crime fiction genre.) He's also busy with his new network, CNN, and working on a reality cooking competition for ABC which he'll be hosting with Nigella Lawson. I was happy to hear that he was currently writing, because I do think that is his true talent, but disappointed that no new food-related books were in the offing.

Another caller wanted to know what five ingredients Bourdain would torture chefs with in an appetizer basket for the show Chopped. I'm not sure he's seen the show before, because he suggests chicken, egg, blood sausage, salt, and butter. I'm sure the caller expected him to say cobra heart, warthog anus, balut, ants, and mortadella - as did I.

There was other stuff, too, like his approval of the food truck movement because it's so beneficial for under-capitalized chefs who can't afford a brick-and-mortar restaurant. He also would love to get Rick Steves and his "mom jeans" liquored up and take him to a titty bar in Bangkok. Now that would make for some fun television, but I'm sure it will never happen.

Catch Tony at the Hippodrome on Saturday, November 17th, or, for the time being, as reruns on the Travel Channel.

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