Friday, September 15, 2023

Cooking with Salsa

Ok, I know that's not such a pretty picture, but the dish itself was verrry tasty. And so easy!

I'm back in the office 3x per week after a summer of only having to be in on Mondays. Working from home allows me to make a nice dinner most days, and I've been trying to cook more vegetarian food because we eat too much meat. For whatever reason, meat dishes seem far less complicated to make, so with my now-limited time, we'll be back to eating animal protein a couple times a week. If I'm lucky, I'll have some goodies stockpiled in the freezer, but once in a while I'm gonna make something from scratch, and it will need to be quick.

Introducing Salsa del Rio Chicken. 

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned how much I love Desert Pepper Trading Company salsas. Their Salsa del Rio, a thin green salsa made with green chiles and tomatillos makes a mighty fine white chili with the addition of meat and beans. It also works as a flavorful sauce for chicken thighs. It honestly doesn't need anything to zhuzh it up, but we had half a yellow bell pepper in the fridge, and I had just bought a bunch of fresh poblanos at the farmers' market. A quick sauté of peppers and onion, a jar of salsa, and skin-on chicken thighs tasted ridiculously good for being so easy. 

Salsa del Rio Chicken
I would use bone-in thighs, but boneless would be fine. However, the chicken skin is non-negotiable, as it adds so much flavor to the dish. If you don't want to eat it, take it off after cooking. I suppose, if you're one of those people who are afraid of fat and flavor, that you can use chicken breasts, but I cannot be held accountable if you overcook the things. 

Extra virgin olive oil
4 skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt
1 cup diced peppers, your choice between ripe bell peppers and poblanos (we used both)
1 cup diced onion 
1 jar Desert Pepper Salsa del Rio

Put a tablespoon-ish of oil in a large skillet and turn the heat on medium-high. Add the chicken skin-side-down, generously sprinkle it with salt, and cover the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes and check to see if the skin is browning. You can turn the heat up to high if you hang around and pay attention to the pan. If it starts smoking, turn down the heat. Once the chicken skin is a nice golden brown, remove from the pan and put the veg in. Add another sprinkle of salt and stir the veg to coat with the hot fat. Cover the pan and cook 5-6 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is turning translucent and the peppers are beginning to soften. Add the chicken back to the pan, skin-side-up and dump in about 2/3 of the jar of salsa. Cover the pan and bring the salsa to a boil, then turn down to a perky simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, or until a quick read thermometer registers at least 165F when inserted into the chicken. (Personally, I like my chicken thighs really cooked, so I'll go to 185-190F.) 

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Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Dry-Rubbed Cauliflower "Wings"

I know this blog is rife with recipes for my favorite cruciferous vegetable, but I'm going to add one more: dry-rubbed cauliflower "wings." Why "wings?" Because the word is more appealing than "chunks," "blobs," or even "florets," and because the recipe was inspired by a local restaurant's chicken wings. 

I've used this dry rub on both wings and other chicken parts. The whole cumin and fennel seeds create a unique flavor combination that would also work on pork ribs, steak, and even fish. However, we're trying to eat more vegetarian dishes at Casa Minx. Cauliflower is my favorite meat alternative because it's nutrient dense, low in calories, and full of fiber. Plus its relatively neutral flavor works with most kinds of seasoning. If you're thinking, "blech! I hate cauliflower," well, you should probably stop reading.

The amount of savory spices in this recipe calls out for the balance of a rich and creamy sauce, so I served it with a homemade blue cheese dressing made with one of my favorite blues, Point Reyes Original Blue. Use your favorite; even the pre-crumbled stuff is fine. If you don't like blue cheese, then try feta. And if you are one of those weirdos that likes ranch dressing with their chicken wings, then omit the cheese entirely and increase the amount of TJ's Green Goddess seasoning to a full teaspoon. Taste for seasoning before adding more salt, as the GG already contains salt.

There's not a lot of either heat or sweetness in this recipe, so if you'd like a bit more of both, a drizzle with hot honey might make you happy. (I recommend Runamok Chipotle Morita honey.) 

Dry-Rubbed Cauliflower "Wings" with Bleu Cheese Dressing

For the cauliflower:
1 batch dry rub (recipe follows)
1 large head cauliflower
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 batch blue cheese dressing (recipe follows)

To make the cauliflower: Put the dry rub into a gallon-sized plastic zip-top bag.  

Trim off the tough green leaves from the bottom of the cauliflower and discard. Rinse the head and shake dry. Trim into florets, keeping small ones (1 1/2" and smaller) whole and cutting larger ones in half or quarters. Place the florets into the zip bag with the spices, zip the bag, and shake to distribute the spices. Open the bag and add the olive oil (more, if your head of cauli was particularly large). Push out the air, re-seal the bag, and shake it around to distribute the spice mix and oil as evenly as possible onto the cauliflower. (You could also do this in a large bowl, using your hands to toss the spices and vegetable together, but the bag is much neater.)

Put the bag in the fridge to marinate.

About 90 minutes before you're ready to eat, preheat the oven to 400F. 

Line a large baking sheet with foil and dump the bag of cauliflower onto it. Arrange the florets so they are more or less evenly distributed. Place tray in oven and bake cauliflower for 20 minutes. Remove tray from oven, and turn florets over with tongs. Put back in oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender but not mushy, and browned.

Serve hot, with blue cheese dressing.

For dry rub:
1 T sweet paprika
1 T smoked paprika
1 T whole cumin seed
1 T whole fennel seed
2 t salt
1 t dried thyme
1 t Urfa Biber or your favorite chili flakes
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t ground black pepper
1/4 t ground white pepper

To make dry rub: Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

For bleu cheese dressing:
1/4 c sour cream
1/4 c mayonnaise 
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (I used Point Reyes Original Blue)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 t Trader Joe's Green Goddess seasoning
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch ground white pepper

To make dressing: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Use a fork to combine, crushing the cheese into small bits to distribute through the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to use.

* 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, August 14, 2023

Gluten-Free Double Chocolate Banana Bread

When the freezer rains bananas, I know it's time to make a banana bread. 

We buy bananas just about every week, eat most, but inevitably have one hanging around long enough to turn brown. I hate food waste, so I usually tuck the little fella into the freezer. There's got to be a dozen bananas in there right now, in every available crevice. Sometimes they throw themselves at me when I open the freezer door to grab an ice cube or ponder the evening's dinner possibilities. The other day, three different bananas suicided themselves, so I put them on the counter to thaw. 

When frozen bananas thaw, they become rather liquidy, which makes them perfect for smoothies. But also banana bread. Most recipes call for very ripe bananas which need to be mashed with a fork. Personally, I prefer using near-liquid banana. It doesn't need to be mashed, just stirred in, which produces sweet little pockets of soft fruit in the finished product. If you're a fan of a more homogenized texture, then by all means mash some never-frozen but overripe nanners for this recipe.

Oh yeah, the recipe. I usually put walnuts and chocolate chips in my banana bread, but I've been craving chocolate recently (I probably need more magnesium). I consulted the Google and found a chocolate chocolate banana bread recipe that was essentially Martha Stewart's non-chocolate recipe, with a couple of random tweaks. I happen to think Martha's recipe is the very best, so I consulted her web site and used her recipe, with two changes. Her recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of AP flour, but I wanted to make this gluten-free and add cocoa powder. Cocoa is fairly similar to flour in heft and texture, so I swapped out a half cup of flour for a half cup of cocoa. The rest of the flour was replaced by oat flour. You may use any gluten free flour you wish, but I strongly suggest adding 1/4 teaspoon of xantham gum per cup of gf flour. You may leave it out, but the gum makes a big difference in the texture of the bread. Honestly, I cannot tell that I didn't use regular flour. I'm not your mother, so do as you please, but don't come crying to me afterward. The one other thing I changed was to add more sour cream. A quarter cup is good, but a half cup is better. It makes the texture outrageously moist. (Greek yogurt works here, too.)

If you make this, let me know in the comments. I'm going to go cut myself another slice to go with my coffee.

GF Double Chocolate Banana Bread

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup oat flour
1/4 t xanthan gum
1 t baking soda
1/4 t kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, or dairy-free butter substitute, melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 t vanilla extract
3 super-ripe bananas, mashed if fresh, thawed if frozen
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350º.

Spray the inside of a 9 x 5 loaf pan with Pam or similar release spray. Borrow a tablespoon or so of the cocoa powder and sprinkle it over the Pam, shaking and banging the sides of the pan to make sure every surface is coated with both release spray and cocoa. Knock out any excess cocoa.

Combine the rest of the cocoa, oat flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, and salt and stir well with a fork to distribute ingredients. If you're fussy, you could sift it, but I don't see the need to dirty a sieve or sifter.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. If your bananas were frozen, you can basically pour them into the bowl, otherwise, scrape in the mashed bananas and give it a good stir.

Dump the dry ingredients into the wet and stir well. You don't want any streaks of flour. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts. 

Scrape batter into baking pan and bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean. You might have to try a few spots, in case you stab a melted chocolate chip.

Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to loosen bread, then turn over onto the rack. Put another rack on top and flip the bread over, so the top is...on top. Allow to cool completely before slicing. You can, of course, ignore this direction, but I can't guarantee the bread won't fall apart when you slice it.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Best/Most Memorable Meals I've Ever Had

On a recent episode of The Dave Chang Show podcast, Dave and co-host Chris Ying listed their best and/or most memorable meals of all time. As I listened, I realized that I have lots of memorable meals, but they're not necessarily the best. Some meals are memorable because of bad food or service. Creating a list, even a short one, of truly great restaurant meals, is a difficult task for me. Perhaps I am jaded. Though I haven't eaten in the world's greatest restaurants--excepting Le Bernardin--I have dined in as many notable places as a person who doesn't travel much and who isn't wealthy can dine. 

Here's a list of restaurant meals that were highly memorable, even if they weren't the best, in alphabetical order.
pasta tasting menu for August 2004
Babbo - We celebrated Mr Minx's 40th birthday here, back in the early aughts, before we knew that Mario Batali was a rapey douchebag who stole his staff's tips. Mr Minx was somewhat of a pastaholic back then, so we opted for the seven-course pasta tasting menu with wine pairings. This was in the year before we started Minxeats, so there's no official write-up of the meal, but we did save the menu. I do recall that the starter was a bit awkward to eat. Whole cannellini beans on crusty bread might be a traditional antipasto, but it was impossible to take a bite without beans rolling off the bread and onto the table and the floor. Why not smash the beans? Dunno. Seems logical. In any case, the rest of the meal was fantastic, the first course being the best. So simple. So much butter. So good. We also enjoyed the wine pairing with the cheese course, a sweet sparkling wine called Brachetto d'Acqui. Sometimes we buy that to drink on New Year's Eve instead of champagne.  

foie gras with raw tuna 
The Bar Room at the Modern - I was in NYC for a Sniffapalooza event. I had not yet met my current NYC dining companion, Daisy, so I usually dined alone. One afternoon, I blew a wad of cash on a rather extravagant meal at the bar room of MOMA's restaurant, the Modern. The restaurant was an oasis after my morning of mingling with a crowd of chatty individuals amid clouds of perfume. Service was excellent--eager but not obtrusive--and the food was interesting and quite good. The unusual foie gras and raw tuna dish was particularly memorable.

Charleston is an example of a meal that has stayed in my mind for the wrong reasons. I had enjoyed a meal at Cindy Wolf's Savannah at some point in the 90s and looked forward to having a similarly splendid meal at Charleston. Instead, I found an oppressive atmosphere created by the ever-looming waitstaff. A "wilted spinach salad" arrived as a unadorned mound of barely cooked spinach with all its harsh tannins present. Cindy was at the pass and let this dish go by even though it clearly was not a salad and not particularly edible. Finally, the sauces for our entrees had been so over-reduced that it literally glued our lips shut. Even after eating dessert, I had to work to open my mouth to speak. The rest of the meal was unmemorable.

We've never been back, though we have eaten at other of Foreman/Wolf's restaurants. They may be run by one team, but I find the quality of them overall to be inconsistent. Pazo and Bar Vasquez were the best of the bunch; both are now closed. Petit Louis is a distant third. We haven't tried Cindy Lou's Fish House yet, and we miss the original Milton Inn. 

Harry's Seafood Grill on the Wilmington, Delaware waterfront was the site of a fun birthday lunch hosted by my best friend Kate, who had recently moved to Wilmington. While checking out the local restaurant scene, she had befriended a chef couple, one of whom worked at Harry's. Chef Applebaum generously sent out a couple of dishes in addition to the three courses we had ordered for ourselves. There was too much food, and all of it was delicious and of high-quality. I especially enjoyed my first sticky toffee pudding and my first taste of soft shell crab.

Herb & Soul is the site of another memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons meal. We had eaten there in the past and mostly enjoyed our food. It wasn't perfect, but the biscuits and fried chicken were stellar. On this particular occasion, we partook of a multi-course meal arranged by a member of the local Chowhounds board. I'm not sure whose idea it was to serve a selection of New Orleans-inspired foods, but it was pretty clear that the chef wasn't particularly familiar with any of the dishes he cooked that night. The first course of crawfish and octopus with brussels sprouts comprised two fingernail-clipping-sized shreds of crawfish on my plate and a dried-out, chewy octopus so small it was probably a fetus. Another dish was billed as an etouffee (which means "smothered") yet barely had any sauce. The bits of alligator meat in it were so chewy, if I hadn't washed them down with water I'd still be chewing them 9 years later. The fourth course was better: a well-prepared half chicken served with not nearly enough of a very good fig pan jus and a soupcon of cauliflower puree. The best course was dessert, French beignets (made with choux paste rather than a yeasted dough), and I could have eaten several more of those. Thankfully the dinner was dirt cheap. 
barely cooked scallop in brown butter dashi
Le Bernardin -- Mr Minx's next milestone birthday was celebrated with a 6-course lunch at Le Bernardin, a 3-Michelin star restaurant in NY. The service was impeccable, and the food almost perfect. I know, who am I to criticize a dish served at one of the "World's 50 Best Restaurants?" I'll tell you: someone who doesn't think a dark red wine sauce works well with wild rockfish. Mr Minx agreed with me. So there. The scallop in brown butter dashi, however, was mindblowing. So simple, yet so delicious. My one regret about the meal: I didn't take a roll every time the bread guy came around. There were about eight kinds of bread on offer, and I was only able to taste three of them. Le sigh.

NOLA - Back in the days before Minxeats, even before Mr Minx became Mr Minx, we took a trip together to New Orleans with a group of rabid Emeril Lagasse fans whom I had met online. Someone or other from that group was up our butts every time we tried to turn around. One person in particular stuck to us like a tick. After a couple days of eating at only Tick-approved restaurants, my beloved and I snuck off to have lunch at NOLA, one of Lagasse's more casual establishments. We ordered starters of gumbo and turtle soup, and a couple of pizzas to share. My soup was very good, but Neal's seafood gumbo was insane. We stopped short of literally licking the bowl clean, but we were tempted! 

As fate would have it, the man who made that gumbo now owns Cajun Kate's, a restaurant in Wilmington. We make a pilgrimage every year to keep our freezer stocked with gumbo.
my favorite course at Volt, tuna tartare in a delicate rice gelee wrapper. Photo credit: Kevin Eats.
Volt - We discovered Volt during chef/owner Bryan Voltaggio's turn on Top Chef. After our first delicious meal there, I was obsessed with getting seats at Table 21: a 21-course meal served in Volt's kitchen. We made our reservation ten months in advance, and the wait was worth enduring. For a measly $121 per person, we had 21 courses of surprising and delicious food. Sadly, this was back in the foodie stone age (2010) and I didn't have a phone with a good camera. Rather than bothering with my crappy little Canon, I sat back and enjoyed the meal. (Check out the post linked in the caption above for excellent photos of a meal very similar to the one we ate.) 

While the food was incredible, the service was a tad annoying. Servers replaced the silverware with each course, whether we had used a particular utensil or not. Remove clean spoon, replace with another clean spoon. Having disembodied hands appear over my shoulder or beside my forearm (we were seated at a counter in front of the garde manger station and couldn't see the utensil movers behind us) was a little disconcerting. It was like being served by Thing. I'm not a fancy-service kind of gal. Just give me my food and if I need a clean fork, I'll let you know.


I'm sure if I thought about it a little more, I could come up with a few more meals to add here. These were off the top of my head, clearly very memorable. I hope to have many more meals like these in the future. The good ones....

* 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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