Friday, November 30, 2007

What Are The Five Foods You Couldn't Live Without?

I spotted this on Ed Levine's blog and thought I'd take the challenge. Man, it's difficult. Because I am such a fickle eater, my favorites change from day to day and month to month. I'm not one to eat the same thing over and over again, like my husband and his daily lunch of a turkey sandwich, cookies, and a piece of fruit. I like variety. But what can't I live without? What would I miss the most from my varied diet?

Numbered, but not actually in order:
1. chocolate. I have a horrible sweet tooth and sometimes a small piece of chocolatey goodness is all I need to satisfy a craving.
2. ice cream
3. cheeseburgers. I am an unrepentant carnivore, but cheeseburgers are the only meat product I regularly get a hankerin' for
4. citrus fruits
5. salads - my favorite way to eat vegetables, they are infinitely variable and go well with cheeseburgers

So what are the five foods YOU can't live without?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

New Menu

Last night, Mr Minx and I, along with MinxBro and MinxDad hit up Jesse Wong's Hong Kong for a post-birthday dinner only to find that the menu had changed completely from the last time we had eaten dinner there. Granted, it's been a year, but the menu was no longer the 12-page Chinese food extravaganza. Instead, in its place, was a few-page listing of pan-Asian dishes that included Thai favorites like Pad Thai in addition to American-style Chinese foods. Bo-ring.

I complained to our waitress that the menu was different and she said, "oh, do you want to see the Chinese menu?" Yes I did! It wasn't as long as the original, but there were plenty of interesting options. And we could request non-menu items as well.

Hard to believe that the four of us put away one order of scallops, conch, and squid with snowpeas, a whole Peking duck, a whole Hunan-style rockfish, and an order of crispy chicken, plus pan fried dumplings and won ton soup all around. And it was all amazingly delicious, particularly the fish.

So when you go...remember to ask for the Chinese menu. You won't be disappointed.
Jesse Wong's Hong Kong on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks

Yesterday was Thanksgiving and we had our annual feast of starch and tryptophan, with a goodly measure of vegetables and alcohol. Every year we descend on my Mother-in-Law's house with vegetables and pie, homemade cranberry sauce, and gravy fixins. Minx MIL provides the starches and the roast beast, BIL the stuffing, and Minx Brother brings the beer.
Click images to enlarge.

This year the turkey got cooked in an electric roaster, which really freed up the oven for heating the classic green bean casserole, the stuffing, and the sweet potatoes. No, those are not multiple penises on the turkey. My in-laws like to arrange sausage links on the top of the bird for the last half hour or so of roasting, presumably for basting purposes. It looks like the creature is getting a perm and wearing rows of hair rollers (sorry I don't have a pic of that!) I hate sausage links, but everyone else gobbles the horrid things up.

Here's my corn pudding in all its browned glory. It's a simple blend of three eggs, one cup of heavy cream, the kernels of 6 ears of corn (or a whole bag of frozen kernels), and a bit of salt and sugar. Bake for 1 hour at 350F. The recipe was given to me by a woman I never have liked. Still don't, but I make this stuff every year even though it reminds me of her. I bake it the day before and then heat it up in the microwave for about 4 minutes before serving.

Minx MIL cooked up a few pounds too many of the taters this year. We have mash coming out of our ears. Not that we're complaining!

It really makes a difference when one uses fresh sweet potatoes rather than canned or frozen. There's no need to add crushed pineapple to kill the canned flavor (as we used to do), and marshmallows can be kept to a minimum.

My MIL's friend Wayne likes peas, so she makes peas. These were sauteed with a bit of garlic and a small tomato, chopped. The garlic really makes itself known in this dish, particularly since almost nothing else on the table contained it.

My BIL makes really great stuffing with sausage and giblets. The gravy I make by cheating with a jar of Williams-Sonoma turkey gravy base and adding a cup or so of drippings. It's really delicious, and so rich it probably could be eaten on roast beef.

Here's a view of the table. When my DH was taking photos of all the dishes, he missed getting individual shots of the sliced brussels sprouts steamed with lemongrass oil (in the sprout-shaped dish), the green bean casserole (end of table, top left) and the dishes of cranberry sauce (behind the sprouts). He's not a fan of cranberries, and that's probably why he omitted them. This year, I made two kinds - my standard raw version (two whole clementines, peels and all, seeds removed, half a bag of fresh cranberries, and about 1/2 cup sugar, a dash of cinnamon, all ground up in the food processor) and a cooked variant with red pepper jelly, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, sugar, and a bit of rice wine vinegar to make it chutney-esque.

My favorite part is the side dishes, as I could really live without turkey. I'll eat it, but it has never been a focus of any meal for me, as evidenced by this photo.

I intended to make an apple galette but to buy the pumpkin pie. When we found the grocery store was out of them, we made one with canned pie filling. It was good, if a bit sweeter than I would have made it. The galette had thinly sliced golden delicious and granny smith apples, a bit of sugar, and some cinnamon, folded up in a refrigerated pie crust. After it came out of the oven, I glazed it with some mango preserves heated up with a little maple syrup. Both were a bit on the lazy side, but the results are what counts, right?

We wash the meal down with shandies (a mixture of beer and fizzy lemon soda, or as this year, ginger ale) which comes from the British side of the family. Before dinner, everyone but me partakes of Manhattans. By the time dinner is over, both the turkey and the alcohol have taken over, but the clean up takes precedence over napping! Once all that is done, we retire to the living room to jeer the football game and chat and/or fall asleep.

A good time was had by all, and I look forward to doing it again next year!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Holiday Questionnaire

This is from Baltimore Snacker by way of Chris at Take the quiz and pass it on.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Hot Chocolate. Egg Nog makes me gag. Although I love custard sprinkled with nutmeg, just not raw.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
When I was a kid, they occasionally were "wrapped" in plastic garbage bags, since my Dad did (still does) everything at the last possible minute. But my husband and I wrap everything.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White lights with green and red chile pepper-shaped covers.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No. I can kiss my husband any time I please.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
First or second weekend in December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
We don't have standards every year anymore so I have no favorite. When I was a kid, it was always baked ham, mashed potatoes, and kapusta i kielbasy. Every year, every holiday. Love Ostrowski's fresh and garlicky kielbasa, but it doesn't love me. These days I mix it up. Last year it was short ribs, this year it's going to be pasta Carbonara.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
Every year, my older cousins (25 years older) would arrive to the family festivities late, but bearing the most expensive gifts for my brother and I. After they ate dinner, they would come upstairs to our part of the house (Grandma had the first two floors) and help assemble said expensive gifts.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I'm not sure I ever really believed. Our apartment was small and it was hard to conceal things, so I was pretty sure it was Dad putting gifts under the tree with Mom's supervision rather than some old dude in a red suit.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Not usually.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Duh - with ornaments and lights! I have a fetish for pine cone-shaped ornaments, so there are lots of those, and mermaids.

11. Snow: love it or hate it?
I like the way it looks when it's falling, but I hate shoveling it and walking through it from the bus stop. We have neighbors who just don't bother shoveling at all.

12. Can you ice skate?
Not well, but yes.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I get favorites every year!

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?
The sense of belonging I get when I spend time with my family and friends. I don't get to see so many people at one time during the rest of the year.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Pumpkin pie, but I secretly love Christmas Pudding, especially when drowned in Bird's Custard.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Baking cookies with my brother is one of the few traditions carried over from my single days. I always enjoy putting up the tree too.

17. What tops your tree?
If memory serves, a star.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
Giving, but receiving is always nice, particularly if it's something I really really want!

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
I love Christmas music, everything from the old standards (particularly when sung by Ella Fitzgerald) to new tunes by the Barenaked Ladies. But my favorite is probably "Let it Snow" sung by Dean Martin, for errr...sentimental reasons.

20. Candy canes:
Peppermint ones, yes!

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
White Christmas

22. What do you leave for Santa?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Christopher Daniel

I asked Mr Minx to surprise me with the location for my birthday dinner this year. His choice: Christopher Daniel, a steakhouse in northern Baltimore County. I had heard good things about the place and the menu looked interesting, so I was very happy with his choice. Tucked away into a strip mall on Padonia Road, Christopher Daniel was hopping at 6PM on a Saturday night, with a private party in one room and lots of elderly couples elsewhere. Yeah, so it's a place the older crowd likes. But the food is good, so I hope younger folks do drop in for dinner later in the evening.

We decided to split an appetizer of cornmeal fried oysters to start off. They were unusually tender in their crunchy crusts and the light mustard sauce was a perfect accompaniment. For our salad course, I went for the steakhouse classic iceberg wedge with bleu cheese dressing, this one gussied up BLT style with flecks of tomato and bacon on top. The serving looked like a giant slab of white-iced birthday cake with a funfetti garnish. There was a bit too much good dressing, but it was cheese-ful so I can't complain. Mr Minx went for the poached pear salad with mesclun, spicy pecans bleu cheese and raspberry-hazelnut dressing. The pear was nicely spiced and the salad was both generously-portioned and delicious. In fact, after the salad course, neither of us were particularly hungry anymore.

But...steaks were forthcoming. He chose the 8oz strip with a port wine reduction and crispy onion rings. I decided to go for the Kobe beef, which turned out to be a large tenderloin, with horseradish sauce and mushrooms. At $28 for 12oz, I sincerely doubt it was Kobe (considering that the stuff costs $20 per ounce with a 6 ounce minimum at Morimoto), and a lean cut like tenderloin kinda misses the point of the whole unctuous super-marbling for which the Japanese beef is famous. was flavorful, perfectly cooked to medium. The strip steak, as well, was perfectly cooked, and both pieces of meat were well-seasoned.

Vegetables were a la carte, and I went for the lobster mac and cheese. It was more buttery than cheesy, and the little lobster bits really did make it special. Mr Minx's baked potato was indeed baked, rather than the ubiquitous steamed in foil versions most restaurants dare serve, and had a nicely crispy skin. We both tried the spinach with garlic which was lightly cooked and heavy on the raw garlic.

Although we were full and doggie bagged part of our steaks, I agreed to take a look at the dessert menu because it was my birthday. But we didn't need to order anything, as our waitress immediately trotted back to the table with a warm hunk of flourless chocolate cake decked out with chocolate sauce and a candle. A very nice touch that I greatly appreciated.

A happy birthday to me. :)
Christopher Daniel on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Brussels Sprouts

After reading accounts on several other blogs about how wonderful it is, last night we decided to try out David Chang's brussels sprouts recipe. We love the earthy goodness of brussels sprouts and usually prepare them by separating the leaves, giving them a quick steam and seasoning them with Golden Whisk's Star of Siam oil (sadly discontinued).

Chang's recipe involves roasting the wee cabbages at 450F and then dousing them with a Southeast Asian-inspired combo of fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and fresh mint and cilantro. I didn't have the Thai chile called for in the recipe, so I substituted some Korean red pepper flakes. The puffed rice garnish comes from Indian snack foods, but seasoned with Japanese seven-spice powder makes this dish truly pan-Asian. No sichimi togarashi in my house, unfortunately, so I just added salt, pepper, and ground ginger to the rice.

I decided that pork tenderloin would be the main dish and wanted to give it a similarly Asian flavor profile. I made a sauce with peanut butter, mango preserves, coconut powder, rice wine vinegar, and ginger, thinned out with some store-bought Thai broth. Plain Jasmine rice was the final component of the meal.

Ok, those sprouts were seriously good. Although while roasting, they gave off the unmistakable smell of cruciferous vegetables, they didn't taste cabbage-y at all. The sweet morsels of caramelized goodness, combined with the crispy rice (which really seemed like a skippable novelty ingredient) were a symphony of textures and flavors. All they needed was the rice, although the pork was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shrimp Curry

Last night we tried the first of the Let's Dish meals - a shrimp curry. When we were packaging the stuff up at the shop, I was smart enough to add twice as much ginger and curry powder as the recipe called for. Mr Minx said it tasted ok, but that it needed salt and the curry powder was a bit spicy but otherwise one-dimensional. So of course he doctored it up with other Indian spices. And added more shrimp. And as there were no vegetables in the dish, he cooked up a head of cauliflower and seasoned it in an Indian manner as well. With a cilantro leaf and pistachio garnish and spoonfuls of various chutneys from my collection, it was a tasty meal. However, one that could have been made from scratch just as quickly. (No photos, as without the cilantro, the dish was a symphony in beige.)

Mr Minx did admit that it was nice to have something in the freezer that he could cook up without having to put any advance thought into the meal.