Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chef for a Day at Sotto Sopra

Fellow Baltimore food blogger and Sustainable Food Examiner Liz Stambaugh will be "chef for a day" at Sotta Sopra on Tuesday, June 15th. Liz planned the menu with Chef Bill Crouse, and it sounds wonderful!

1st Course
Trio of Meatballs
1st-Lamb with Tomato Braise over Risotto Cake
2nd-Calamari over Ceci cake
3rd-Pork with BBQ glaze over Red Cabbage Slaw

2nd Course
Fois Gras Potato Gnocchi
Parmesan cream sauce with Parmesan crisp

3rd Course
Gunpowder Bison Rib Eye
grilled vegetables with smoked mozzarella
arugula almond pesto

4th Course
Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone and Peach Stuffing,
peach sorbet, lemoncello zabaglione and lavender crisp

$45 per person (excludes beverages, tax and gratuity)
When making your reservation, make sure to mention you want to attend Chef For the Day.
(410) 625 0534

Friday, May 28, 2010

Flashback Friday 5.28.10

Wendi, of Bon Appetit Hon, has been doing a regular "Flashback Friday" post and I am so stealing her idea. Every Friday (that is, if I remember) I'm going to post something from the archives, most likely a post I enjoyed reading but that didn't get much love from my readers. Maybe because I didn't have any back then. Heh.

This week, my thoughts on celebrity chefs, from waaaay back on August 17th, 2005, my third post ever on MinxEats.

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Celebrity Chefs

As a foodie, I am pleased that chefs can now become celebrities. Why should actors with nice abs but negligible talent and whorish heiresses get all of the limelight?

Despite the trend in Hollywood, any old cook with a pretty face shouldn't become a Celebrity Chef. I believe a chef should be the equivalent of a culinary Picasso - well-versed in many techniques and styles, but perhaps perferring one or two over all others. An Artist. The celebrity should be worth oohing and ahhing over. He or she should be the creator of masterpieces that everyone strives to own - or to be able to replicate oneself.

Unfortunately, like in Hollywood, some Chefs are now famous for merely being famous. Take Emeril, for example. I'm sure he was a fine chef in his day, back when he still worked in a restaurant kitchen. Now, he comically fumbles his way around a set, preparing recipes created, prepped, and all-but-completed by Food Network staff. Half the things that come out of his mouth are either pronounced incorrectly or are just plain wrong. And the slop he dishes out is ludicrous. But he still has his adoring fans. Go figure.

I've eaten in three of his restaurants. One was very good, one was pretty good, and one, his flagship, sucked. Message to Mr. Lagasse: just because you're a big star now, you still need to remember that consistency is important. Your name is over the door, so don't blame your chefs and line cooks for the completely oversalted mess we ate. Have you heard of quality control?

Bobby Flay is another celebrity chef who is a tad overexposed. But hey - I think the man still takes cooking seriously. I've eaten at Mesa Grill, and it was one of the best restaurant meals I've had in my life. And watching him cook on Iron Chef America makes me drool. He turns out some seriously yummy-looking stuff in that frantic hour. I'm curious to try out his new restaurant venture, Bar Americain. Mario Batali is another chef who I'd let cook for me anytime. The pasta tasting menu at Babbo was magnificent.

Then there's the sad story of Rocco DiSpirito. Young, handsome, and talented, he thought he could rocket to superstardom via a reality show. The cruel reality was that it portrayed him to be a egotistical, lazy, lying, prick. Not only did his restaurant Rocco fail miserably, but he also got ousted from the highly-acclaimed Union Pacific (it was a mutual decision...riiighhht...) which closed abruptly soon after. Despite receiving a James Beard award for his cookbook, Flavor, the man is a laughingstock. Tony Bourdain, another celebrity chef perhaps more famous for his writings than his cooking, made a particularly nasty jab at him on the debut episode of his new Travel Channel show, No Reservations (a must-see). Poor Rocco now has to peddle his Mama's meatballs on QVC to make a buck.

So where am I going with my rant here? Well, let me tell you. I have a design client who is a local chef. He once owned restaurants, and got some acclaim. He's now still in the business, still calling himself chef, but I'm not feeling any foodlove from the guy. Perhaps he's been doing church supper-style catering for so long, he forgot how to cook? His collection of recipes seem to have been lifted directly out of a 60s copy of Betty Crocker - crab imperial, salmon in "champagne sauce" - there's no life in them, no spark, nothing new. And the one dish I've tasted that he prepared, chicken pieces in a sauce with pineapple chunks, tasted of dishwashing liquid, and wouldn't have been out of place at the Old Country Buffet. The funny thing is, he still thinks he's got what it takes to be a celebrity chef. Ok, so the guy was handsome in his youth, and had done some modeling. But even the Hollywood vapid wouldn't be impressed by his repertoire.

Baltimore is becoming a town full of interesting restaurants, thanks to chefs like Cindy Wolf (although I must comment here that she reduces her stocks a bit too much...cow bones become glue eventually, and sticky lips are not pleasant) and restaurateurs like Steve DeCastro. Let's continue to aim high, shall we? But lets not let sheer celebrity get in the way of talent.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rocco Gets a Bravo Show

There's going to be yet another cooking competition on Bravo, this time featuring our favorite brownie recipe-maimer, Rocco DiSpirito!

ACCLAIMED CHEF ROCCO DISPIRITO HEADLINES BRAVO DEVELOPMENT OF NEW COOKING SHOW "ROCCO'S DINNER PARTY"

Star Chef and Best Selling Author Rocco DiSpirito Headlines Series That Tests The Expertise, Creativity And Stamina Of Up and Coming Chefs

NEW YORK, NY - May 27, 2010 - Acclaimed chef Rocco DiSpirito partners with Bravo for development on a weekly cooking competition series, "Rocco's Dinner Party," in which DiSpirito sizes up some of the country's most promising aspiring chefs to see if they have the chops to impress at a private dinner party attended by his discriminating guests. Notional, an IAC company, is teaming up with Bravo on this project that offers an exciting new twist on the culinary competition genre as up - and - coming chefs are given the opportunity to throw a memorable soiree for one of the culinary world's most influential figures. The chefs will hail from all walks of lives - from restaurateurs to caterers to self - taught foodies - and the winner of each episode will be awarded with a cash prize. For more information, visit www.BravoTV.com. Follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BravoPR.

"We love this concept because it continues Bravo's goal of providing additional forums for creative industries like the culinary arts, with a dramatic personality like Rocco DiSpirito at the head of the table" said Cori Abraham, Vice President, Development.

Each episode will feature four different chefs who will be tasked to create their favorite dish for DiSpirito, and DiSpirito will eliminate one chef following the task. Next, DiSpirito will announce the week's dinner party theme, and the three remaining chefs will create an appetizer and also present their proposed menu for the theme, with one more being eliminated after this task. The two remaining chefs are given the opportunity to create a complete menu and decor incorporating the week's assigned theme. Who will create the best menu to impress DiSpirito's guests, many of the most influential tastemakers today? Who has the attention to detail to create a flawless atmosphere and memorable experience for the dinner party?

DiSpirito, a gifted and accomplished chef and author, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, apprenticed with iconic chefs and then jumped into the New York restaurant scene. DiSpirito has operated numerous restaurants including the three - star Union Pacific, for which he appeared on the cover of Food & Wine magazine as "Best New Chef."

DiSpirito is well known to television audiences, starring in NBC's "The Restaurant" and making numerous appearances on programs including "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," "Today," "The Martha Stewart Show," and many others. DiSpirito has also been a guest judge on Bravo's Emmy and James Beard Award winning series, "Top Chef."

DiSpirito has written six cookbooks, receiving the James Beard Award for Flavor. His most recent book - - Now Eat This: 150 of America's Fave Comfort Food All Under 350 Calories - - hit the number one spot on the New York Times Best Seller list.

"There is no greater gift or gesture than to cook for another human being," said DiSpirito. "My favorite moments are when I am entertaining for friends and loved ones. This partnership with Bravo brings to bear all I love about the craft and artistry of cooking in a setting where I am most comfortable - - the dinner table."

Free Kaya Toast at STREET!


Last night, Susan Feniger's run on Top Chef Masters came to a close, after winning $32,500 for her favorite charity, Scleroderma Research Foundation. She lost with Kaya Toast, one of the most popular dishes at Susan Feniger's STREET. Following the loss, Susan decided to offer free Kaya Toast (one per party) from 5 to 7pm at STREET each day from now through Wed, June 2 for anyone who says the secret words "Pack Your Knives." She hopes that those who try Kaya Toast will go to www.eatatstreet.com to share their opinion about the traditional Singapore hangover recipe.

What Is It? - The Answer

Kudos to whomever correctly identified this edible object as a cooked lamb's tongue, as seen in cross-section. Bigger kudos to those who knew what it was without seeing this Nasty Bits feature on Serious Eats first. :)

Win Passes to Great Grapes

The Great Grapes Festival will be taking place June 12th and 13th at Oregon Ridge Park. On Saturday, at 1pm, I will be participating in a cook-off with fellow local bloggers Kit Pollard of Mango & Ginger (and one of my partners in crime at All Top Chef) and John Donahue of The Baltimore Snacker. The not-so-secret ingredient is bacon, so come on over and see what the three of us will be concocting with everyone's favorite porcine food product!

In addition to the blogger cook-off on Saturday, there will be a blogger panel at 3pm on Sunday the 13th, featuring Bon Appetit Hon's Wendy Mosteiko, What’s To Eat Baltimore‘s Liz Stambaugh, The Upstart Kitchen‘s Wendy Tien, Jessica Lemmo of Adventures in Baltimore Restaurants, and Dara Bunjon of Dining Dish acting as moderator.

Tickets to Great Grapes are $20, which includes a tasting glass, or $30 for a two-day pass. Non-drinkers can get in for $15 with a "designated drivers" ticket. And two of you can get in for FREE if you answer this simple question: what is your favorite wine? Leave your answer in the comments and I'll pick the winners via random drawing. Please make sure to leave your e-mail address with your comment so I can contact you if you are a winner. Tickets will be left at will call, so I'll also need your names.

Contest ends Sunday, June 6th.

Hope I see you at the festival! And good luck!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Is It? 5.26.10


Can anyone correctly identify this edible item?

The Brewer's Art

Although The Brewer's Art has been around for a number of years, Mr Minx and I had never had the opportunity to dine there until now. Friends from out of town, the very drole Cliff and his partner Doug, was going to be in Baltimore for a few hours en route to D.C. Originally we were going to eat near BWI (giving us very few choices) but when Cliff mentioned that they planned to take the MARC to their final destination, I realized that eating in Baltimore would open up our field of possibilities considerably. The Brewer's Art is less than three blocks away from Penn Station, so it seemed like the perfect destination for the occasion. Plus the current menu, listed on their Web site, had several choices that piqued my interest.

We were extremely early for our reservation and had to cool our heels in the shockingly noisy bar with a couple of the house brews. Eventually we were led to our table in the much quieter dining room. I was a bit worried that the noise would carry, considering there was no carpet or drapery to dampen the sound, but it was not a problem at all.

Once seated, it didn't take very long for us to make up our minds about dinner.

Doug had the chilled asparagus soup with house-smoked Scottish salmon tartare. I didn't get a taste but Doug seemed to enjoy it very much.

Mr Minx chose the house-made artichoke ravioli with Meyer lemon butter and pistachio-mint pesto. The butter sauce was outrageously good - rich and luscious and completely decadent over the tender pasta. One of those things one wants to pour over everything - chicken, vegetables, people....

Cliff and I both chose the roasted Berkshire pork belly on a sweet potato biscuit with grilled spring onion-fig jam, strawberry-basil salsa, and natural jus. While the individual elements of this dish were excellent - the pork was succulent, the salsa was tangy, the jam was pleasantly figgy - serving it assembled as a sandwich in a pool of jus made the soft biscuit soggy and somewhat difficult to eat. It was a bit large for an appetizer portion as well. Personally, I'd deconstruct the dish with mini biscuits, swap out the jus for a thicker, drizzle-able, reduction, and serve a dollop of the jam on the side. Keep the flavors but alter some of the textures.

On to the entrées. Cliff had the rabbit pot pie which contained the braised leg and roasted saddle in a Madeira-thyme velouté, wtih fava beans, morels, heirloom carrots, country ham, and buttermilk mashed potato, all topped with a puffed-pastry bunny "lid." I didn't get a taste, but judging by the way Cliff hoovered up the dish, I think it was a smash hit.

Because my app was so large and meaty, I went vegetarian with my entrée and chose the nettle and ricotta gnocchi with asparagus, fava beans, spring greens and Fontina cream, topped with bread crumbs and pickled spring vegetable salad. Light as air but as rich as sin, I could only eat about half of this decadent creamy concoction. Not having eaten nettles before, I wasn't sure what they were supposed to taste like, but I am happy to report they did not sting. The bits of asparagus and greens added some texture to the fluffy gnocchi, and the pickled salad of salicornia (sea beans) and onion added some tangy zing to the dish. The topping of stemmy watercress, however, was a bit awkward to eat.

Both Mr Minx and Doug chose the Ozzy-brined Giannone chicken with hash of caramelized fennel and fingerling potatoes, green olives, grilled Meyer lemon, and a Limoncello sauce. The chicken was perfectly roasted with a delicately crisp skin, and the sauce was richly chicken-y with a hint of lemon. Mr Minx was momentarily worried that the Limoncello might make things too sweet, but that was not the case at all.

Unfortunately, I don't have the full descriptions for our desserts. Doug went for the chocolate rum cake...

Mr Minx had the chevre cheesecake, which despite being a sweet cheesecake had a nice savory aspect from the goat's cheese. I enjoyed my bite and really should have sneaked another one. Or two.

I chose the coffee pot de creme. The first time I ever had a pot de creme, it was a baked custard, and that's what I expect every time I order it. And every time I am disappointed by something the consistency of pancake batter. This was no different. Under about half a cup of sweetened whipped cream I found an equal amount of coffee-flavored glop. This is not pot de creme, people. It tasted fine and the crunchy chocolate biscotti (which weren't really biscotti-textured) helped, but I was still disappointed.

Not bad to have only one disappointment in the evening, huh? Cliff thought his meal was "astonishingly good," which is quite a high compliment. I agree that overall it was a very fine meal and that my quibbles are pretty minor and really only based on my personal preferences. And the service was terrific - quiet, prompt, unobtrusive. I'd eat there again in a heartbeat.

The Brewer's Art
1106 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
410-547-6925

Brewer's Art on Urbanspoon

Brewer's Art

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Minx Designs

Did you know that in addition to being a food blogger, I'm also a graphic designer? Once upon a time I also did Web design, but I haven't kept up with the new trends that the crazy kids are doing. And updating sites annoys me. So I gave it up. But I'm a Photoshop fanatic and love creating banners, logos, etc. And I'm pretty good, if I do say so myself. ;)

Here's a list of graphics I've done in the recent past. If you would like me to create something for you, drop me a line at theminx1 AT gmail DOT com. I'm cheap reasonably priced, and if I know you, possibly free. :)

Will Blog for Food

Last week, The Baltimore Sun's Laura Vozzella commented in her "Dining@Large" column that she has been receiving invitations to dine for free at local restaurants. This started a discussion between the D@L peanut gallery and a few bloggers, including me. While reading the rather contentious comments, I was astonished to find out that there are bloggers who solicit free meals from restaurants in exchange for writing about the food.

While I find that outrageous and unethical, I don't really have a problem with attending blogger dinners. From what I can tell, these are usually held by brand-new restaurants with a handsome PR budget who wisely understand that word-of-mouth via teh Innerwebs is the fastest and easiest way to tell the world that their food is all that. And as long as the blogger discloses that they have eaten for free at a publicity event, I see nothing wrong with it. The fact that it is a PR event should let the reader know that the food for that occasion may well be of a higher standard than on other nights, and they should feel free to take the write-up as seriously or un-seriously as they like.

I have only been to two PR meals, one of which was a sushi tour of Towson, and the other was at Phillips. The first event was a way to attract people to Towson by touting the area as a sushi-eater's destination. (Being such a noob in the world of PR dining, I brought a bunch of money in case I had to pay for my sushi. Silly me!) I was not only happy to promote my town, but I was also pleased to be presented with the opportunity to taste a sampling from the area's sushi restaurants. Mr Minx and I are always on the lookout for a restaurant to become our go-to, and after tasting the tuna tartare and squid salad at Kyodai, we've found it. The sushi being free was really just a bonus. As for Phillips, I understood that dinner to be a way for the restaurant to shed its unappealing tourist-only label and attract some local diners. While I don't know how successful the ploy was, considering few bloggers showed up, I can appreciate the effort. And apart from the amateurish attempt at tuna tartare, the food was good.

This practice of feeding bloggers is much more agreeable than merely sending out press releases and expecting us to blindly post the information. If I haven't eaten at your restaurant, why on earth would I want to promote it? Suppose someone sees my post about XYZ restaurant, eats there, and finds a hair or bug in the food? Or has some other unpleasant experience? Wanna bet I'd be hearing about it? It's bad enough I risk these things when I talk about a restaurant I've visited, but I promise that I'm honest in my observations and if you've had a different experience, I would like to hear about it. (And I'd like to hear if you have similar experiences as well.)

Likewise with products. PR firms do solicit me to mention various things on my Web site, and I do so only if I can honestly support the product. I drink vitaminwater and use True Lemon. I talk about Starbucks because I go there every day. And my "Product of the Week" postings are mine alone, prompted only by my love of the item in question, be it Sriracha or Utz potato chips.

Despite being around for nearly 5 years, MinxEats still seems to slip below the radar of many local PR firms, so it's hard to tell if I ever will have free food in my future. If I do, however, you can rest assured that I will provide full disclosure, and if I find any dish to be particularly worth mentioning, good or bad, you'll read it here.

Thanks for your continued readership. Please tell your friends about MinxEats (shameless plug).

Monday, May 24, 2010

theminx on Bon Appetit Hon

Late last year, Wendi, of terrific Baltimore blog Bon Appetit Hon, put out a request for food memories from local bloggers. My submission was posted today - go read it!

Meatless Mondays - Huitlacoche Quesadillas

Huitlachoche, or corn smut, is actually a fungus that attacks corn. In most cases, farmers destroy affected crops; whoever thought to eat it must have been desperately hungry, because it's not pretty. Although unattractive, huitlacoche has a pleasant, mild, mushroomy flavor and is considered a delicacy in Mexico. The first time I tried it was in a quesadilla at Blue Agave. The amount of corn smut in the appetizer seemed fairly paltry, but it was enough for me to taste its fungal goodness and left me curious to try more.

Recently, I discovered Goya canned huitlacoche at the Shoppers in Perring Plaza. I thought it would be nice to recreate those quesadillas and explore the "Mexican truffle" at home.


One look at the canned product was almost enough to change my mind - it's like something out of a diaper, black and viscous and studded with corn kernels. Or maybe chocolate pudding in Japan (they put corn in the weirdest things.) Before I tossed out the lot, I read the label and found the fungus had been canned with oil, salt, and onion. The best thing to do, I decided, was to give it all a nice rinse and drain to get rid of the black glop.


There. That's better. Ok, maybe not prettier, but it does look more like mushrooms. Maybe a bit like those funny straw mushrooms one finds in some Asian dishes. You know - the ones that look like wee mutant penises.

Since there was already corn involved, I added more corn to my dish, along with three kinds of cheese (Cheddar, Muenster, and Mozzarella, because they were what we had on hand), and some sautéed onions for sweetness. I fought the urge to sauté some mushrooms because I didn't want to detract from the huitlacoche's subtle flavor.


That was a good decision, as the fungus tasted a lot like regular mushrooms, albeit with an unusual added herbaceousness. Topped with some fire roasted tomato salsa and cilantro from our garden, these quesadillas made for a yummy supper.


Have you tried huitlacoche? Would you, now that you've seen the stuff? I recommend trying it in a restaurant first to get the flavor before playing with it at home, especially if the graphic appearance is a turn off. It almost was for me, but I'm glad I used it. Now to find other recipes....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Heidi's Brooklyn Deli

There's a new restaurant near the University of Maryland Baltimore campus, or maybe it's two restaurants? Heidi's Brooklyn Deli and Sisters Pizza & Mussels are in side-by-side storefronts on Eutaw Street, across from the Hippodrome Theater. They share a Web site and a communal back end space, but the food in both joints is quite different. Heidi's specializes in deli sandwiches made on house-baked bread, plus salads and breakfast. Sisters (the name is alternately spelled with and without the apostrophe on the Web site) serves up pizza and mussels by the pound, plus pasta dishes and salads. I'm going to talk about Heidi's here and save Sisters for a future post.

Sandwich shops are rife in the UMB area - Kirbie's, Café on the Square, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Donna's, Subway, Jay's, and the UMMS hospital cafeteria all offer meat, cheese, and veg between two slices of bread. And let's not forget Mary Mervis, et. al., in the Lexington Market. To succeed with so much competition, a new restaurant that primarily offers sandwiches needs to bring something new to the table (or the desk, for us work-a-day lunchers). Personally, I don't like going to the Lexington Market because it's impossible to emerge from its depths without smelling like fried chicken and egg rolls. I don't mind smelling food while I'm eating it, but three hours later I don't need to be nauseated by the scent of grease in my hair and clothing. But I'm picky like that - YMMV.

Anyhoo...back to Heidi's. I'm always willing to give a new place a try, so a week or so after opening, I ventured over. I decided to try their chicken salad, which I usually consider a good indicator of quality. If some thought is put into such a basic dish, generally the rest of their offerings will be pretty good (feel free to refute this in a comment). Heidi's offers nine types of bread, but so far only a handful are offered at a time. I couldn't get my sandwich on my first and second choices of pumpernickel or marble rye, so I settled for whole wheat. The breads are baked on premises and taste pretty good, particularly toasted. When I eventually got some rye bread on another visit, I thought it was a bit too-thickly sliced (by hand), but that its thickitude would be great for breakfast with the simple addition of butter. And maybe some bacon jam.

Heidi's chicken salad gets points for using both dark and white meat chicken, as God intended. I don't get the concept of using all white-meat and then slathering it with mayonnaise. If the chicken is moist, less mayo is needed, at least in Minx Logic (but I've found that there are very few practitioners of my school of thought). Heidi's salad was a bit heavy on the mayo, but not ridiculously so. The seasoning was slightly sweet, and there were bits of celery in the mix. The portion was huge, and the price included a bag of chips and a pickle spear, so quite a filling lunch. Maybe not my number one choice of chicken salad in town (the hospital serves up an admirable version), but a pretty decent one.


On my second visit to Heidi's I had planned to get the Eggplant Parmesan sandwich on a French hoagie roll. This time, they had my bread selection in stock, but not the eggplant, so I was forced to switch gears and ordered hot pastrami and swiss on rye. The pastrami was very lean, without the edge of fat that some of us appreciate, but it was also happily gristle-free and tender. If only the bread was thinner and the application of pastrami thicker!

When I was finally able to try the eggplant Parmesan (breaded eggplant, marinara, provolone cheese) a few days later, I was again wishing there was less bread and more filling. I ordered my sandwich on a French hoagie roll, thinking that the French style would be crispy, but it was fairly soft. No matter - all of the house-baked bread I've sampled at Heidi's beats Subway's by at least a mile. Maybe more. The eggplant/sauce/cheese combo was very good, with the most points awarded to the vaguely spicy, sweet-ish sauce which contained hunks of garlic.


One of my favorite things about Heidi's is the bag of chips that comes with the sandwich. The sandwiches are so large, I couldn't possibly also eat chips, so I tuck them away in my cupboard for snacking on another day when my lunch isn't as substantial.

Eventually, Heidi's plans to open for breakfast, and hopefully by that time they'll have all bread and filling choices available every day. Until then, have a second choice in mind, and I hope you like bread with your sandwiches! Heidi's Brooklyn Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Red Robin - Yum!

I am not afraid to admit that Mr Minx and I frequent Red Robin. We are foodies, but we are not snobs. Red Robin happens to be located near our regular grocery store, and when we don't have other ideas for dinner, a burger is quick, easy, and usually delicious.

Not delicious, however, are RR's potatoes. They're thick cut steak fries, horribly tough and dry and not particularly crispy. For me, no amount of ketchup can salvage them, so I just order a side salad with balsamic vinaigrette instead.


Our favorite burger is the Santa Fe: roasted Poblano pepper, guacamole, sautéed onions, crispy tortilla chips, Pepper Jack cheese, lettuce and Ancho mayo on an onion bun. I had never been a fan of mayo on hamburgers, but this one's combination of chewy, gooey, and lightly spicy elements all working as a delicious whole converted me. While there is more topping than meat on these burgers, I find them to be well-balanced, and the patty itself does taste like actual meat. Perhaps not as meatalicious as the burger from Stoney River, it's satisfying enough.

I've also enjoyed the Blackened Bayou burger, and a discontinued one that had onions and peppers, marinara, and a breaded wheel of Mozzarella cheese. Their chicken sandwiches are pretty good too. Haven't tried any salads because hey - if I'm going to a burger joint, I want meat on a bun.

What do you think about Red Robin? Are there other chain burger restaurants you prefer that you would recommend?

Product of the Week - Smoked Paprika

Smoked paprika has become quite the trendy ingredient of late. More and more I see it being called for in recipes by TV chefs and in cookbooks and food magazines. While pimentón is not such an exotic ingredient in Spain and around the Mediterranean, up until fairly recently it wasn't easy to find on American supermarket shelves. I originally bought mine from Penzeys, but have since found McCormick and Spice Island brands at the Superfresh or Giant.

Before trying it, I didn't know what the fuss was all about. I always thought standard paprika - the kind one sprinkles on top of devilled eggs as a garnish - had little or no flavor. Smoked paprika, on the other hand, lends a lively and of course smoky flavor to food. I like to put it on basically everything, because, like everyone's favorite similarly smoky-flavored pork product (that would be BACON), it's good in everything. Sure, put it on devilled eggs, and in egg salad. But it's great in chicken salad, in chili, and in a dry rub for ribs or steak or shrimp. Or vegetables. Anything that calls out for a bit of smokiness.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Gagooch (a.k.a. Zucchini with Onions and Eggs)

The first time I ever tried zucchini it had been cooked with onions and scrambled eggs. From what I remember, my mother's middle sister, Stasia, had gotten this recipe from her Sicilian father-in-law, who taught her how to make lots of traditional dishes with which to keep her husband happy and well-fed. I don't know if they kept him happy, because Uncle Tony always seemed like a bit of a crank to me, but he was definitely well-fed.

I call this dish "gagooch." It may be a child's bastardization of the word "zucca," which is an Italian word for "squash," or it might just be one of the many nonsense words my family liked to make up. Ever since, "gagooch" has been my name for zucchini, even without the eggs. Yellow squash, however, is not "gagooch" because, well, it's just not.

To make one of my childhood favorites, you need five ingredients:

butter
onion
zucchini (yellow squash is acceptable, but, you know, not gagooch)
eggs
salt

First, roughly chop some onion and twice as much zucchini. So to half a cup of onion, chop a whole cup of squash. I like to peel the squash because sometimes they are sandy even after washing and I don't like sand in my eggs.

Sauté the vegetables in a tablespoon of butter until they become soft and slightly browned.


For this amount of veg, I would use four whole eggs, first beaten in a bowl with a teaspoon of water or milk, and then poured into the skillet. Scramble to your liking. Serve hot with toast.


I gussied it up with a couple chives and a bit of spicy globe basil. Even with the fancy herbal accoutrement, it was a taste of childhood. A shame Mr Minx doesn't like zucchini, otherwise I'd make this more often. As it was, I tortured him a bit. Sorry, hon. :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lasagna for Mother's Day

Years ago we stopped trying to fight the crowds to take Minx Mother-in-Law out for dinner on Mother's Day. Too many people jostling for reservations all at the same time, as if this one day out of the year is the only time Mom deserves to put her apron down and have someone else cook for her. Heaven forbid that the children that she fed every day for years dirty their hands in the kitchen though - it's gotta be a restaurant!

It didn't take too many years to figure out that we were doing it wrong, so now we cook for Mom and eat at her house. However, as I hate cooking in her puny, counterless, one-butt kitchen, I prefer that we prepare as much of the dinner at Casa Minx as possible and then take it to her place either ready-to-eat or requiring only a few minutes in the microwave or oven to re-heat.

The flatbread lasagna that Mr Minx made a few weeks ago was such a success, I thought we'd make it for Mother's Day. In the fridge we had a ton of home-made sauce, spicy and chock-full of meatballs, mild Italian sausage, and pork chops, a "Sunday Gravy" despite the fact we had made it on a Thursday, that was perfect for layering with naan-style flatbreads and cheese. And this time we remembered the ricotta layer, which really made a difference. The lasagna tasted more like lasagna, rather than an extremely deep-dish pizza.


I put it together Sunday morning, baked it at home, and by the time we got to Mom's it was still warm. I popped it in a slow oven (200F) to keep it warm and when we were ready to eat a few hours later, it was perfect.

In addition to adding more-lasagna-ness to the dish, the ricotta also prevented it from slicing as neatly as last time, so we had to sacrifice presentation for flavor. But my plating leaves a lot to be desired most of the time anyway. :)

What did you do for your Mom on Mother's Day?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meatless Monday - Corn Soup


Mr. Minx here, filling in for Mrs. Minx who is on assignment.

One of my pet peeves about living in Baltimore is that it's very difficult to find yellow corn. Every supermarket or road side stand is chock full of white, sweet corn, but your ordinary yellow corn is virtually nowhere to be found. For my taste buds, white corn doesn't taste like anything except sweet whereas yellow corn tastes like - well, corn. I can only assume that stores carry white corn over yellow corn in this area because more white corn is grown in this area and people have been conditioned to like it. Heck, in this world full of high fructose corn syrup, it's not surprising that people are hooked on anything that is sweet, sweet, sweet.

Anyway, last summer I was thrilled to discover that a supermarket near my mother's home carried both white and yellow corn. Several times, when I visited the store on shopping errands for my mother, I would pick up several ears of yellow corn for the Minx and myself. I also told my mother about my preference for yellow corn.

"Well, I like the white corn," Mom replied. "because it's sweet."

My point exactly.

I forgot about our corn discussion until I visited her on Mother's Day. Mom happily announced that there was a bag of corn in the refrigerator for me. "I got you some ears of white corn because I know how much you like it." I was shaken by annoying memories of my childhood. My mother always had a habit of transferring her personal tastes onto me. No matter what I said to the contrary, she would always buy what she liked assuming that I liked it too. I ate it because I had no choice. As an adult, when she would catch me eating something she didn't like, she would immediately accuse me of being some sort of fraud because I never liked that item before.

"Why are you eating okra?" she would exclaim. "You never liked okra!"

"No, mom," I would reply, attempting to remain calm. "You never liked okra. I've always liked okra."

"Who are you and what have you done with my son?"

So I was left with seven ears of oh-so-sweet white corn. The Minx suggested making soup out of it so we could adjust the flavor as we pleased and mitigate the sweetness. She found two recipes that looked promising, and I chose to make Bobby Flay's chipotle corn soup.

Reading over the recipe, I knew that I had to make some adjustments. First of all, the recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream. Since I only had about half a cup on hand, I had to find some other way to create richness. I decided to start with a roux made from 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon of butter, and 1/3 of a cup of flour. Stirring the roux occasionally over medium high heat while I did other prep, I eventually got the roux to a milk chocolate color in about 15 minutes (the darker the roux, the more flavor). After adding the onions to the roux and cooking them until they were translucent, I added the corn and cooked the whole mix for another 3 minutes. Without 6 cups of chicken stock as the recipe stated, I opted to dissolve two chicken bouillon cubes in six cups of water. Finally, I poured the liquid over the vegetables and roux, leaving it to simmer for 30 minutes.

While it was simmering, I added in the seasonings. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of dried chipotle chili powder, which I dutifully added but I would not recommend because the resulting flavor is incendiary. (The Minx adds: IN.CEN.DI.ARY.) Perhaps with the 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream, it's not so bad, but using my method, the soup had a real mouth numbing quality. I would recommend starting with a teaspoon and slowly adding more depending on your heat preference.

Once the soup had finished simmering, I took a hand blender and whizzed it to a fine mush, adding some heavy cream to lighten the color and give it more body. Of course, the recipe asks that you whir it in the blender and push it through a strainer, but I didn't feel the need to be fancy. Besides, I like the little bits of corn skin in the soup. Please note: the recipe calls for four ears of corn, and I used all seven that Mom had given us. Despite that, the flavor wasn't all that corn-y. However, after tossing in some fresh cilantro and sour cream, the soup tasted pretty wonderful. Along with some buttered bread, it was hearty enough to eat as dinner.

I'd like to try this recipe again with less chipotle and yellow corn.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chicken with String Beans

We went a little crazy with buying vegetables at the supermarket last week. I think we've been eating too much meat lately and wanted to incorporate more green stuff into our diet. A head of cabbage became both kimchee and an important component of "bubble and squeak." A bag of broccoli slaw got the remoulade treatment. And a mess of string beans was combined with chicken to create a version of Chinese chicken with string beans.

I basically used the recipe for Kung Pao chicken from Land of Plenty, added a tablespoon of tobanjan (spicy fermented soybean paste) and substituted cashews for peanuts. And of course added about half a pound of trimmed string beans.


Although the sauce tasted really strong and spicy before I added it to the pan, it was a little lackluster after the watering-down it got from the beans. Probably could have added a little more salt, but no matter - it was still good, and the leftovers made a nice lunch for later in the week.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Weird/Strange/Odd Food

Andrew Zimmern recently won a James Beard award for being a "TV Food Personality." Zimmern, as you may or may not know (or care about), is the host of Bizarre Foods, on the Travel Channel. He makes his money eating weird stuff like tarantulas, dung beetles, and fermented shark. That's a little too edgy for me - I'll stick to "average" weird edibles, like scrapple and squid.

Of course, one man's weird is another man's normal, and vice versa. While I wouldn't blink at eating a nice chunk of kishka (blood sausage), someone else might get queasy at the mere thought of it. Like you random vegetarian readers. Rest assured I feel the same way about brown rice and lima beans.

I've eaten abalone, alligator, beef tendon, blood sausage, buffalo, carambola, chicken feet, crawfish, cuttlefish, dragon fruit, duck tongues, eel, foie gras, frog's legs, gjetost, goat, huitlacoche, jellyfish, kidneys, liver, octopus, ostrich, quail, rabbit, salicornia, scrapple, shark, snails, squid,
sweetbreads, turtle soup, venison, and wild boar. Pretty tame stuff compared to what Zimmern eats on a regular basis, nor is it quite like the infamous warthog anus-eating of Anthony Bourdain, but still weird to a lot of middle Americans. I haven't yet tried tripe, or Rocky Mountain oysters, but they're on the list. And the "bullwhack" from Hunan Taste is intriguing, although this Serious Eats article makes it seem like it's not worth the effort.

Ordinarily I'll try anything once. However, I'm not sure if I'd be willing to try live lobster. (Not too long ago, I wouldn't eat raw fish at all, much less raw fish that was still alive.) Other things you won't find me eating: balut, live shrimp, cockroaches and other creepy-crawlies. And lima beans. What about you? What will you never ever eat? What oddities are you willing to try?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gotta Chuckle

I just finished reading a City Paper review of Centro Tapas Bar.

Back in May of 2007, former Sun critic Elizabeth Large commented that changes at Pazo might indicate that the tapas craze has peaked. At that time, Pazo was probably one of a handful of Baltimore-area restaurants serving tapas-style small plates. I thought the comment was ridiculous because from my ongoing observation of the NY restaurant scene, the small plates movement was chugging along, and if it's not peaking in NY, it's nowhere near peaking in a relative backwater like Baltimore. And of course more and more restaurants serving both traditional Spanish-style tapas and otherwise-ethnically-inclined versions on the theme are popping up regularly.

Personally, I love the idea of small plates. I enjoy when my palate is stimulated by several different flavors in the same meal, which is why I'm such a big fan of dim sum, the rotating sushi bar at Kyodai, Pazo, Korean panchan, and order multiple appetizers in place of a single entrée at dinner. How about you? What do you think about eating small tastes of several items as opposed to one big plate of food?

Captain James Landing

Lovely dear family friends from the U.K. were visiting last week and Dad thought it might be a good idea to get steamed crabs for dinner on Sunday evening. Mr Minx and I met Patrick and June at their hotel in Fells Point and determined that the two closest options were Obrycki's and Captain James Landing. We chose CJL because it was the nearer of the two. Although I had checked online and saw that the Crab House was apparently open the first week of May, that did not include May 2nd, so we were out of luck as far as steamed crabs were concerned. But we stayed to partake of the other crabby selections on the menu.

I had only ever eaten at Captain James once, and that meal was breakfast. My brother, father, and I had gone down to Fells Point to check out the aftermath of 2003's Hurricane Isabel. Watching people paddle down flooded streets in canoes worked up a hearty appetite, and Captain James was on dry land. Although the circumstances were memorable, the breakfast was not.

Flash forward to 2010. The kitschy nature of the establishment - it's shaped like a ship that just happened to run aground at the confluence of Aliceanna and Thames Streets - did not give me confidence that this dinner was going to be good. Nor did the somewhat depressing somber interior. But I was pleasantly surprised.

For starters we tried the clams casino, the calamari, and a crab dip special. The clams were a little hard to eat since everything in the shell was in little bits - the clam, the bacon, the bell pepper - and the curvature of the shell made it a bit hard for a fork to do its work. But the taste was fine. Would have liked more clam, less bell pepper, but that's just me. The calamari - both the familiar rings and a nice quantity of tentacles - was perfectly cooked, tender, and had just the right amount of breading. The clam dip was extremely rich, extremely gooey, and quite filling. Oh, and it tasted pretty good as well.


For entrées, four of the five of us chose the crabcakes. For a bargain price of $22.75, we each got two mammoth cakes, nicely seasoned (albeit not with Old Bay) with a high meat-to-breading ratio. And the crab tasted like blue crab, unlike some other cakes we had not long ago at another local seafood establishment. Sides were "seasonal vegetable" which turned out to be green beans that night, and rice, but Mr Minx and I opted for garlicky mashed potatoes instead. Our fifth diner chose the seafood combo platter which included a crab cake, a clam casino, an imperial-stuffed oyster, shrimp, flounder, and scallops. There were no complaints from that end of the table.

Although it's not likely Captain James Landing will become destination dining, I will keep it in mind the next time I'm in the area and want an enormous crabcake or two.

Captain James Landing
2127 Boston Street
410-327-8600

Captain James Landing on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Recipe Roundup 5.11.10


What with all of the bacon we've been consuming at MinxEats, I think it's probably time to have a vegetarian week. Here are some recipes that sound interesting - if you give any of them a try, do report back!

Corn Spaghetti with Fresh Grilled Corn and Smoked Mozzarella
Vegetarian Gumbo
Vegetarian Reuben
Meatless Tamale Pie
Meatless Meatballs
Eggs in Purgatory with Artichoke Hearts, Potatoes and Capers
Shanghai Noodles with Golden Garlic and Soft Tofu
Red Cabbage, Blue Cheese, and Walnut Empañadas
Baked Rice with Cheese and Green Chiles
Aloo Matar Rasedaar

(Oh, and I didn't mean that *this* week would be vegetarian week. That will come sometime in the future.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Meatless Monday: Fettuccine with Ricotta and Spinach

In an attempt to eat less meat at home, I broke out two of my vegetarian cookbooks and bookmarked recipes that sounded interesting. One of them was a pasta dish that involved ricotta cheese, which we happened to have in the fridge because it never made it into the flatbread lasagna.


With all of the cheese, butter, and oil, this dish was soooo rich, in a carbonara/Alfredo sort of way, but I can imagine adapting it further to include less cheese and more veg. Mushrooms, broccoli, sliced Brussels sprouts, roasted bell peppers, and even corn would all work nicely.

But so would bacon. :)

Fettuccine with Ricotta, Spinach, and Nuts (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian)

3/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
salt
freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons mixed nut pieces (walnuts, cashews, pine nuts - your favorites)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lb baby spinach, washed and drained
freshly ground nutmeg
1 lb fettuccine

Put 4 quarts of water in a large pot and bring to a boil.

In a bowl, toss cheeses with salt and pepper and half of the butter. Set aside.

In a sauté pan, mix olive oil and remaining butter. Add nuts and stir to toast, then add garlic. When it releases its aroma, add all of the spinach and cook until wilted.

When water boils, add a generous pinch of salt (about 1 Tablespoon) and put in the pasta. Cook until just done and drain, reserving 2 Tablespoons of the cooking water. Return pasta to the pot and add the cheese mixture and the spinach mixture, tossing to combine. If the mixture seems a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water. Season with a bit of freshly ground nutmeg.

Serve hot.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Next Food Network Star 6

Food Network will subject us to another gaggle of whining wanna-bes come June 6th - should I recap?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Avocado Soup

So I was playing around with still more avocados and thought I'd try making a soup. Rather than using typical South-of-the-border type flavorings, I veered into a completely new direction and went to Thailand. The rich buttery flavor of the adaptable avocado should make an interesting substitute for a creamy rich ingredient like coconut milk, don't you think?


Just look at that gorgeous color!

Rather than taking the easy way out and adding avocado to a Tom Kha in place of coconut milk, I decided to make a soup redolent of my favorite Thai condiment, chili basil paste. The unctuousness of the avocado cut some of the heat of the chile, but allowed the basil to shine through. The lemongrass and lime juice added a bit of citrus to cut the richness, and the chunky bits of cold vegetable garnish added some nice textural variation. I was quite pleased with the result, and think it would also work as a cold soup, perhaps with more sour cream and a bit more seasoning.

Thai Avocado Soup

1/2 cup chopped onion
salt
cooking oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons Thai chili basil paste (available at Asian markets; I like Maesri brand)
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, the light-colored inner core sliced into thin rounds and pounded into a paste in a mortar and pestle OR 2 teaspoons lemongrass paste such as the kind by Gourmet Garden, found in most produce departments
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
3 avocados from Mexico
juice of half a lime
4 cups chicken stock
2 Tablespoons sour cream
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons agave nectar, or to taste
1 scallion, chopped
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
Thai or regular basil

In a large saucepan, sauté onion in a bit of oil with a pinch of salt until onion starts to soften and brown slightly. Stir in chili basil paste, lemon grass, and garlic and cook until the mixture smells aromatic. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low.

Halve avocados and remove pits. Scoop the flesh of 2 1/2 avocados into a blender. Add the lime juice, sour cream, and a ladle-full of the chicken stock mixture. Blend until smooth. Stir the avocado mixture into the remaining chicken stock and add fish sauce and agave nectar. Taste for seasoning and add more fish sauce or salt, as needed.

Turn the heat up to medium high and allow the soup to come to a simmer but not boil. Remove from heat. Ladle into shallow bowls and garnish with the remaining 1/2 avocado, sliced or chopped, some scallions, a bit of tomato, and fresh basil. Serves 4.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Homemade Kimchee

I love Korean panchan, all of those lovely spicy and savory dishes served with Korean meals. I like kimchee too, but not necessarily the full-blown old-fashioned, buried in the ground with raw oysters version. There's something about the almost effervescent quality of the mature fermented cabbage that I don't find enjoyable. Odd, since I quite like sauerkraut, but it could be because I grew up eating one and not the other.

While searching through cookbooks for interesting vegetarian ideas, I found a quick kimchee recipe that could be eaten immediately, or within a week. That sounded young enough for my palate, so I made a batch over the weekend. I reduced the proportions a bit, using less of everything. Even so, one small taste contained so much garlic that brushing my teeth, gargling with Listerine, and chewing gum did not alleviate the strong flavor and aroma that lingered on my palate. That made me question my actions - why did I make something that involved so much raw garlic? When did I think it would be appropriate to eat? The thought did occur that I should have a forkful in the morning before getting on the bus to work because my morning commute is seldom pleasant and I wouldn't mind offending one or more (or a whole busload) of people. But then I'd have that taste in my mouth all day, and I wouldn't want that.

So I came up with the idea of making kimchee rice. It's easy-peasy - mix kimchee and rice, season to taste. Eat. I figured that cooking the kimchee would temper the garlic, and it did. Mr Minx added some sautéed onions and dashes of soy and fish sauce for seasoning. It was...delicious. And it didn't create garlic breath.


Kimchee (adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

1 small head white cabbage, separated into leaves
Kosher salt
4 scallions, both white and green parts, roughly chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons Korean red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it spicy. I don't find Korean pepper flakes to be as spicy as some others; certainly not as spicy as your standard McCormick crushed red pepper flakes. If you don't have Korean red pepper, start out with half a teaspoon of regular red pepper flakes and go from there.)
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
2 Tablespoons sugar

Layer the cabbage leaves in a colander, sprinkling a little salt between the layers. Place the colander over a bowl to drain and and allow to sit for about 2 hours. When the cabbage is wilted, rinse and dry.

Mix the other ingredients together in a medium bowl. Roughly chop the cabbage and add to the soy mixture. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to a week; it will become stronger every day.

Quick Kimchee Rice

1/4 cup onion, chopped
vegetable oil
1 recipe kimchee
4 cups of cold, cooked rice
Soy sauce
Fish sauce (optional)

Sauté onion in a bit of vegetable oil until it starts to brown slightly. Add kimchee, including all of the juice that collected at the bottom of the container. Stir fry for 5-7 minutes, until warmed through, giving the garlic a chance to cook a bit. Stir in cold rice, breaking up lumps. Season with soy (or salt) and fish sauce, and serve with a drizzle of gojuchang, if desired. Serves 4-6 as a side, 2-3 as a main dish.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Avocado Parfait

Avocados are more versatile than one might expect. Their creamy, buttery goodness adapts well for desserts as well as savory dishes. In other words, they're not just for guacamole anymore.

I used the very adaptable avocado in a dessert recipe. "What?" you say, "in dessert?" Why certainly. I've seen recipes for avocado ice cream, so I thought - why not avocado pudding?  So I whipped up a lovely green pudding (bet you've never seen those three words typed together before) and decided to layer it with graham cracker crumbs and whipped cream to make a parfait.


So what does sweet avocado taste like? Hmmm...hard to describe. It's rich, certainly, with a flavor that is somehow...green. The small bits of citrus juice and vanilla I used did not assert themselves, allowing the avocado to shine. It was pretty darn good, actually, and I would do it again.

Avocado Parfait 

Avocado pudding:
2-1/4 cups milk
4 egg yolks
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ripe avocados from Mexico (divided use)
2 Tablespoons lime juice (divided use)
2 Tablespoons sour cream
about 1 Tablespoon of heavy cream

1 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon confectioner's sugar

2 graham crackers, crushed into crumbs

1/2 lime, cut into round slices about 4mm thick
Sliced almonds, toasted

Make avocado pudding: In a large saucepan, bring 2 cups of milk to a near boil. In the meantime, in a large bowl, beat egg yolks, sugar and 1/4 cup milk, whisking until smooth. Add cornstarch and flour and combine well. When milk has barely started to boil, gradually whisk it into the egg mixture. Return egg and milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until it comes to a boil and starts to thicken. Reduce heat to low and cook for 2-3 minutes longer, continually whisking. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Pour custard into bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for half an hour.

While custard is chilling, place the flesh of one avocado in a blender with the sour cream and one tablespoon of the lime juice. Puree, adding dribbles of heavy cream if necessary, to facilitate blending.

Remove slightly chilled custard from refrigerator and whisk in the avocado mixture. If it has set too much or seems lumpy, give it a whiz through the blender or food processor with a dribble of heavy cream to help smooth it out. You should have a nice pale green pudding at the end of this process. Cut remaining two avocados into a medium dice. Toss with remaining tablespoon of lime juice. Fold into pudding. Place in refrigerator to cool completely, 2 hours.

To assemble: Whip cream and powdered sugar until soft peaks form. Alternate layers of avocado pudding, whipped cream, and graham crackers, ending with a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with toasted almonds and a circle of lime cut on one side and twisted.

6 servings

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Half-price Frappuccinos!


Between May 7th and May 16th, Starbucks will be offering Frappuccinos for half price between 3pm - 5pm. A good opportunity to try out the new customizable Frappuccinos! Watch it be cold next week....

Orchard Market & Cafe

Does anyone remember Orchard Market & Cafe, Baltimore's "premiere Persian restaurant?" I say "remember," even though the place is still around, because I seldom hear anything about it. Seriously, when was the last time you ate there? I think the one and only time we tried it - at the suggestion of my Mother - was in the early 1990s; the food was very good so I don't know why we never returned.

I thought it was high time for a revisit, especially since Mr Minx has never been. Apparently his aunt and uncle eat there all the time - not quite encouraging, but not discouraging, either.

Orchard Market is a bit difficult to find if one doesn't know where to look. It's down Orchard Tree Lane off Joppa Road, near the Guitar Center and Orchard Landing, not far from Loch Raven Boulevard. Unassuming from the outside, the interior of the restaurant is quite pretty, decorated in soothing shades of cream and dark celadon, with tapestries and replicas of Persian art on the walls, and more art that appears to be for sale.

The restaurant had only one other occupied table when we arrived, and the couple seated there were busily chewing the ear of the waitress/hostess before she managed to break away and lead us to a table. We were brought menus and glasses of water, but not offered anything else to drink (the place is BYOB).

We started off with appetizers:


Mr Minx ordered the Mango Shrimp (Jumbo shrimp sauteed with onions and vegetables in a unique mango chutney and garlic sauce). I thought it would be overpoweringly sweet, but it was actually well-balanced. The shrimp was full of iodine flavor (something we very much enjoy, YMMV) and the sauce contained little bits of mango.


My Sauteed Bulgarian Feta (Pungent Bulgarian Feta melted over farm tomatoes, onions, and black olives) looked nearly identical to the other dish, except for the olives. Although I feared the sauce was the same, it was only in color. Mine was tangy, somewhat tomato-y. The feta was not pungent, and I would have liked more of it, but otherwise the dish was tasty. With a salad, it would make a fine lunch. My biggest criticism of these two dishes is that the pita had been toasted, making it somewhat difficult with which to scoop the sauce.


I was intrigued by the description for Seafood Advieh, as was Mr Minx (Mahi mahi, shrimp, and scallops sauteed and served with a mango and honey-based advieh sauce). The intense blood-red sauce had an interesting sweet-sour flavor punctuated by cinnamon and rose petals. It was a bit too sweet for my taste. The mahi-mahi was well-cooked and bland enough to work with the intense sauce, but the iodine of the shrimp didn't work as well. The two small scallops in the dish were fishy-tasting and tough.


Mr Minx had the  more traditional Duck Fesenjune (Orange-poached leg and breast of duck with the classic Persian walnut-pomegranate sauce). The one time I had eaten at Orchard Market I had ordered this dish; today's version was not at all what I remembered, nor was it like the fesenjune sauce I had made a few years ago. It seemed to me that the duck had not been cooked with the sauce, so there was no integration of flavors. And the large quantity of grated orange peel on top of the meat was overpowering and rather sweet. The sauce itself was gritty with crushed nuts and lacked richness.  I found it to be quite disappointing.

While we were eating, several other parties arrived, all regular or semi-regular customers. The owner came in and helped to wait tables, and another waitress came out from the back, but somehow we suddenly felt ignored. Our water glasses remained empty for a while, and it didn't seem like they were too anxious to take our money once we finally had our check. It's always nice to be a regular customer and receive a bit of extra attention, but that doesn't work so well for the newbies. And when I'm ignored, I probably won't end up being a repeat customer.

Overall, our experience at Orchard Market did not match the one from my memory, but it is true that the restaurant is under different ownership these days, which may account for the difference in food. Will we go back? Well, it might be interesting to try the kabob dishes, but there are other restaurants to be visited. If you go, or have been recently, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Orchard Market & Café
8815 Orchard Tree Lane
Towson, Maryland 21204
(410) 339-7700

Orchard Market & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 03, 2010

Meatless Monday


After so much recent carnivorousness, I thought it was time to try eating more veggies. I'd like to do a whole week of vegetarian dinners in the near future (when we get rid of the meaty goodness that is currently in the fridge) and Mr Minx thought it would be nice to try a Meatless Monday. So this is a Thai red curry he whipped up with various veg we had in the fridge and freezer, including onions, carrots, peas, and Italian-style green beans. Yum!
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