Friday, December 02, 2016

Seasons Eatings!

Ever feel like getting out of the office on a weekday and doing something fun for a change? Then Visit Baltimore's annual Seasons Eatings event is for you. Between Monday, December 5th and Friday, December 9th (next week!), the Baltimore Visitor Center at 401 Light Street will be the site of free cooking demonstrations by local chefs.

Stop on by, sample the chefs' dishes, and take a recipe to try at home. Here's the schedule.


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Monday, November 28, 2016

New Fall Menu at B & O Brasserie

B & O Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco is one of our favorite restaurants, especially for special occasions, but also for a simple weeknight dinner. The restaurant has seen several executive chefs over its relatively short existence, but each has created complex, high-end dishes that have never been boring or predictable. B & O's current executive chef, Scott Hines, continues the tradition set by his predecessors with a new fall menu that entertains the palate with layers of flavor and ingredient combinations that are new and exciting. We were happy to be invited to try out the new offerings recently.

We started our meal with a Brussels sprout salad made of the bright green outer leaves of the sprouts. Crab apples, onion, Marcona almonds, and pancetta round out the salad, providing a variety of flavors and textures. When I first tasted it, I thought the pancetta was Mexican chorizo. I later found out that the maple vinaigrette included achiote (or annatto) which lends an earthy flavor as well as a yellow hue, and is also used in chorizo. I was glad to discover that my tastebuds were not playing tricks on me. 

The oxtail marmalade is slow cooked oxtail (actually the tail from cattle we think of as cows, as opposed to oxen) blended with sweet and savory ingredients to create intense, meaty, flavor. When combined with a bit of bone marrow schmaltz (a rich combination of bone marrow and beef tallow) and a little of the lightly acidic pickled shallot and peppercress garnish on a slice of ciabatta, the result is a rich and satisfying bite that is lovely and well-balanced. A top-notch appetizer that would also be a perfect bar snack when paired with one of the B&Os always inventive cocktails. In that vein, I had the Harvest Moon from the new fall menu, a surprisingly dry combination of apple brandy, cacao nib syrup, lemon, and Millstone gingerroot cider. The Minx had the Rock Wall, a combination of mezcal and rum with cider, lemon, and spiced sugar syrup that reminded her of wood smoke and fall leaves.

The lamb noisette features medallions of medium rare lamb over a bed of fregola flavored with black olives and merguez sausage, and escarole, with a simply perfect lamb jus. An intensely carrot-y spiced carrot reduction is spread across the plate and feta cheese is sprinkled on top for an additional layer of flavor. There was just so much going on in this dish, and all of it was exactly the right thing.

A exciting surprise for me was the marjoram and orange gremolata atop the house made pappardelle with veal sugo. The veal is slow braised for 6 to 7 hours, making it unbelievably tender, and the pasta is lovely and silky on the tongue. While the dish would have been amazing as is, the salty pepperiness of pecorino pepato cheese nudged it over the top. While I might not be ambitious enough to tackle the slow braised veal, I would like to try the marjoram and orange combo on one of my own pasta dishes. It was quite the flavor revelation. Marjoram, a member of the mint and oregano family, is a somewhat underutilized herb when fresh, at least in such an obvious way. The flavor is reminiscent of both oregano and mint and added a fresh herbal contrast to the rich meaty sauce.

Although we were bursting at the seams, Chef Hines wanted us to try out a selection of their desserts. The lavender and caramel flan was redolent of lavender and finished off with slices of crisp meringue.

From the moment we arrived at the restaurant, everyone was raving about the lemon bar, and the praise was completely in order. Feuilletine white chocolate crunch, berry gelee, toasted meringue, vanilla ice cream, and lemon brittle make for a wonderful variety of flavors and textures that all work together. Your palate never gets bored with this dessert.

The B & O ice cream sandwiches are nothing like the ones you pulled out of the freezer as a kid. Almond macarons sandwich rich vanilla ice cream and are set on a pool of dulce de leche. To cut the sweetness and provide a little warmth on a chilly fall evening, the sandwiches are served with a cup of spiced hot cider.

While we've never had a bad meal at B & O Brasserie no matter what time of year we've gone there, this fall menu created by Chef Scott Hines is something worth checking out before the season is over. It makes us excited for the new, inventive dishes he will create in the future.

Full disclosure - Chef Hines provided several recipes for our latest book, Maryland's Chesapeake. He's a terrifically creative chef who is also very generous. We are so pleased that he's running the kitchen at B & O, and look forward to many more delicious meals there.

B & O Brasserie
The Hotel Monaco
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21201
443-692-6172

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Renovation and New Menu at The Milton Inn

The Minx and I first went to The Milton Inn for my birthday several years back. I had never been there before and was curious after doing some research on the building's rich history. We had a wonderful dinner and the service was lovely, but somehow I felt a bit out of place with the equestrian paintings on the walls and the heavy Colonial-style ornamentation. Some time later, we were invited to experience Chef Brian Boston's new c. 1740 Lounge and small plates menu. The lounge has a more rustic charm than the otherwise formal restaurant, and the new menu of smaller portions demonstrated a more modern vibe.

Today, The Milton Inn has undergone an extensive renovation. The wallpaper is lighter, the curtains are of lighter fabrics and no longer weighed down by tassels, and many of the equestrian paintings have been replaced with other subjects, although there is a beautiful equestrian mural painted on all four walls of one of the upstairs dining rooms. The rooms are brighter, and while still elegant, the overall look says "classic" rather than "old-fashioned."

The menu, too, has received a face-lift in the form of fall flavors. It's quite extensive, covering all manner of fish, fowl, meat, and vegetables. Many of the items are available on the restaurant's small plates menu, albeit in smaller portions. Most small plates are $12 while some that use pricier ingredients have an up-charge. Make sure to read the menu carefully.

We were invited in to experience the changes. Everything that we tasted during our visit was quite delicious, including the items pictured below.

The four-ounce crab cake with wild mushrooms and fava bean succotash...

...the flatbread of the day: tomato sauce and cheese with caramelized onions...

...the Pasta of the Moment: on our visit it was spicy penne pasta with shrimp...

...the Fall Harvest Salad with mixed greens, maple vinaigrette, roasted butternut squash, feta cheese, and pistachio nuts...

...the Braised Beef Short Rib with plum barbecue sauce,  root vegetable, and white cheddar mashed potatoes...

...and the Blackened Beef Tenderloin with barbecue sauce and béarnaise cheddar grits.

We finished off the meal with a sampling from their dessert menu: a seasonal berries tart with blackberries, raspberries and strawberries; macadamia torte with a caramel-laced chocolate cookie base studded with macadamia nuts, cream cheese mousse, and topped with chocolate ganache and macadamia nuts; and a chocolate truffle.

All next year, The Milton Inn will be offering a special menu to celebrate their 70th anniversary, which will also be Chef Brian Boston's 20th year with the restaurant. The menu is full of turn-back-the-clock classics like chateaubriand and shrimp remoulade, and includes hors d'oeuvres, mignardises, and coffee, plus a bottle of champagne or wine, for the bargain price of $130 per couple. The Minx and I look forward to dining there at some point after the first of the year, perhaps to celebrate our own anniversary.

The Milton Inn
14833 York Road
Sparks, MD 21152
410-771-4366

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Another Carrot Recipe - Yes, I Like Carrots.

I normally don't follow recipes to the letter. I don't know if it's because I know my palate and understand what will work best for it, or if I just have some odd recipe-specific ADD. In any case, it's very very rare that I do what I'm supposed to do. Case in point: the recipe for roasted carrots with creamy nuoc cham dressing that I found in a recent e-mailing from Bon Appetit magazine. Nuoc cham is the ubiquitous Vietnamese all-purpose sauce. It's sweet, salty, pungent, and amazingly delicious. Blending it with mayo and oil to create a dressing to go over a lightly sweet roasted root vegetable seemed like the fabulous no-brainer idea I always want to have (but often don't).

Normally, if I get a recipe off the Internet, I write the ingredients on a piece of scrap paper and take that to the kitchen with me. In the case of this recipe, I neglected to write down "1 ½-inch piece ginger, peeled, thinly sliced." So I made it without the ginger. Nevertheless, the sauce was lovely (after I added more mayo and a pinch of cayenne to up the heat level a tad). It worked very very well with the roasted carrots, but would be even better, I think, as a dressing for a Caesar salad. Just add parm. Had I remembered the ginger, however, I don't think I would have made the connection.

Fortunately, this recipe makes more dressing than needed for the carrots. Toss it on some romaine lettuce, add croutons and lots of fresh Parmesan, and you'll have the Caesar salad of your dreams.

Roasted Carrots with Creamy Nuoc Cham Dressing (adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 pounds medium carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch cayenne (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°. Toss carrots and vegetable oil on a large rimmed baking sheet and season with salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until crisp-tender, 20–25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring shallot, red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until shallot is soft, 8–10 minutes. Let cool. Transfer to a blender or mini-prep food processor, add lime juice and mayonnaise, and blend until smooth. With motor running, gradually stream in ¼ cup oil; blend until emulsified. Season dressing with salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper, if you'd like the dressing to be spicier.

Drizzle dressing over carrots just before serving.

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