Friday, May 29, 2015

Flashback Friday - Fumetto #18 - Dessert Worst

This post was originally published on March 15, 2012
Fumetto #18 - Dessert Worst

So Anne Thornton has apparently been canned from the Food Network for plagiarizing recipes. She denies it. While some of Anne's ingredient lists largely resemble those used in recipes penned by other people, she does usually change a few ingredients and re-words the method. (Check out David Leibovitz' article on recipe attribution.) Do you think she deserved to be fired?

*Check out the original video clip for this recipe. Notice that she does dictate the ingredients for Toll House cookies. Now check out the official recipe on the Food Network site - it's been altered quite a bit. What gives?

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

B&O American Brasserie Spring 2015

Over the past few years, we've been to many media dinners at B&O American Brasserie, usually to herald a new chef and his complete reinvention of the restaurant's menu. While all of the dinners were enjoyable, some dishes we ate along the way were downright weird. I'm happy to say that the B&O's current chef Michael Ransom is not only still around (huge hooray for that!), but he's also not doing anything bizarre with food.

That's not to say he's not imaginative. He is, very much so. But his imagination is practical, not fanciful. Definitely not weird. He has the ability to innovate and be accessible at the same time. His dishes are ambitious enough to impress hardcore food snobs, and so flavorful and well-composed that everyone else can enjoy them as well.

At this dinner, we left ourselves in his capable hands. He came to speak to us and told us what menu items he planned to serve Mr Minx and me, starting with the strawberry salad, which would be a refreshing start to our meal. The pickled strawberries and the tang of sherry vinegar were balanced by sweet fresh berries and crunchy toasted almonds.

Next, we received a pair of tacos with a filling of charred octopus, chorizo verde, celery-herb salad, and pumpkin seed vinaigrette in a raw jicama shell, with harissa pickles and a fiery green hot sauce on the side. Personally, I could have done without the celery, but otherwise loved the combination of ingredients. The hot sauce wasn't as incendiary on the taco as when tasted straight, but it still had a strong kick. I don't recommend anyone drinking it. And the jicama wrapper proved that there is such a thing as a completely gluten-free (practically calorie-free, too) taco shell. Genius.

We also shared a single large raviolo, filled with ricotta and a perfectly runny duck egg yolk and topped with shaved Parm, pea tendrils, and crispy shards of shiitake mushroom, all dribbled with brown butter. A seemingly simple dish, but full of flavor.

Then we moved on to the entrees. The one I was most interested in involved soft shell crabs. Full disclosure: Chef Ransom is working on a soft shell recipe for our upcoming book, and it's going to be a lot like this one: Soft Shell Crab, crushed leeky potatoes, green tomato salad, chili-lime butter, crispy corn. The crabs were poached in chili-lime butter before being finished on the grill, a technique that left them tender and super juicy. There were a lot of tangy and complicated flavors on this plate, tempered by the mild potatoes, which Chef Ransom meant to evoke potato salad. Mr Minx, never a fan of soft shells, found the dish to be "a revelation."

Another stunner, both visually and flavor-wise, was the evening's market fish, in this case flounder, served with spring vegetable ragout, pickled ramp, yellow tomato coulis, and spanish chorizo. I normally find typical thin flounder filets to be a snooze, but the creature this slab came from must have been a monster. The fish was as thick as halibut and very moist, but the star of the plate was the spring vegetables, which included large semi-starchy English peas and asparagus. The tomato coulis wasn't at all acidy, and the nuggets of confit chorizo and drizzle of chorizo oil gave the dish depth. Really beautiful.

We also tried the chef's cut of lamb (this week it was racks; because we were eating three entrees between us, Chef simply cut one chop for each of us), served with fregola, shitake, field greens, pickled and roasted onions, natural jus, and dried lemon salt. The chops, beautifully frenched and resembling miniature tomahawks, were juicy, pleasantly fatty, and perfectly medium-rare. The accompaniments were rich and earthy, punctuated by bites of acidy onion and a hint of lemon.

We drank a couple of cocktails apiece with our meal: a light and bright cardamom-spiked daiquiri and a perfumey (in a good way--expensive perfume) "Tin Cup" for me; the whiskey and sherry combo called a Cadizian and a rather whiskey sour-ish Glen + Tea for the mister. For dessert we had simple scoops of ice cream and sorbet in honey thyme and pineapple flavors. The sorbet was great, and the ice cream was pretty good too, even if the dried fresh thyme garnish did remind me of pizza.

Chef Michael Ransom's Spring menu is a real beaut and we'd really like to get ourselves back to B&O in the next few weeks to sample a few more items. Or just get the fish and crabs again. And the tacos. And....

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Woody's Rum Bar & Island Grill

Woody's Rum Bar & Island Grill occupies the top floor and roof deck of a building on the northeast corner of the intersection of Thames and Broadway, making it a perfect spot to soak up both the atmosphere of Fells Point and a few rum-based libations. You want to sit in the sun? Go up on the roof. If you prefer breezy shade, the third floor is the place to be. The place is small, so you won't ever be too far away from the bar.

A recent facelift has added some lively new artwork by Charles Lawrance. The menu of island-inflected dishes has been updated as well, adding new items to a selection of favorites. At a recent VIP tasting celebrating the restaurant's opening weekend, we sampled the entire menu. Ev-ry-thing. Oh, that's the food menu, not the drinks menu (otherwise, we might not be here right now.) We started with rum punches, which were sweet and fruity and oh so easy-to-drink. Thankfully there was plenty of tasty food coming to help absorb some of the alcohol we'd be imbibing that evening.

Rum Punch
You can check out Woody's menu here.

Among our favorites were the spicy Caesar salad. I'm a sucker for grilled romaine, and loved the piquant dressing, which was spicy but not overly so.

Spicy Caesar Salad
grilled Romaine hearts, queso fresco, spicy Caesar dressing, radish, corn strips
We also enjoyed the nachos. Despite looking like merely chips and cheese, the grilled pineapple salsa and chipotle jerk crema added a myriad of smoky, spicy, and sweet flavors.

Woody’s Nachos
corn chips, house made cheese sauce, grilled pineapple salsa,
pico de gallo, scallions, chipotle jerk crema
Mr Minx also really enjoyed the Jamaican hot pepper shrimp, served with a hunk of baguette to dip in the flavorful juices.

Jamaican Hot Pepper Shrimp
spiced scotch bonnet pepper butter, red stripe, baguette
corn flour fried, Woody spice, mango chile sauce
Island Wings
spicy pineapple BBQ sauce
Also notable were the calamari and wings.

We also tasted all of the sandwiches on the menu, particularly enjoying the Cubano. Out of the four varieties of tacos available (fish, shrimp, black bean falafel, and jerk chicken) we perhaps enjoyed the fish tacos most of all, although the falafels were pretty delicious as well.

Woody’s World Famous Fish Tacos
marinated mahi, Baja slaw, lime crema, pico de gallo, cheddar jack cheese
If you've got a hankering for the islands but can't afford to leave the mainland, head over to Woody's for Caribbean-inspired food and drinks. Watch the Os, grab a mai tai, and have a good time.

Woody's Rum Bar and Island Grill on Urbanspoon

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Flashback Friday: Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

This post was originally published on September 9, 2013
Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

Way back in 1999, my friend LaRaine and I went to Disney World for eight long days. They were made even longer by the fact that I had left my fiancé home while I was off gallivanting on teacups and monorails and watching god-awful animatronic bears and presidents and shit. We also ingested a good number of Calippo ice pops to beat the enervating heat and ate entirely too many buffet meals - both for breakfast and dinner.

We did have one very good non-buffet meal, at my instigation. At the time, I was absolutely enchanted by Emeril Lagasse. I had never had access to cable television until Mr Minx and I started dating, and whenever I was at his house, I made him sit through endless episodes of Emeril Live! as I day-dreamed about eating at one of his restaurants. That dream came true at Emeril's Orlando.

LaRaine and I basically ordered one of each - soup, salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert. There were gumbo and turtle soups, fried calamari with olive salad, barbecue shrimp, roast chicken, a "study of duck" with seared breast, confit leg, and foie gras, and banana cream pie. We were able to finish the soup and salad courses, but slowed down once the appetizers came and said uncle at the entrées. We took a shopping bag full of leftovers back to the condo, and they made for a couple of tasty lunches over the next few days. I even took the confit leg home to my sweetie, because I knew he had never eaten anything like it before.

There were some low points to the meal, but not many. The banana cream pie was a gummy mess, with floury custard and an underbaked crust. On the other hand, the mushroom bread pudding accompaniment to the duck dish was outstanding, and I've made variations on that theme many times at home. Another dish I've recreated is the salad of spinach with a warm andouille sausage dressing and rounds of nut-crusted goat cheese. It was hearty and meaty and probably why I couldn't eat very much after that.

The first time I made this salad, I couldn't find andouille sausage, so I substituted sweet Italian sausage. I also skipped the nut-crusting bit, choosing instead to add the cheese and the nuts to the salad separately. The next time I made the salad, I used andouille and found that I preferred the flavor of the Italian, so that's what I use every time now.

It had been a while since I made this dish - seven or eight years at least. But it popped into my head recently and I decided to make it as an entrée, topping it with pan-sautéed seafood to give it a bit more substance. It was as delicious as ever.

Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese (adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse)

2 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
3/4 cup chopped onion
olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups each fresh baby spinach and baby arugula, washed and patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
3 ounces goat cheese, cut into small pieces (I like Purple Haze, flavored with fennel pollen, which goes nicely with the Italian sausage)

In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with the back of a spatula until it's in small pieces. If the sausage starts to stick to the pan, add some olive oil (pork is so darn lean these days!) After about 5 minutes, add the onions and garlic and cook for 7-10 minutes longer, stirring frequently, until onions have started to brown and the sausage is fully cooked. Add the vinegar, scraping the pan to loosen any stuck sausage or onion bits. Whisk in about 1/8 cup of olive oil and remove from heat. Taste dressing and add salt and pepper.

Toss the spinach and arugula with the warm dressing in a large bowl. Season with more salt and pepper. Mound the salad on serving plates, top with walnuts and goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a main dish.

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