Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Restaurant Dishes of 2007

In the year 2007, Mr Minx and I did our fair share of restaurant dining. I'd say we eat out about once a week or so, usually simple fare like diner food, Chinese, or sushi. We also ate a number of pricier meals this year, and dined in six different states. What was sorely lacking, however, was good ethnic food. Although we got carry out from Yeti, a Nepalese restaurant near Belvedere Square, we did not dine in an Indian restaurant in the last 12 months. We had one Korean meal, and one Thai, and that was in NYC. If our local favorites Bangkok Place and Purim Oak had not closed, this wouldn't have been the case, but there it is. (Would someone please open a Korean restaurant in a non-sketchy neighborhood that doesn't require taking the Beltway to get there? Good Thai food in northern Baltimore County would be nice too, thanks.)

Although I can whine all day about missing my tod mun pla and dolsot bibimbop, I thought maybe I should concentrate on the good dining experiences we had in 2007. Although we had some mediocre food this year, we also ate some stellar dishes. The criteria for making this list is simple: if a dish pops into mind, and I say "mmmm, I'd like to have that again" at the memory, then it's a winner.

Top Ten Tastes of 2007

1. Black squid ink risotto with prawns and lobster, Bolo, NY
2. Portobello mushroom stuffed with warm lobster salad, Sotto Sopra, Baltimore
3. Deep fried macaroni and cheese with tasso ham and lump crab with spicy tomato glaze, Cajun Kate's, Boothwyn, PA
4. Scallop ceviche with crab salad and microgreens, Roy's, Baltimore
5. Preserved duck salad with tangerines, pomegranates, & spicy almond brittle, Bolo, NY
6. Crab bisque, Louisiana, Baltimore
7. Whole rockfish, Hunan style, Jesse Wong's, Columbia
8. Warm duck salad, Centro Vinoteca, NY
9. Twelve-layer potato tapas, Bolo, NY
10. Lavender gelato, Sotto Sopra, Baltimore

Runners up:
Hamachi tartare with crispy shallots, Morimoto, Philadelphia
Laos salad with duck, Yin Yankee Cafe, Annapolis
Lobster risotto, Sotto Sopra, Baltimore
Tom Yum Goong, Prem On Thai, NY

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Chili and Cornbread

For the last six years, we've been having both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities at Casa Minx. I'd prefer to have one big party on Christmas Day, but because the holiday is no longer All About Me, I have to make concessions for the other families involved. This has meant that Dad and his SO visit us on the 24th. Because they are so busy on that day, they can't stay very long, so in 2006 I decided we should have a party and invite other folks to celebrate with us. This way, there's merrymaking before Dad's arrival and it still goes on after they leave for their next stop of the evening.

Casual party food should be both fun and easy (to make and eat). Last year, we had pulled pork sandwiches. This year, chili was on the menu. What's easier than tossing a bunch of ingredients in a pot and letting it simmer all morning? And what's more fun than having to taste it every hour or so to make sure the seasonings are just right?

I love chili and prefer a hearty no-bean Texas-style preparation with chunks rather than ground meat. I am quite the shiterein cook, tossing things in until the dish tastes good, so there's no formal recipe. But I can give you a rough idea of what it entails.

Minx Chili
4 lbs beef stew meat, cut in uniform pieces (if you find big chunks, make them smaller with your handy-dandy knife)
1 32-oz can whole tomatoes
1 15- or 16-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2 - 3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
regular commercial chile powder
ancho chile powder
ground cumin
1 or 2 whole jalapenos
1 or 2 small cans chopped green chiles
beef stock
1 oz or so unsweetened chocolate or 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Brown the meat in a large Dutch oven. Remove from pan; add onion and allow to sweat. Add garlic and cook a few minutes. Hand crush the whole tomatoes and add them and their juice plus the small can of tomatoes, the green chiles, and a good tablespoon or so each of the chile powders, plus almost as much cumin.

Return the beef to the pot and add about 2 cups of beef stock (a Knorr bouillon cube plus 2 cups of water works too) and the whole jalapeños. (I like to cut a slit in them first. If you like heat, hell, chop them up instead. Add 3 or 10. Personally though, I like to taste my food.)

Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Give it a stir every 30 minutes or so. After about an hour, give it a taste. Remember there's no salt at this point, but don't add that yet because the sauce is going to reduce and the end result may be too salty. If you think it needs more chile powder or cumin, add it. At this point I'd probably put in a bit of chocolate, maybe a drizzle of honey, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Non-traditional, but hey, it's all about the flavor! I like my food to be rich and complex.

After another hour or so, taste it again. More garlic? Sure! More chocolate? Of course! How about a sprinkle of cinnamon? Why not? Taste and add, taste and add. Repeat every hour or so.

Christmas Eve's chile got a good 4 1/2 hours of cooking at very low heat. At that point, the meat was falling apart, and the sauce was fairly rich and dark. The 1 1/2 oz of unsweetened chocolate and small handful of Hershey's kisses guaranteed that! (And no, it wasn't sweet and the chocolate wasn't obvious in the least. I remember watching an episode of "Calling All Cooks" on the Food Network some years ago in which a home cook's secret recipe for chili included ONE Hershey's kiss. Mr Minx and I still laugh at the absurdity of that.) At the last minute, I added more chile powder and cumin and finally the salt. You may find that it doesn't need much salt at all, especially if you used a bouillon cube or non reduced-sodium stock.

Serve with garnishes of chopped onion or scallion, shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, chopped jalapeños, tortilla chips - whatever turns you on. I like to make cornbread.

We had the best cornbread at the Molly Stark Inn in Bennington, Vermont. The recipe, we were told, was based on one found on a bag of cornmeal. It's now my go-to recipe if I make cornbread from scratch (rather than cheating with Jiffy.) I gave it a twist by baking it in my neglected non-stick Madeleine pan - they are easy to remove and their small size makes them even easier to eat.

Mexican Cornbread
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups white flour
1 t salt
6 t baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup half & half
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, softened
pinch of sugar (optional)

Optional ingredients
6 spring onions, coarsely chopped
2 small jalapeños, seeded and chopped
6 strips of cooked bacon, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can chopped green chiles
1/2 corn kernels, fresh or thawed frozen

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, and butter. Beat until smooth. Stir in any or all of the optional ingredients.

Lightly butter a Madeleine pan. Drop about a tablespoon of batter into each well. Bake for about 12 minutes.

Makes approximately 48 Madeleine-shaped muffins. Oh, and the chili feeds...not as many as you may think....heh.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chocolate Linzer Tart

My friend Amy mentioned making Linzer cookies during her holiday baking, and that reminded me of an old favorite recipe that I haven't made in a while: chocolate linzer tart.

Years ago, I used to have annual chocolate parties which involved myriad chocolate desserts served to an all-female crowd. At first I made everything myself, but then I realized that I could share some of the back-breaking work by having my guests supply favorite chocolate dishes. Despite the many new varieties of fabulous cocoa-laden desserts that arrived each year, it didn't feel right unless I made this tart.

It's been about fifteen years since I first made this, so I have no idea where the recipe came from originally. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Chocolate Linzer Tart
1 1/2 cups ground blanched almonds
1 1/3 cups chocolate Teddy Grahams, pulsed in the food processor until they are fine crumbs
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 t ground cinnamon
2 T cocoa powder
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 whole egg
1 jar Polaner All-Fruit seedless raspberry jam
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Place ground almonds, cookie crumbs, flour, sugar, cinnamon and cocoa into a large bowl and mix well. Distribute the butter over the mixture and add the egg. Work the dough with your fingertips, rubbing in the butter and making a smooth dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly butter a 9" tart pan with removable bottom. Pat about 3/4 of the dough into the bottom of the pans, forming a bottom crust.

Spread the jam thickly over the crust but not quite to the edges.

Roll pieces of the remaining dough into strips and arrange on jam in a lattice pattern. Sprinkle on the chopped almonds.

Bake for 35 minutes. Let the pastry cool in the pan before cutting into thin wedges.
Serves 12 - 15

Christmas Cookies

I don't do a lot of baking during the year, apart from the occasional pan of Ghirardelli brownies for a party. But at Christmas, I set aside one day for the annual Baking of the Cookies. This has been a tradition since time immemorial--or at least for the last fifteen years or so.

Chocolate chip cookies are always a must. We always baked them when my brother was home so he could eat them hot from the oven with a glass of very cold milk. Mom liked them too, but without the chips, so we'd make a couple of "bald" cookies for her. I also have a fondness for Snickerdoodles, so they became part of the repertoire sometime in the late 90s.

Now that I'm married, I haven't given up the traditional cookie day. My brother still comes over to get his hot from the oven. We make chocolate chips and 'doodles, and occasionally a third or even fourth cookie. My brother has a fondness for amaretti, the chewy Italian macaroon topped with sliced almonds. (Personally, I like the pignoli version better, topped with pine nuts, but my brother has severe nut allergies so they are a no-no.) They are a little spendy to make, plus they get stale almost instantaneously, so we only make them every other year or so.

A few years back I tried a tea cookie made with finely ground Earl Grey tea. They were an odd blue color, tasted strongly of tea, but they didn't stay fresh very long. Last year we made chocolate cookies, but it was hard to tell when they were done or when they were burnt. Many got burnt, so we saved them for Dad (who seems to enjoy burnt things, or at least he's been pretending to for the last 40 years or so).

This year, we made the standard two varieties. Chocolate chips were made with the old standby Toll House recipe, and Snickerdoodles from The Joy of Cooking. Nothing earth-shattering, I'm afraid, but they were very tasty as they came out of the oven!

I would love to find a recipe for a chewy Snickerdoodle, but every one I've tried (even those purporting to be chewy) have produced profoundly crisp results. If any of my readers have a chewy recipe they would care to share with me, I'd be grateful!

Want a cookie? We have plenty!

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Before E Except After C

Why is it that some food terms are consistently mispronounced and/or misspelled? I mean, I can understand small children pronouncing spaghetti as "pisketti" - they usually grow out of that sort of thing fairly early. But adults...grrrr! Here are a few that I see or hear on a regular basis, and which annoy me as often.

Carmel is a town in California, not a chemical reaction that occurs when sugars are heated. The correct term is CARAMEL. And CARAMELIZED. There's an extra syllable in there that you carmelizers skip. Do use it next time.

CHIPOTLE - chee po tlay. NOT "chi pol tay" or "chil pol tay." Or, as Bobby Flay pronounces it, "chee po til lay." Do you say "Mc Donlads" too??

That luscious sweet cheese in tiramisu is MASCARPONE, not MARSCAPONE. How's this, boobs - MASCAR like...NASCAR!

Do you have any food language peeves? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy Chanukah!

Blogger Nancy Kay Shapiro spotted these lovely Chanukah hams at Balducci's this past weekend.