Monday, February 28, 2011

Sláinte Revisited

A couple weeks ago, I raved over the food at Sláinte, in Fells Point. It was a media dinner, and the food was free, but I did like it enough to go back and pay for my food.

It was just as good on my dime.

The first return trip of what is sure to be many was to celebrate my brother-in-law's birthday. On that occasion, we tried the Scotch egg (Gunpowder Farms bison sausage over a perfectly-cooked hard-boiled egg, with grits and mustard sauce)...

...the poutine (potato wedges with a truffled chicken reduction and fresh mozzarella curds). While it sounds really exotic (it's Canadian, after all), think of it as fries with cheese and gravy, albeit a rather schmancy truffle-scented gravy. Sláinte's portion is huge, so prepare to share.

...the corned beef and cabbage, in the hands of Chef Bill Crouse, was pretty subtle: a huge slab of tender beef, accompanied by a wedge of lightly-cooked cabbage and a pile of buttered new potatoes. Very simple, very plain, very good.

...the bangers and mash included two very flavorful sausages - nice, meaty, American-style sausages, never fear - with an ample mound of champ (mashed potato with scallion), mushrooms, and tomato gravy.

...and the crab cake, which was filled with a nice mix of lump and other crab meat, was very moist. (I'd have like it broiled a while longer, though.) The vegetables, a mix of broccoli, red bell pepper, and artichokes, were crisp and very garlicky; while I liked the rice well enough, Sláinte slaw might be a better accompaniment.

For dessert, we tried the Guinness bread pudding, which is a different preparation from what we were served at the media dinner. This was crusty and piping hot, served in a ramekin and an ample portion for two. I would have liked a little pitcher of custard, cream, or a scoop of ice- or whipped cream because it was a little dry.

I'm already looking forward to my next trip, which will hopefully be a rescheduled girl's-night-out dinner with an old pal from high school. She's already been perusing the menu and trying to decide what to try first.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Icedgems Cupcakes

There's yet another food truck visiting the UMB area, this one serving up several different flavors of cupcakes. Icedgems Creations, with a brick-and-mortar bakery at 213 Main Street in Reisterstown, is now cruising the streets of Baltimore in a pink-dotted refrigerated truck chock-full of sweet treats.

Find out where they'll be next by following them on Twitter or liking them on Facebook.

Chocolate Hazelnut and Key West cupcakes
Both cupcakes I tried were good, but I have to say I preferred the vanilla cupcake with the zesty lime buttercream.

Icedgems Baking (Mobile Truck) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode Elebenty Recap

This week, the recheftestants (at least Tiffany and Carla) seem unusually excited to meet the self-proclaimed "Queen of Southern Cooking," (I thought that was Art Smith?) and Food Network star, Paula Deen, resplendent in her perfectly gray wig and perfectly white teeth. Seems, y'ow, she wants the chefs to impress her with a dish made in the deep fryer.

Duh. No surprise there.

The chefs get 30 minutes to cook, and the winner of this Quickfire wins $5000. They're just made of money this season, it seems.

At the top of the hour, we saw the chefs hanging out at home. Blais talks about keeping notebooks and stupidly naively shows them to his competition. DoucheyMike, after being somewhat less of an asshole for the early part of this season, shows his true colors and uses this opportunity to steal an idea he spotted in a notebook - chicken "oysters" (the tender bit of meat on the back of the thigh) served in real oyster shells. Deep fry them and Paula Deen will be in love, no? As soon as Mike says he's doing this, Blais realize what's happening and gets a tad upset.

Time's up! Turns out that Paula Deen doesn't love *everything* that's seen the inside of a deep fryer. She was not impressed with Dale's real oysters wrapped in beef, and she was disappointed with Carla's fried fish.

Paula said Antonia's fried shrimp salad with "avacada" was the best dish; however because Antonia only made up one plate instead of the required two, she had to be disqualified. Blais' fried mayonnaise and bacon was also a favorite, as were "Mike's" chicken oysters. And wouldn't you know it - Mike wins.

Padma then introduces James Beard Award winner for Best Chef of the Southeast, and former Top Chef Masters competitor, John Besh, to help with the Elimination Challenge. He tells the cheftestants about a charity that he and Paula support called the Greater New Orleans Foundation that offers assistance to fishermen affected by the Gulf oil spill. The cheftestants must cater a GNOF event for 300 people, using Gulf seafood.

Because there are so many people to feed, six previously-PPYKAG'd cheftestants are brought out to help. Each carries a platter of seafood - the chefs must choose a chef and use the protein he or she bears.

As the winner of this challenge, DoucheyMike goes first and chooses Tiffani and her brown shrimp. He allows Blais to go next, and he of course chooses his BFF Fabio and his snapper. Carla takes Tre and grouper. Tiffany doesn't want to work with Marcel, but he has shrimp, so she calls out that she wants the white shrimp. Oh, and Marcel, too. Antonia takes Spike and his crabs, and Dale by default gets Angelo and a giant amberjack.

I wonder how they chose these six chefs. They weren't the last six eliminated (Casey and Jamie went after Spike) so maybe they had to draw knives?

The chefs and their helpers have $500 to spend at Whole Foods and $200 at Restaurant Depot. After 2.5 hours of prep at the TC Kitchen, they'll have to pack up and head to the venue at New York's Puck Building where they'll have an additional half hour to set up.

Meanwhile, Blais is still fretting over the results of the Quickfire. He says he only makes new dishes on Top Chef, and he definitely wouldn't steal something from another chef. Fabio tells him he reminds him of his ex-wife, which Blais is not sure is a compliment.

Carla, who fucked up a fried fish dish in the Quickfire, considers this challenge to be a chance for redemption, so she sets about making more fried fish, this time, sans hush puppies. She is a bit disappointed to find that Tre, although from the South, is not familiar with Southern cooking. Of course that won't possibly be a liability.

After shopping, the recheftestants go back to Casa Chef where Antonia fills Tiffany and Carla in on Mike's treachery in the Quickfire.

The next day, there are too many people in the kitchen for Dale's taste. Funny that there used to be 18 people in there cooking, and now twelve is too many. He says he thought he got rid of some of his competition, but now they're back - like bedbugs.

::::squick!::::

Marcel and Tiffany are predictably not getting along. He keeps making the same suggestion over and over again, that Tiff should use some of the shrimp and shells to enrich a stock, but she doesn't want to hear it and shuts him up by saying she's more concerned with making 320 portions of food. Dunno, Tiff - shouldn't you be concerned with the taste of those 320 portions?

The other Tiffani is getting along fine with the big Douchebag, perhaps because she was one herself in season 1.

Two and one-half hours seems like a really short amount of time to cook for 300 people, and if it seems short to me, it must have been a real quickie for the competitors. Soon they are packing their stuff and hauling it out to the venue. Once there, they have barely enough time to get set up before the guests descend upon the food en masse. The judges are among them, and they visit DoucheyMike first. Unfortunately, they like his shrimp coated with grits and served with mashed potatoes.

They also like Blais' dish of snapper and pulled pork with polenta, praising its lightness. Dale has issues with his soup and serves the judges potatoes that are very undercooked and a crouton overloaded with mustard. Tiffany runs out of her honey glaze and rather than do it herself, she allows Marcel to make a new batch - which gets served to the judges, undiluted. Carla's fish is too salty, and she's buried it with too much hot sauce and mustard. Finally, Antonia's crab cake is very well-received.

They convene to the Stew Room and Padma comes in for Blais, DoucheyMike, and Antonia, who created the favorite dishes of the day. Overall, Blais made the best dish and wins the challenge, along with six Hilton-sponsored nights in Barbados and $5K for airfare. Blais says he plans to take his boyfriend buddy Fabio on the trip with his family. Awwww...how sweet!

On the bottom are Dale, Tiffany, and Carla. Anyone can go, because all made pretty serious errors with their food. Tiffany's sauce was too sweet, and her shrimp was mushy. (No telling if her other shrimp, Marcel, was mushy, but we probably don't want to think about that.) She could have blamed her helper, but took full responsibility. Carla covered up her fish with too much hot sauce, and the elements of her dish didn't work well together. Ultimately, the fact that Dale's amberjack was lost in his stew got him sent home.

After the departure of Tre some weeks ago, Dale took his place as the person I most wanted to win other than Blais, so color me disappointed. :(

Next week: Cooking on a ferry?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Favorite Restaurants

Sometime near the end of 2010, Baltimore Sun restaurant critic Richard Gorelick posted his 50 favorite Baltimore restaurants, and I thought I would do the same - only I'm including restaurants all over Maryland and I'm limiting the list to 25. Why? Because I'm not a professional restaurant critic and I have to pay for 99% of my meals, I haven't eaten in as many places. So if you see some of your favorites aren't listed, it could be because I haven't yet eaten there (Woodberry Kitchen comes to mind).

What are my standards? Well, there's really only one: I have to enjoy the food enough to want to go back again and again (and in some cases I have). My favorites are all over the place, from diners to fine dining, from sushi to Sichuan, with a good dose of "modern American cuisine."

Andy Nelson's
B&O American Brasserie
Bangkok Garden
Broadway Diner
Chameleon Cafe
Clementine
Crush
Della Notte
Donna's Cross Keys
Grace Garden
Kyodai Rotating Sushi Bar
Langermann's
Lebanese Taverna
Nautilus Diner
Pazo
Petit Louis
Roy's
Slainté
Sotto Sopra
Squires
Talara
Ume Sake
Volt
Yamato Sushi
Ze Mean Bean Cafe

What are some of your favorite Maryland restaurants?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Red Cabbage Soup

I love when Mr Minx makes soup for dinner, particularly in the Winter, so I gave him three soup cookbooks for Christmas. The other day, I went through them and marked the recipes that I thought would be both flavorful and quick to prepare. The red cabbage soup in 500 Soups: The Only Soup Compendium You'll Ever Need seemed like it fit the bill perfectly.

Boy, howdy it was good. I think the best part of it is that it tasted very close to my beloved Grandmother's barszcz (borcht). The clove and nutmeg was reminiscent of the spice of bay leaves and peppercorns, and the hint of sweet brown sugar on the cabbage mimicked the sweet earthiness of beets. Both soups have vinegar as well. All I needed was a dollop of sour cream to complete the illusion.

With slices of warm, freshly-baked bread, it was a perfect supper on a chilly evening.


Of course the Mr did tinker with the recipe a little bit.

Red Cabbage Soup, adapted from 500 Soups

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 slices bacon, cut into strips
1 small head of red cabbage, about 4 cups shredded
1 cup chopped onion
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
5 cups chicken stock
salt and ground black pepper

Saute the bacon and onion in the olive oil in a 2 quart saucepan until onions have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the salt and pepper and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more vinegar if you want (I added a splash of red wine vinegar to my bowl).  Serves 4.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Goth Brownies

Chocolate maven Alice Medrich is one of my Facebook friends and the other day she posted a link to her brownie recipe in the February 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. I realized I had not yet even removed the magazine from its plastic sleeve and, after doing, so, turned directly to the recipe. It seemed pretty simple, and I was craving chocolate, so I thought I would make them right there and then.

Medrich recommends using non-Dutch-processed cocoa, but all I had on hand was Hershey's Special Dark cocoa--a blend of natural and Dutched cocoa--which turned my brownies nearly jet-black. Kinda goth, don't you think? I also substituted chopped hazelnuts for the walnuts, because that's all I had.

The verdict? They were fine, but had perhaps a bit too much texture, the polar opposite of Rocco's refried-beans-smooth diet disaster. While the Bon Appetit brownies were moist and chewy, they were a bit sandy-textured. I followed the recipe exactly, and I am of the opinion that the melted butter shouldn't have been taken off the heat before the sugar was added, which might have allowed the sugar to dissolve a bit more. But what do I know except for my own palate?

Tasty, good, etc., but I still haven't found a recipe to come close to my favorite recipe that uses Ghirardelli Sweet Chocolate and Cocoa. What's your favorite brownie?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Project Top Chef Model

Hahahahahahahaha!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Restaurant Web Sites

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but as someone who is more than a little bit obsessed with good design, I have the tendency to judge restaurants by their Web sites. For me, the most important things to feature on a site are a) hours; b) location; c) menus, preferably with prices and not in PDF format. Oh, and signs that the site has been edited by someone who has a grasp on correct spelling and grammar. Everything else is filler. No need for gushing testimonials from customers - they're misleading because we know the restaurant has cherry-picked only the best comments. Photos of dishes are nice, but only if they're good photos of food actually served at the restaurant, and not stock images. And forget cheesy music and home pages that make visitors wait for completely gratuitous graphics and videos to load - few things will make me hit the "back" button sooner and change my dining plans. It can be a bit like Christina Aguilera singing the National Anthem during the Super Bowl - all Flash, no substance. Maybe even a big fail.

I took a look at several local restaurant Web sites and found few that really struck me as being well-designed, attractive, and to-the-point. On the other hand, annoying and/or ugly ones were a dime a dozen.

Let's start out with the best of the bunch; Bluegrass Tavern's site is a good example. The address and hours of operation are easy to find on the main page, as is a link to their various menus, plus additional tabs for specials, drinks, and reservations via Open Table. While there is a large slideshow-style image graphic on the main page, it changes slowly enough that one has already clicked through to another page before really noticing it.

Another site I like belongs to the James Joyce Pub. It's visually attractive, has no Flash or music, and it has their hours, location, and link to menus on the main page, along with an Open Table reservation feature. Staying in the Irish vein, Tir Na Nog's site is really stunning, with very subtle moving features. And all the important info is not only on the main page, but it's also "above the fold." A shame they didn't spell "shepherd's pie" correctly.

One might think that a vaunted restaurant such as Cindy Wolf's Charleston would have a fantastic Web site. While the site is nice-looking, it's all Flash, and one has to dig around quite a bit to figure out when the restaurant is and is not open for business (click the "contact us" button, then click the tiny "hours of operation" link on that page). Other restaurants in the Charleston Group also have site issues. Pazo not only has a lot of unnecessary
Cinghiale, I presume?
Flash on the main page, but also a bit of auto-play electronica that is reminiscent of cheesy porn music. The site for Petit Louis is fairly plain, but one has to click the "location" button to find the restaurant's hours, which are arranged on a wide black bar that doesn't seem to have much purpose at all on several pages. And the super-cheesy photo of owner Tony Foreman has got to go. Cinghiale has some loading issues; the home page was essentially blank for a good number of seconds before the logo and navigation system popped up. And when I click "menu" I want to see the menu, not another page that lists the menus, with a subsequent page that has some text and yet another link, "view dinner menu." In other words, one has to click three links to see what the restaurant serves, at which point I've given up and gone elsewhere.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the lack of attention to detail by bloggers and Web designers alike when it comes to spelling and grammar use. Most like to chalk it up to "typos" but it's pretty easy to figure out when the writer transposes a couple of letters in a word and when he or she has no clue whatsoever - and doesn't seem to care. Take the site for Louisiana, for example. While not the most attractive site around, it's not bad, except for the writing. On the "restaurant" page, we find this doozy: "We accomadate your every need with the same attention to detail and service that has made Louisianna a destination for many descrimiation diners."

Attention to detail my ass. The restaurant is also referred to as "Louisiana's" on a couple of pages (the URL also adds an "s" to the name). And why is the text on some pages in all caps, and on others in both upper- and lower-case? If I hadn't already eaten there several times (back before they had a Web presence), I doubt I'd bother going now.

Another site that turns me off belongs to the restaurant Tabrizi's. First of all, there's a wait while the site loads. During this time, I think, "time is money, and you're probably not getting any of mine." Once it does load, there's annoying music and every click on every link activates a quick-moving bit of Flash. It's a gimmick that really has no purpose. And the restaurant logo really does not need the ridiculous amount of drop shadow it's sporting. But at least the logo is there.

That is not the case for The Wine Market's site, which does not have a logo or even the restaurant's name on its header. It doesn't have a header at all, really, just some dumb javascript mouse-over silliness. If I didn't accidentally hover over the images that take up the majority of the home page, I wouldn't realize that they activated a link in a non-descript banner above them, which does in fact say, "Welcome to The Wine Market" when one first lands on the page, but changes as soon as the mouse pointer gets anywhere near those photos. There's some vague potential to the site, as the hours and address are on the main page (in a tiny font), and the content is ok, but it's a bit too free Javascript-happy for me.

Then there are the sites that are just butt-ugly, that look like someone's second cousin's mailman's dog put them together for a free lunch. Sullivan's Steakhouse is one of them. It's plain and rather un-corporate-looking for a place that has twenty locations. The worst part is the series of photographs that move underneath the text on the "menus" and "private dining" pages. They're a bit nausea-inducing. And why aren't they on all of the pages? Why is there no consistency? The Brewer's Art has another hopelessly homely site, but at least all of the pertinent information is right there on the home page. Waterstone Bar & Grille also has an ugly site, with too much empty space and links that are entirely too small. A quick check of the source code reveals that it was created with Microsoft FrontPage, a program that in itself is a giant fail.

Honestly, I could comment on just about every site out there - negatively - but I've probably gotten my point across by now. It's a point that The Oatmeal also makes pretty succinctly. And it's not just Baltimore - even glossy Michelin-starred places owned by uber-chefs Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert suffer from cheesy music and graphics. The site for Daniel offers a link with info on the restaurant's interior design, but not for hours of operation (they are on the "reservations" page, however). Le Bernardin is no better, offering the sounds of diners chattering and clinking utensils in addition to music. The pictures are shore purty, but dammit, I've got better things to do than to wait for the links to load! (I can only assume that the people who dine in these palaces of gastronomy have assistants to slog through Web sites for them.)

What do you like to see on a restaurant Web site? Do you want the site to be informative AND attractive? Do you like encountering music, moving images, or other Flash features? I'd love to find out if I'm "normal" or just too picky.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Top Chef All Stars Episode Ten Recap

At the top of this week's program, we are once again treated to scenes of the remaining recheftestants, this time post-Fallon, drinking themselves into oblivion (with cold coffee). Richard laments that his bromance with Fabio was cut short last week.

Gonna call him "Modesty Blais" from now on.

When we next see the chefs (15.6 seconds later) they are entering the Top Chef kitchen to find Padma, grinning wildly, standing behind a table large enough to hide three grown men underneath, maybe even four. She then introduces the guest judges for this episode - Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Telly. Muppets! Awww! Cuteness!

Carla has been both Beaker and Big Bird (on meth) during her time on Top Chef, so I think it would be appropriate if she sat out this challenge and joined the fuzzy guests at their big table.

The Quickfire Challenge, naturally, involves creating cookies. Elmo wants to see cookies with zucchini and carrots. Cookie Monster wants chocolate chips.

Telly just wants to go home and watch TV with Baby Bear, but he's got a hand up his butt and is kinda stuck where he is at the moment.

Blais is excited that he gets to cook for the Muppets, because his toddler thinks Elmo's a superstar. Antonia also seems to appreciate the challenge. Angelo claims not to have made cookies in at least 25 years, and Carla says she's an old hat because as a caterer she makes cookies all the time. Dale crushes potato chips and pretzels for his cookies, which prompts Telly to heckle his choices and Antonia to say he's "cheating."

After 45 minutes, time is called and Padma and the Muppets "taste" the cookies. Blais' "cookie" made of zucchini and ice cream and liquid nitrogen didn't pass muster, and Angelo's chocolate chippers were a little dry. On top were Antonia's double chocolate cookies, and Dale's pretzel and potato chip shortbread. Because the puppeteers liked his combo of sweet and salty, Dale's cookies were declared the best, winning him a $5K bonus prize.

The judges are then packed into suitcases and carried away. Padma announces that the Elimination Challenge will be held at Target, where the chefs have three hours to shop and cook for 100 Tar-jay employees. Everything - from cooking implements to food - will be found within the store. The winner of this contest will get an additional $25K, the biggest single-challenge prize offered so far.

At Midnight, the chefs are let loose in an empty Target and they race around to collect folding tables, tools, plates, and appliances on which to prep and serve, plus food. If the challenge were held in our local Baltimore, completely nutrient-free Tar-jay, the recheftestants would be forced to make do with Chee-tos, Dentyne Ice, and Choxie.

Angelo feels like Carl Lewis running through the aisles, only whiter and slower. And a whole lot nerdier. Gone are the tight "cameltoe" pants from last week and in their place are baggy shorts worn with dark knee highs and white shoes.

Any thoughts of Angelo possibly being gay have been banished with this look. But wait...look how chummy he and DoucheyMike have gotten recently, as they shop together and call each other "sweetie" and "pookie" and "studmuffin."

An hour into prep time, the chefs have shopped and set up and are cooking away. Except for Carla, who is still worrying about napkins and place mats and trivial stuff, which she blames on being a caterer. Eventually she stops running around and settles down to cook. She realizes she doesn't have enough time to prepare what she originally wanted to make, nor could she find the proper ingredients, so settles on making a curried apple soup.

There are a lot of soups. DoucheyMike is making a spicy coconut broth; Angelo is doing a baked potato soup that he calls a "deconstructed baked potato." No, Angelo, it's just soup. Dale is also making soup, a spicy tomato, that he's accompanying with grilled cheese sandwiches made with the aid of steam irons. He said the challenge reminded him of his college days, trying to cook in his dorm while hung over.

At 3AM, the hungry Target employees descend on the chefs, along with the judges: Padma, Tom, Bourdain, and for who-knows-what-reason, former Iron Chef wanna-be Ming Tsai.

They taste everything. Blais' non-soup dish of two kinds of pork with corn pancakes is praised for flavor, but called "butt-ugly" otherwise. And then we get the very lame answer to the question, "why Ming?" When he learns that Dale used an iron to crisp up his grilled cheese sandwiches, Ming quips, "Maybe he wants to be an Iron Chef?"

<groan>

Carla's curried apple soup was called "two-dimensional" and was missing a protein. Antonia's choice to make eggs for 100 people was ballsy, and it worked for her. DoucheyMike's soup was too sharp and spicy, but Ming liked it. And Angelo's potato soup was very heavy and way too salty.

After feeding the employees, the tired gang is then herded to the Stew Room. Padma comes in and calls for Blais, Antonia, and Dale - if you notice, all are chefs from Season 4, my personal favorite. Their dishes are praised but ultimately Dale is given the win. I think the irons clinched it for him. And now he's $30,000 richer, if you consider he won $5K in the Quickfire.

Tiffany, Carla, and Angelo are brought out next. Tiffany made jambalaya with too much creole seasoning (it looked like Tony Chachere's, which is extremely salty to my tastebuds). Angelo's soup was too salty and too dense - even without the salt, nobody would have been able to eat a bowlful. And the flavors in Carla's soup just weren't developed enough.

Angelo's errors, both culinary and sartorial, were the most egregious, and he was asked to pack his knives and his avocados and go.
(Honestly, he posted that on Facebook this week.)

Next week: Wigs, false teeth, and butter, AKA Paula Deen! Plus, old recheftestants are recycled again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

America’s Next Great Restaurant Previews

Coming March 6th to NBC, America’s Next Great Restaurant. (Considering it's "fast-casual", I'm not sure if "great" is an appropriate adjective, but they didn't ask me to name the show.) Interesting? Worth watching? We'll find out, I'm sure. As long as it doesn't run opposite "Chopped All-Stars" on Food Network, I'll give it a shot.

Easy Apple Galette

In the sloppy, snowy aftermath of "Thundersnowpocalypse 2011," I thought it would be prudent to stay home from work. After I helped Mr Minx dig out our car, I put myself to work in the kitchen, getting rid of sundry leftovers by turning out a batch of Erika Davis' chocolate chip cookies, a pot of mushroom soup, and an apple galette.

The galette was the tastiest treat of the day. Made with a refrigerated pie crust, two apples, and a few pinches of spices, it was terrific topped with some vanilla ice cream.


Easy Apple Galette

2 Granny Smith apples
1 refrigerated pie crust (Pillsbury All-Ready pie crust or its generic equivalent)
1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
ground ginger
ground cinnamon
lemon juice
1 egg yolk
sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Peel and very thinly slice apples. Unroll pie crust and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Place a layer of apples in the center of the crust, leaving a 1.5" border all around. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of cinnamon, a bit of ginger, a few drops of lemon juice, and a bit of the brown sugar. Repeat apple and spice layers until all of the apples are used, finishing with a dusting of cinnamon and brown sugar. Fold the border of the dough up over the filling, pleating it as necessary to keep it flat. Beat egg yolk with a few drops of water and brush onto the pastry. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for 15 minutes or so, the remove to a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Win a $50 Gift Certificate to Crush

A public service announcement, because I love the Crush Restaurant Group and would recommend their restaurants to anyone and everyone:

Crush Restaurant Group is running a great Facebook contest. Simply “like” Crush Restaurant on Facebook, along with its sister restaurants, Crush Cafe and Demi, and you could be selected to win a $50.00 gift card that is applicable at any of the 3 locations! From now until midnight Thursday, February 24th, anyone who becomes a fan or who is already a fan of all three pages, will be automatically entered to win a $50.00 gift card. The winner will be selected on Friday, February 25th, so make sure to check the fan pages that day for the announcement.

Crush Café is located at 210 W Pennsylvania Ave and is open Monday through Friday 7:30am-3:30pm. Crush Café offers gourmet breakfast and lunch at reasonable price. From fresh potato chips hand made every day to premium ready to made order soups, sandwiches and salads Crush Café fits all breakfast and lunch needs. Crush Café also offers catering services, at a delicious, refreshing, and professional level.

Demi is located at 501 E Belvedere in the basement of Crush and is open Tuesday through Saturday 5:00pm-11:pm. Demi is a small plates driven restaurant concept, specializing in modern American cuisine with global influences. Executive Chef Tae Strain brings small plates to a whole new level of both taste and presentation. Demi’s intimate 32 seat space offers sleek and minimalist decor, and includes 8 'chefs' stools that face an open kitchen giving dinners an inside look at behind the scenes.

Crush is located at 501 E Belvedere and is open daily for lunch, dinner, and Sunday Brunch 11:00am-11:00pm. Crush offers exquisite dining at an affordable price in a trendy, casual atmosphere. Head chef/owner Daniel Chaustit brings Baltimore an award winning menu, superb presentation, and the full bold flavors his dishes are known for. Crush also offers an extensive variety of wines assuring you the right taste to accompany your meal.

Rocco's Beany Cookies

Coprolite or fossilized dung.
Sure looks like a cookie though, doesn't it?
Not content with bastardizing the luscious chocolate confection known to chocoholics everywhere as brownies, Rocco DiSpirito also felt the need to taint the recipe for another sweet favorite - the chocolate chip cookie. He claims to have taken three whole weeks to perfect this noxious combination of beans and three forms of chocolate; perhaps if he had taken another few days he would have realized that he's off his rocker.

Unlike the bean brownie recipe, I feel no need to test this recipe out on my own. Besides, there are other brave souls who have done the job for me:
I made these this evening and the picture is certainly are not the cookies in this recipe. The first batch was so bad I tried again thinking I made a mistake. The second batch was just as bad as the first. They have a poor consistancy, flat, rubbery, way to sweet and have that splenda after taste which is even worse when the flavor is bad to begin with. Please do not waste time and money on this recipe!!!
I tried the chocolate chip cookie recipe last night. They did not look like the picture, and they definitely did not taste like chocolate chip cookies. I am disappointed that I spent so much money on the strange ingredients and time in the kitchen just to throw away cookies.
If you're crazy enough to try them, here's the recipe.

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe from Now Eat This! by Rocco DiSpirito
Servings: Makes 20 cookies

Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup canned white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. light agave syrup
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups granulated Splenda
1/4 cup dark chocolate-covered cacao nibs
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine vanilla, cocoa, cannellini beans, and the agave syrup, and blend the mixture until smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl halfway through blending.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the Splenda. Continue to beat the whites until they are creamy and nearly stiff. Add one-third of the egg- white mixture to the cocoabean mixture in the food processor. Blend to combine, about 30 seconds. In 2 batches, fold the lightened cocoa mixture into the egg whites until they are almost fully combined. Add cacao nibs to the batter. Fold batter until cacao nibs are evenly dispersed and cocoa mixture is completely incorporated.

Drop mounded spoonfuls of batter onto the prepared sheets. Spread batter out to form cookies about 2½ inches in diameter. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the cookies.

Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the pans one turn halfway through baking. Using a metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sláinte

For the past six years, Fells Point's Sláinte has been serving up Irish-inflected pub grub and earning accolades such as the City Paper's "Best Sports Bar" of 2008 and Baltimore Magazine's "Best Place for Breakfast" in 2009. While this was all well and good, owners Patrick and Katie Russell (who also own Kooper's next door) decided that what the Baltimore area really needed was a gastropub, the kind of place where the food is at least as important as--if not more than--the libations. After trips to New York to scope out famous gastropubs like The Spotted Pig and The Breslin and hiring a new chef in the form of Bill Crouse (formerly of Sotto Sopra), the Russells have upgraded their fare while still keeping the folks who just want a burger or some corned beef and cabbage happy.

While the menu looks like a pretty straightforward selection of British pub favorites, if you look closely you'll notice items like mushroom gnudi (a gnocchi-like dumpling, popularized in recent years by The Spotted Pig), poutine (the Québécois staple of gravy- and cheese curd-smothered French fries), and a Duroc pork loin with crispy spaetzle and a pink peppercorn and goat cheese sauce.

Lured by the mention of exotic game birds on Sláinte's Restaurant Week menu, Mr Minx and I had planned on trying the restaurant in late January, but with the intermittent freezing rain and otherwise generally crappy weather, we chose to stay home and avoid the ice. However, on a recent evening when the weather was cold and windy but otherwise precipitation-free, we partook of a media dinner to sample some of the items on Slainté's updated menu.

Ploughman's Platter
We were welcomed with glasses of Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay and a sampling of appetizers, including the "Ploughman's Platter" featuring smoked trout, grilled artichoke, soppressata, Roaring 40s blue cheese, tomato aspic, Merlot jelly, and apple, served with slices of toasted bread. It was a far cry from the Ploughman's lunch I had in a London pub many years ago, consisting of huge slabs of cheddar, dry bread, and a dollop of Branston pickle (a vinegary, chutney-like condiment that is an acquired taste for those not born in Blighty).  Sláinte's version would make a good lunch or light supper on its own, and would otherwise be a nice shared appetizer.

Mushroom gnudi
We were also brought platters of the addictive mushroom gnudi, fried to a crispy brown and served with brown butter, sage, and lashings of cheese. Owner Patrick Russell is a self-proclaimed "mushroom-hater" and even he had to admit that these tidbits were nothing short of delicious.

Cornflour Calamari with smoked pepper aioli and beet chips
Also sampled were PEI mussels steamed in white wine with tomato, basil, and garlic, and the spiced cornflour calamari which came with a smoked pepper aioli that had quite a nice kick to it.

Fish and Chips
After those goodies, we were brought three entrées to sample: fish and chips with a side of cole slaw; the Guinness Sunday roast; and the grilled Duroc pork loin. Chef Crouse's fish and chips were an outstanding version of the classic dish, the fish sporting a batter--made with Baltimore's own Heavy Seas lager-- so flavorful that it didn't need the usual dousing with malt vinegar or tartar sauce. The slaw, based on Chef Crouse's grandmother's recipe, was a nice light rendition, without the mayonnaise-y gloppiness that can mar this salad, and a subtle dilly tang. The pork loin's crisp spaetzel bed was a nice counterpoint to the creamy sauce and the subtly-cumin-scented pork itself. Accompanying the entrées was an unusually dry and licorice-y, but very drinkable, Cono Sur Merlot.

Duroc Pork with spaetzle
For dessert, we were brought a Jameson whiskey bread pudding and platters of piping hot zeppole, or Italian fried dough. While the bread pudding was moist and rich, the zeppole stole the show, particularly when dipped in the accompanying bowl of rich chocolate ganache.

Zeppole
Overall, the food was of high quality and we were quite pleased with everything - "well chuffed" as they might say in the UK. The favorites at our table were the gnudi, the fish and chips, the spaetzle, and the zeppole; the tender calamari was a personal favorite, particularly the smoky spicy sauce (which would be great on a burger). It was a meal I'd have been happy to have paid for, and we plan to return again very soon.

Chef Crouse says he hopes to add more gastropub-inspired dishes to the menu, and to watch for upcoming seasonal changes. After this meal, and a few years of dining on his fare at Sotto Sopra, I dare say the man can make even corned beef and cabbage taste good.

Sláinte 

1700 Thames Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
410-563-6600
Slainte Irish Pub on Urbanspoon
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