Monday, February 20, 2017

Quick Sticky Buns

Sometime before Christmas, I received a package of samples from Davidson's Organics. Though I had never heard of them, Davidson's has been around for 40 years already. Goes to show what I know, huh? Davidson's specializes in tea, every type, from black to green to herbal, both loose leaf and bagged. Lots of fun blends like jasmine almond with orange and tulsi red vanilla. I love tea, both to drink and to cook with, so I was especially excited to receive two of their specialty tea products, jelly and chocolate, both made with Earl Grey tea.

I sat on them for a while, trying to think of what to concoct. They also sent some holiday tea bags, so I sipped tea and thought on the matter. Then it came to me. I'd make cinnamon rolls.

Yes, I know cinnamon rolls are not the first thing one thinks of when contemplating both chocolate and tea jelly, but stay with me here. The chocolate, which is flavored with both Earl Grey tea and lavender, would go into the filling, and the jelly would be part of the glaze. And I just happened to have some puff pastry in the freezer. And yes, I do know that cinnamon rolls and sticky buns are made with an enriched yeast dough, not puff pastry, I also knew that puff pastry would work just fine and it would be much much faster.

The texture of the pastry, after baking, reminded me of the creme horns my Mom liked - flaky and crisp. The chocolate didn't melt much, so there were still nice crunchy bits of both the choc and the nuts inside. I liked the combination a lot. And the icing, made with the jelly, powdered sugar, and a bit of lemon, added another dimension of flavor, and not just another layer of sweet.

Quick Earl Grey Sticky Buns

1/2 bar Davidson's Organics Earl Grey Lavender Organic Dark Chocolate
1/2 package puff pastry
Brown sugar
Cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped nuts
2 tablespoons Davidson's Organics Earl Grey Tea Jelly
Powdered sugar
Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Grate the chocolate and set aside.

Defrost the pastry according to package directions. Unfold sheet and go over it with a rolling pin to smooth out the creases and to enlarge the square by about 1/2 to 3/4 inch both in height and width.

Sprinkle the pastry with a thin layer of brown sugar, then shake on some cinnamon (but not too much). Add a layer of the chocolate and another of the nuts. Roll the pastry into a log, being careful not to lose too much of the filling in the process. Cut the roll in half, then cut each half into three pieces. Place pieces open-side-up on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes until browned and puffed. Set aside to cool.

Make the icing by microwaving the jelly until liquid, about 1 minute. Stir in enough powdered sugar to make a runny glaze. Flavor with a bit of the lemon juice.

When the buns are cool, drizzle with icing. Makes 6.

* 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, February 17, 2017

Emergency Chili!

While The Minx spends the better part of most weekends developing complex and imaginative recipes to share with our readers on this blog, I'm charged with the responsibility of concocting regular weekday dinner sustenance from whatever foodstuffs we have available in our refrigerator and pantry. Often my task is not unlike an episode of Food Network's Chopped in that I have to assess what random proteins, leftovers, and vegetables we have on hand and whip up an entree in under one hour. The job is always made easier if I have a go-to protein in the fridge like those handy pre-cooked chicken sausages that every grocery store seems to have nowadays, or a leftover chunk of steak from a restaurant meal. That's why, when we were contacted by Keystone Meats to try some of their canned meat products, we were intrigued. 

This can  makes you think of chili, too, right?
Keystone Meats is a fourth-generation, family-owned business in Lima, Ohio that produces canned meat products and soup bases. In addition to the shredded beef, Keystone also makes ground beef, plus shredded pork, chicken, and turkey. The beef is sourced from local farms and the finished product is simply beef and some sea salt in a can. It's tender and flaky as if you had slow-cooked a chunk of beef yourself and shredded it with a fork. The first thing The Minx and I thought of when we saw the can was chili.

We've all had those day when it's cold and damp and a bowl of hot, spicy chili would really warm your soul. The trouble is, a proper chili takes hours to prepare and you've just come home from work and want the chili now! The biggest obstacle to making a good pot of chili is the time it takes to cook the meat until it's tender and shreds easily. I've often used ground meat to make a quick chili, but it's not the same. With Keystone doing the hard part for you, an emergency bowl of chili is attainable. Using basic ingredients, I was able to put together a flavorful and hearty meal in about 45 minutes.

The Minx really loved it. She was astounded that the meat came from a can. It was tender and moist, like long-cooked pot roast or even short ribs. And it certainly did not taste like it came from a can.

Emergency Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chiles
1 can (14.5 oz.) Keystone Beef
2 cloves garlic
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Kosher salt to taste
Chopped scallions
Cilantro
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add diced green chiles, beef, and garlic and stir until all ingredients are integrated. Add diced tomatoes and stir. Sprinkle in seasonings and turn heat down to simmer. Allow the chili to simmer for as long as possible. Ten minutes would be good; 20 minutes would be better. Adjust seasoning to your liking.

Garnish to your liking with scallions, cilantro, cheese, and sour cream. Serve with cornbread.

* 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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Monday, February 13, 2017

Ekiben

Ekiben has been on the lips and Instagram accounts of Baltimoreans ever since it opened its doors in Fells Point last March. Before the brick and mortar shop opened, owners Nikhil Yesupriya, Ephrem Abebe, and Steve Chu sold their pan-Asian wares at the Fells Point Farmers' Market. I love the fact that the three partners are from completely different ethnic backgrounds (South Indian, Ethiopian, Taiwanese), and that they met at UMBC. That's what college is for, right? Not only to get an education, but also to branch out from one's potentially insular upbringing and see the world. In the case of Yesupriya, Abebe, and Chu, it was the world of food. While the dishes they serve at Ekiben (itself a Japanese word referring to a specific style of bento box served at railway stations) have a strong Taiwanese bent, the partners season their dishes with flavors from each of their heritages.

The must-try dish is the tempura fried broccoli, topped with shallots and fresh herbs and seasoned with rice vinegar. For $2 more, non-vegetarians can get thinly sliced Chinese sausage, too.

Back when Harborplace first opened, there was a stall selling deep-fried, batter-coated vegetables. I tried to avoid the broccoli, because invariably the florets were soggy with uncooked batter. That is not the case at Ekiben, where every bite is encased in a thin and crisp coating. The combination of flavors and textures in this dish is terrific.

We also did two of the buns that are available every day - the Neighborhood Bird and the Tofu Brah. The former includes a Taiwanese curry fried chicken thigh of vast proportions topped with spicy sambal mayo, pickles, and fresh herbs. The latter is tofu in spicy peanut sauce, topped with seasonal slaw, and fresh herbs. All their sandwiches are mammoth, served on steamed buns that are positively cloud-like in appearance and texture. They are well-suited for a sturdy filling like the chicken thigh, but not substantial enough for the sloppy tofu and its mountain of toppings. Make sure to equip yourself with lots of napkins if you're going to tackle the tofu sandwich, and lean over your plate (cardboard takeout container) so if you do have a spill, you won't waste it on the floor.

Though a tad difficult to eat, the tofu sandwich was delicious. Next time, we'll try it over rice. Also next time, we'll get the Original bun, which features Thai chicken meatballs in a coconut black peppercorn sauce. We hear the catfish is tasty, too, as is everything else on the menu.

Why couldn't Ekiben have been around when I lived in Fells Point, just three blocks away?

Ekiben
1622 Eastern Ave
Baltimore, MD 21231
410-558-1914
ekibenbaltimore.com

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Chicken with Mushrooms and Bacon

My Mom always claimed not to enjoy cooking; she only did it because she had two children to feed. Dinners usually consisted of Shake-n-Bake pork chops or chicken, canned green beans or corn, and instant mashed potatoes or Minute Rice. Sometimes spaghetti with jarred sauce and meatballs (at least those were homemade). We were lucky to have an apartment in my Grandmother's house, and every few days she'd give Mom a break by cooking dinner for all of us.

Once my brother and I were adults, or at least college-age, Mom started to take a surprising interest in the kitchen. She was actually a pretty good cook when she wanted to be. With less responsibility during the day, she would pass the time watching cooking shows on PBS. During pledge drives, Mom opted to donate when the free gift was a cookbook. I still have several of the Frugal Gourmet's books in my collection. I liked watching The Frug, even if he did turn out to be a perv. Mom also liked Madeline Kamman, but I found her accent grating (sorry, French people) and was particularly annoyed by the "ehhh" sound she made after every other sentence or so. I have one of her cookbooks, too, Madeline Cooks.

Mom tried one recipe, and one recipe only from Madeline Cooks: chicken cutlets with mushrooms and bacon. It was so good, and so fast, she made it frequently. There's something almost magical about the simple combination of bacon, mushrooms, and scallions. Oh, and cream. Hell, you don't even need the chicken.

I think about this dish once in a while, when I have bacon and scallions in the house but not chicken or mushrooms, or some other incomplete combination of essential ingredients. I decided to dust off that 30-year-old cookbook and make the dish myself, but with chicken thighs, just to be different. It throws off the cooking time a bit, particularly with bone-in, skin-on thighs that need to be browned first and cooked longer, but the combination of flavors was still the same, still almost magical. And it brought back memories of my Mom in the kitchen, in those few years when she actually seemed to almost enjoy cooking.

I served the chicken with chicken flavor Healthee USA organic brown rice. Just 90 seconds in the microwave, fluff, and eat! I'm too impatient to cook brown rice properly, so it's usually chewy. Healthee's is nice and tender and I don't have to worry about making a side when I have a couple packs on hand. And green beans, cooked low and slow for a long time, the way my Grandma made them.

Chicken with Mushrooms and Bacon (adapted from Madeline Cooks)

4 large chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock
2/3 cup light cream
3 slices bacon, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped scallions

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down in a pre-heated skillet and cook over medium-high heat until skin is browned. Turn chicken and brown other side. Cover the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Cook the chicken for 10 minutes, then remove the chicken from the pan to a plate. Remove all but a tablespoon of fat from the skillet and add the mushrooms. Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until they have given up their juices and have started to brown. Add the chicken back to the pan, turn down the heat, and cook an additional 10 minutes. Remove lid, turn up the heat, and add the chicken stock and cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

To serve, put each piece of chicken on a plate and spoon sauce and mushrooms over. Garnish with crumbled bacon and scallions.

Serves 2-4.

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