Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bollywood! Part 1

Back in 2003, Turner Classic Movies had a "Hooray for Bollywood" month in which they aired twelve classic Indian films, three per Thursday night. Over a period of three weeks, Mr Minx and I watched and enjoyed Pakeezah, Rangeela, and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge--the latter so much, we bought it on DVD. As our first experience with Indian cinema, we found Bollywood movies to be extremely colorful and full of glorious music, a fun and exotic escape from life in Baltimore.

At some point, I found a cheap source for Bollywood DVDs and bought several, some of which we hadn't yet watched because we hadn't found the time. (Bollywood movies are long, typically running 2.5 - 3 hours.) Recently I decided we needed to make a change from our regularly scheduled programming and planned a dinner-and-a-movie night, involving an Indian movie and home-cooked Indian food.

I didn't necessarily want to make classic Indian food but maybe something more modern, so I asked America's Next Great Restaurant finalist, Sudhir Kandula, for some ideas. He suggested that I do a simple samosa filling wrapped in puff pastry, and some vegetable fritters served with a mint sauce as starters.

Seems like most Indian restaurants - at least the ones that deliver to Chez Minx - offer only potato samosas, and while those are fine, I prefer meat-filled ones. I decided on a filling that is essentially a dish called keema mattar, a dry mixture of ground lamb and peas, because it is simple and tasty and I could make it the day before and stash it in the fridge. The next day, I'd just have to fill and bake the pastries, leaving more time for the other components I wanted to make.

For the vegetable fritters, I used chopped cauliflower and corn, and rather than making a mint sauce, I opted to make a fig chutney. I also purchased jars of carrot pickle and garlic relish to serve with the appetizer course. Everything was delicious, and the puff pastry was a genius idea. I'm going to make these again and again. The fritters also turned out well, and I suppose they'll be added to the repertoire seeing as I have a bag of gram (chickpea) flour to use up now.

Recipes follow...and stay tuned for more recipes later in the week.

Samosas

1/2 cup chopped onion
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 package pre-made frozen puff pastry

Over medium heat, cook onion and ground lamb together, breaking up clumps of lamb with a wooden spoon, until lamb is no longer pink. Drain off fat.

Stir in cayenne, garam masala, cumin, garlic powder, and ginger. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add lemon juice and peas, cook until peas have thawed, about 3 minutes more. Stir in mint. Remove from heat and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble samosas:
Preheat oven to 400F. Thaw puff pastry dough according to package directions. When thawed, unfold one piece of pastry at a time onto a work surface. Using a sharp knife, divide pastry into 9 squares.

Take a square of pastry and roll it out slightly with a rolling pin, enlarging it by about a quarter of an inch on all sides. Place a tablespoonful of filling at the center of the pastry square. Bring up opposing corners to meet at center, sealing edges with your fingertips and forming a rough pyramid shape. Repeat with remaining 8 squares and remaining pastry sheet.

Bake in preheated 400F oven for 15 minutes until puffed and brown. Makes 18.

Cauliflower Corn Fritters 

1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
about 2/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped green onion
vegetable oil for frying
salt

Remove outer leaves and lower part of stem from cauliflower. Blanch in boiling water for about 4 minutes until crisp tender. Remove from heat and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Roughly chop about 1 cup of the cauliflower and refrigerate the rest for later use.

Mix flours, cornstarch, baking powder, cumin, and salt in a bowl. Add 2/3 cup water and whisk until smooth. Add the cauliflower, corn, and onion to the batter and mix to combine. It will be very thick.

In a large saute pan, heat a tablespoon of oil until it shimmers. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of fritter batter into hot oil and press down lightly to form cakes. Do not crowd the pan - I got about 6 to fit comfortably.

Cook over medium-high heat until bottom side has browned. Flip fritters and brown other side. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt while fritters are still hot. Repeat until all batter is gone.

Fig Chutney (adapted from the Spice House)
12 dried figs
3 tablespoons agave nectar
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon candied ginger, finely chopped
3 tablespoons Sambuca
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
salt

Remove stems from figs and cut each into eighths. Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until figs are soft and much of the liquid has evaporated, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. When cool, refrigerate until ready to serve.


Read Bollywood Part 2 here.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Salsarita's

Not only do we have California Tortilla within walking distance of  the University of Maryland, Baltimore, campus, but we also have a Salsarita's dishing out burritos, tacos, and the like. While CalTort has set fillings for its Tex-Mex offerings, Salsarita's follows more of a Subway or Chipotle model and allows one to choose a receptacle (taco, burrito, nachos, quesadilla, salad) and fill it with a choice of protein (chicken, ground beef, shrimp, steak, pork) or veggies, choice of beans (black or refried) and any number of other accoutrements (several salsas, guac, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, lettuce), making their food completely customizable. For example, the other day I ordered a small burrito with black beans, rice, sautéed vegetables, sour cream, shredded cheese, mild salsa, guacamole, and cilantro and received a rather mammoth package of all of the above. And it was pretty good.

In the past, when I've ordered items with meat (particularly the taco salad), not only was the meat tender and properly seasoned, but the portion was more than generous. In fact, I've had to ask for half as much meat because I just can't eat that much at lunchtime.

It's a good thing when one's biggest complaint is that the portions are too generous, right?

Salsarita's Fresh Cantina
324 W Baltimore St
Baltimore, MD 21201
www.salsaritas.com
(410) 962-8270

Salsarita's Fresh Cantina on Urbanspoon

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fazzini's Italian Kitchen

When my brother lived in Cockeysville, he would frequent Fazzini's on a regular basis. He raved about their meatball pizza, topped with sliced meatballs that would frizzle on the edges in the heat of the oven. Of course, by the time Mr Minx and I got around to paying Fazzini's a visit, it had closed.

Eventually, however, it reopened, and we had another chance.

After being seated in the dining room of the tiny strip mall restaurant, our enthusiastic waitress brought us a basket of soft Italian bread and a saucer filled with olive oil and cloves of roasted garlic. Hello - roasted garlic olive oil is so much tastier than the usual EVOO with a drizzle of balsamic, herbs, and/or red pepper flakes! Especially when one takes some of those oozy soft cloves and schmears them on a piece of bread. The bread wasn't bad, but if it were better (crustier), I would have been quite content making a meal out of oil and bread.

That would make for a really boring blog post, wouldn't it? Instead, we ordered actual food.

While pizza and pasta are always tempting, we decided to try neither this first time. Mr Minx started off with a half salad, but I went for the gusto and ordered the fried calamari.

Many, many, many little squids gave their lives for this dish. The menu should warn that this is a large entrée-sized portion, or an appetizer for four. The portion was huge, and the calamari were tender for the most part, but they were bland. The menu claims they are coated in seasoned flour, but I sure had to use a lot of salt and pepper to bring out some flavor. Not the best fried calamari I've ever had, but decent enough. 

For my entrée (the two bites of it I was actually able to eat after all that fried squid), I ordered the stacked eggplant parmigiana. The parm itself was about 5" square and nearly 2" high, but it was nearly consumed by a flood of marinara sauce. While the sauce tasted fine, it completely overpowered the delicate flavor of the eggplant.  

Mr Minx ordered the Chicken Francaise "Michael," two panko-coated chicken cutlets with asparagus, prosciutto, capers, and a lemon butter sauce. The butter sauce was the best part of this dish, redolent of citrus and wine. And while there was a lot of it, it didn't overpower the dish's other strong flavors. There was zero subtlety in this dish, but we enjoyed it.

With both entrées came bowls of linguini marinara. Fazzini's touts their homemade pasta; a real shame the linguini was cooked to an unpleasant mush. 

Based on the strength of the garlic olive oil and the chicken dish, I'd say Fazzini's definitely deserves another try, next time for pizza, a sub, or maybe the chicken marsala. 

Fazzini's Italian Kitchen
578 Cranbrook Rd
Cockeysville, MD 21030
(410) 667-6104
www.fazzinis.com

Fazzini's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sloppy Joes

When I was a kid, my mom would make Sloppy Joes once in a while, using a can of chicken gumbo soup and some basic condiments. I enjoyed it, and I didn't - I thought the gumbo soup (which tastes nothing like actual gumbo, by the way) tasted odd. But...that's the only choice we were given; we tried Manwich exactly once, Mom hated it, and that was that.

Sloppy Joes seem like a pretty no-brainer idea for a quick weekday dinner, yet Mr Minx and I have made them about twice in the past 12 years. Recently, I spotted a can of Campbell's Chicken Gumbo Soup at the soon-to-disappear Superfresh. It was "light," but since I hadn't seen this soup in years, I thought it might be nice to use it to make a healthier version of my mom's old recipe.

Excited about the prospect of tasting something from my youth, imagine my surprise when I dumped the can of gumbo soup into the skillet only to find that it contained rice. (I didn't remember the original containing rice, but according to this, it does.) Rice, some orange-ish stock, bits of what appeared to be bell pepper, and not a whole lot else. Not even flavor. With the addition of ketchup and mustard, the turkey mixture tasted like...ketchup and mustard and nothing like the flavor memory I've been carrying around in my head for 35 years or so. At that point, realizing I was not going to have a madeleine moment, I decided to doctor the Joe, adding much-needed spice and some sweetness other than ketchup.

The result was pretty good, definitely sloppy, and ultimately nothing like Mom's. Sigh.

Spicy Sloppy Joes

20 ounces ground turkey or chicken
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 can (10 1/2 ounces) light chicken gumbo soup
1/2 can water
1 tablespoon Sriracha (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon maple syrup
6 hamburger buns

In large skillet over medium heat, cook onion and turkey, breaking up turkey with edge of a spatula, until meat is cooked through and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Turn up heat and stir in ketchup, mustard, soup, water, Sriracha, paprika, garlic powder and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until meat is tender and much of the liquid has evaporated. Serve on hamburger buns.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Win a $1000 Gift Card to Wegman's

The Third Annual Blue Jean Ball Raffle, a fundraiser for the Maryland Food Bank, takes place now through May 30, 2011. Tickets are $10 each or 12 for $100. Prize is a $1,000 gift card to Wegmans. For every 10 tickets purchased, you will receive two extra entries to the raffle. The winner will be announced Monday May 30, 2011 on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ #!/MDFoodBank), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/#!/MDFoodBank), and the organization’s web site (www.mdfoodbank.org).

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Salmon BLT

A couple of weeks ago, Baltimore Snacker John mentioned that he wanted to experiment with tapioca maltodextrin and that he had ordered free samples from National Starch. I'm kinda fascinated by "molecular gastronomy" or whatever the kids are calling it today, so I decided to order some samples as well.

Tapioca maltodextrin is a modified food starch that can be used to turn liquified fat into a powder. While that might not seem like a useful trick, I think it's pretty nifty. My first attempt was powdered peanut butter - a half teaspoon of Jif creamy mixed into a couple of tablespoons of N ZORBIT M made a pale peanut butter-flavored powder...a powder that once in contact with liquid became itself liquid again. In other words, a spoonful of this stuff placed in the mouth changed from its powdered state back into peanut butter.

A foodie parlor trick.

Because I had a package of bacon in the fridge that needed to be cooked, I decided to mix bacon fat and tapioca maltodextrin. I was making salmon for dinner, so my first idea was to make a kind of deconstructed bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. The bacon part was easy - bacon fat + N ZORBIT = bacon powder. But what about the lettuce and tomato?

We had a couple of yellow tomatoes, but that seemed boring. I blanched, peeled, and chopped two of them and put them aside. Then I remembered the bag of sundried tomatoes I had recently acquired from Nuts Online. I figured I could use them to make a sauce, using a bit of acid to cut the richness of both the salmon and the bacon fat powder. The lettuce component was simple - a bit of salad, also dressed with acid.

Since BLTs also have mayo, I thought this might be a good opportunity to make the delicious yogurt sauce we enjoyed at Phillips a few weeks ago; their technique was also used to cook the salmon.

The end result wasn't pretty, but it was quite delicious. While I wanted the bacon powder (which tasted a whole lot like fried pork rinds) to be the star, the real showstopper was the sundried tomato vinaigrette which was rich and tangy and very tomatoe-y. Could make a delicious pasta sauce for the summer.

Recipes for most of the components follow.

Baked salmon - red quinoa - tomato vinaigrette - yogurt sauce
chopped yellow tomato - herb salad  - bacon fat powder
Salmon
10 oz salmon fillet
salt and pepper
2 oz butter
2 oz water

Preheat oven to 400F. Salt and pepper one side of salmon fillet. Lay in the bottom of a baking dish with sides that will fit the salmon and contain the liquid. Add the butter and water. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until desired doneness.

Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

1/2 cup roughly chopped sundried tomatoes, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes and drained
1 teaspoon roughly chopped shallot
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
pinch aleppo pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Put first 8 ingredients into the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree. Strain mixture into a medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Bacon Powder

1 cup N-ZORBIT M tapioca maltodextrin
3 tablespoons bacon fat
salt and pepper to taste

Place N-ZORBIT into a large bowl. Drizzle over bacon fat. With a fork, stir well to combine - the starch should absorb all of the fat, if it doesn't, add more N-ZORBIT a teaspoonful at a time. Push through a sieve to achieve a fine powder. Cover and set aside.

Herbed Yogurt

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon chopped mint
1 teaspoon chopped basil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Salad

1 cup torn mixed greens (lettuce, arugula, mint, basil, spinach, your choice)
lemon juice
olive oil
salt and pepper

Toss greens with a squeeze of lemon and a light drizzle of oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dinner at Red Pearl

I had been promising my brother for months that we'd go to Grace Garden, but at the last minute I changed the plan. After reading this post on HowChow, I decided that I needed to eat that duck as soon as possible. Plus I still had one more Groupon to use, and Red Pearl doesn't involve quite as much travel time as Grace. So Mr Minx and I headed to Columbia where we met up with MinxBro and MinxDad and proceeded to order a ton of food.

Red Pearl really tries to be a fine-dining experience, at least in appearance, but I have no use for the fancy gold-rimmed water goblets and the silverware, not to mention the salt and pepper shaker on a small square plate. All of this stuff just takes up precious real estate on the too-small tables. Bring me a tea cup and a set of chopsticks and I'm set!

We knew we were getting the duck, and my brother was willing to order the other dish I was jonesin' to try - the cumin lamb (cumin is a very unusual spice to find in a Chinese dish), but we still had to decide on at least two more. Red Pearl has a Sichuan menu available online, but it's merely a sample of the two pages of interesting dishes on the physical menu.

My dad ordered a bowl of won ton soup, which is his usual MO. The one time we had eaten dinner there before, my friend LaRaine ordered the Westlake Seafood soup, one of the snotty egg-drop-type soups she seems to favor. It was ok, but not really my thing. I was curious to see if Red Pearl did justice to won ton because in so many places the broth is substandard and watered-down. While Red Pearl's version didn't quite have the flavor that I hold in my mind's palate, it was still pretty good, with a strong broth and dumplings that weren't thick and pasty.

My brother is a calamari fiend, as am I, so we ordered the calamari appetizer for the table (minus Dad, who still won't touch the stuff, no matter how much we yum-yum over it). Possibly the most unusual variation I've ever had, this squid - light and springy, with a pleasantly crisp coating - reminded me of...Funyuns, and not just in appearance. I thought the dish tasted a bit like it had been seasoned with onion powder, and, oddly, grated Parmesan cheese. The dipping sauce was a bit like duck sauce mixed with Worcestershire. I'm not saying it was bad - I rather enjoyed it. Just odd.

Dad, ever the adventurer, chose the Sesame Chicken from the standard menu. It was a pretty good rendition, with a tomato-y, not too sweet, not too gluey sauce.

Now for the tea-smoked duck. In addition to HowChow, a review in the Washingtonian also raved about the dish. According to Todd Kliman, the duck is...
...first smoked in a wok, where a slow-burning mound of jasmine turns the meat a deep pink. It’s then roasted to a mahogany brown. The meat, with a thin layer of fat beneath the skin, was as rich and juicy as the best spare ribs. We made sandwiches with the accompanying steamed buns, stuffing them with equal parts meat and skin, which crackled like potato chips.
While our duck did indeed sport deep pink flesh and brown skin, there was quite a thick layer of fat under the skin, which while not soft, was not crackly, either, definitely not comparable in any way to a potato chip. The flesh was rather tough, and it took some wrestling to get it off the bone and into a bun, making for some extremely greasy fingers. The taste was mildly smoky, somewhat ham-like, and completely different from the delectable version of the same dish served at Grace Garden. While the duck at Grace is neither pink nor crisp, the meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender, the fat is non-existent, and the dish is thoroughly smoky.

Another dish Kliman raved about was the cumin lamb.
One—simply called cumin lamb—is an ordinary-looking stir-fry of meat and peppers. But the strips of lamb were tender inside, crunchy outside, and the cumin mingled with the numbing peppercorn and the chilies to produce a fascinating taste—imagine, all at once, the saltiness of potato chips, the spiciness of KFC, the heat of a fiery salsa—that kept me going back for more.
A bit of hyperbole, perhaps. While the lamb was tender, with a crisp outside due to deep frying, and the flavor was extremely cumin-y without sinking into the realm of armpit, he neglected to mention that there was so much of the spice crusting the meat that it gave the outsides an unpleasant granularity.

However - it is better than KFC. That comparison is bit of an insult.

My favorite dishes of the evening were random choices from the menu. Mr Minx picked the salt and pepper pork chops, which consisted of juicy chunks of pork on the bone, lightly floured and fried, and coated in a mixture of salt and pepper and garnished with sliced fresh chiles. Simple and delicious.

We also tried the Red Pearl pan-fried noodles topped with shrimp, scallops, fish, and squid. The seafood was perfectly cooked, the noodles were crisp where they weren't covered with sauce, juicy where they were, and the sauce itself was rich, despite its paleness.

While I felt disappointed by the lauded duck and lamb dishes, I was buoyed by the deliciousness in the pork and the noodles. Grace Garden may still be our favorite Chinese restaurant, but we'll be back to Red Pearl to try some of their many other dishes. Can't really ignore a restaurant that serves duck tongues three different ways!

Red Pearl
10215 Wincopin Circle
Columbia, MD 21044
(410) 715-6530
www.redpearlrestaurant.com

Red Pearl on Urbanspoon

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Choice Bites 5.20.2011

As always, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt conducted a rather scholarly food study, this time on the similarities and differences between burgers from three touted joints, In-N-Out, Shake Shack, and Five Guys. I've only tried Five Guys and think it's decent enough, but I really want to try the other two now.

The very opinionated Josh Ozersky (NY Mag) had this to say about the contest: "This was sort of epic. But how did Five Guys even get in there? The commenters are right. If they needed a third burger they should have gone to Steak N Shake or better still Smashburger. I wish I could easily strike a blow at Five Guys. They've done more to harm hamburgers than Ray Kroc and the e.coli put together." (via Facebook, italics mine) Would be nice if he explained himself.

The still-quite-young food truck scene in Baltimore is having issues. As a proponent of the food truck movement, this disturbs me. Read one recent article about it here, and another here, both from the Baltimore Sun.

There's a new food magazine? shopping site? both? in town - Gilt Taste. Part of Gilt Groupe, the site has snagged Ruth Reichl as editorial advisor.

Momofuku owner David Chang's top five annoying things that restaurant diners do can be found here. I violated #1 by telling the folks at Ssam Bar that I was a blogger from Baltimore. They treated me very well. Guess some people do realize that the reason some restaurants get lots of traffic - particularly from out-of-towners - is good press from bloggers. Chang has a rep for being somewhat of an asshat, so I can only laugh at his comments.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

ลาบไก่ ไก่งวง


I adore Thai food and wish I had the opportunity to explore it more often. I don't always leave happy when I visit the Thai restaurants in the area, so more often than not, if I want Thai flavors, I have to create them at home. Recently, during one of my regular tours of teh Internets, I spotted a recipe for laap mu, or Thai ground pork salad, that struck me in that, "I have to make this now" way. After checking out several variations on the recipe, including Top Chef Season 1 winner Howard Dieterle's version, I concocted one of my own. I wanted a salad that was spicy and tangy, but also filled with the aromatics like galangal and lemongrass that have made me such a fan of the cuisine.

We are still dealing with that triglyceride thing, so of course pork was out. Chicken (gai) is another meat that would have worked in the dish, but I could only find ground turkey at the Wegman's. (I've purchased sweetbreads there, and they had whole quail, so it seems odd not to have such a basic cut of meat. I probably didn't look in the right place.)

The Thai word for turkey seems to be ki ngwng. Say that five times fast. Hell, say it once. Gai is so much easier.

Pronunciation aside, the problem with turkey - particularly breast meat - is that it is dry. Chia seeds are of no help for this recipe, so if you can find ground turkey that contains some dark meat, or if you can grind up some chicken thighs in the food processor, you'll have a much moister dish. In any case, even with dry turkey breast the flavors were quite nice - aromatic, refreshing, and tart, with a nice chile kick. Serve the laap with lettuce leaves to make wraps, or on a bed of lettuce if you want a more salad-y thing. It's a great meal for a hot summer night and it involves relatively little cooking.

The rice powder and the sauce can be assembled ahead of time, but for the best results, the salad should be dressed just before eating.

Laap Ki ngwng

2 tablespoons raw rice
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2-3 teaspoons chile sauce (I used Sambal Oelek; Sriracha works too.)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon galangal powder
1 tablespoon lemongrass paste (Gourmet Garden)
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 scallions, chopped
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped mint

Toast the raw rice in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until the rice has started to brown and emit a nutty fragrance. Remove from skillet, allow to cool, and pulverize in a coffee or spice grinder. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine fish sauce, chile sauce, sugar, galangal, lemongrass, and lime juice. Set aside.

Cook the turkey meat in the vegetable oil until cooked through and no longer pink, breaking up clumps with a wooden spoon or the edge of a spatula. Turn off heat. Add half of the fish sauce mixture while the meat is still hot, tossing to combine. Allow the meat to cool for 15 minutes before adding remainder of sauce, plus scallion, shallot, cilantro, and mint. Sprinkle with toasted rice powder before serving.

Serve over lettuce, or use large lettuce leaves as a wrapper for the laab.


With the laab, we ate a simple cucumber salad - sliced cucumber, splashes of lime juice and fish sauce, chopped scallions, cilantro, mint, and peanuts - and steamed Jasmine rice.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Keyword Activity

Every once in a while I check my stats to see what keywords were used to find this blog, and every time I'm a bit surprised. Oh, sure, there's the obvious searches for "minxeats," "Baltimore foodie," and "bacon jam." Googling "Rocco DiSpirito brownies" is also a fairly easy way to find me. But then there are the weird ones:

sandra lee duck meat creamy sauce
my e-mail for jack mackenroth my drawing for him
funny cat pictures with captions
philippine flagpole
zoidberg
brickstation eating poop

and my favorite:

chinese orgy

Perhaps the most popular search that leads folks to my blog is some variation on "fabio viviani married," or "fabio viviani wife." I get that - there are apparently tons of women who are completely charmed by the Top Italian. What I don't get are all of the searches for "Marcel Vigneron girlfriend."

"Washington post peeps contest winners" was a pretty popular search for a few days last month. Why not just go to the Washington Post Web site?  Most of the searchers were using Bing. This is why I use Google.

So how did you find my blog the first time you visited?

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Madeleines and Remembrance

We tried madeleines for the first time in Paris in the mid-70s. My mother fell in love with the rather plain, buttery, cakes instantly. Back in Baltimore, where the most exotic cake around was a butterscotch Krimpet, madeleines remained a memory. That is, until I bought a madeleine pan and made them at home.

Somehow they didn't taste the same, but I think Mom mostly loved their shape and size.

I made a double batch for her on what proved to be her last Christmas, and she insisted on feeding them to my parakeet, Cuervo, rather than eating them herself. Without me in the house to remind her to eat them, they got stale and eventually had to be thrown away. It still saddens me that she did not enjoy them all.

I use the madeleine pan now more for cornbread than anything. But recently I was looking through my copy of Martha Stewart's Cookies for simple recipes that I might alter with a dose of one of the two non-sugar sweeteners I have for baking experimentation. Madeleines use relatively small amounts of butter and flour, both of which were in short supply, so they became the cookie of choice.


While I used Xylitol in a hot fudge sauce recipe last week, this time I decided to try Erythritol. Like Xylitol, it's is a sugar alcohol, in this case actually made from sugar; however it's only 70% as sweet as sugar. It has only 0.2 calories per gram, and a glycemic score of 0, making it safe for diabetics.

I thought they turned out great - light, cakey, lightly-sweet, with a nice orange-y flavor. I used a non-stick pan and a lot of release spray, but still they stuck a bit. Not sure if that was a result of the sweetener, or maybe of the bumps of pecans.

Erythritol apparently caused baked goods to become hard if they're exposed to air for long periods of time, so make sure to store your madeleines in an air-tight container as soon as they're cool.

Pecan Orange Madeleines (adapted from Martha Stewart)

4 1/2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup Erythritol (or 1/4 cup sugar)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 tablespoon grated orange rind

Preheat oven to 325F.

Brush the molds of a madeleine pan with butter (I like using the wrapper) or spray well with release spray.

In a microwavable bowl, melt butter on high for 1 minute. Stir in honey and vanilla and set aside until cool.

Place flour, baking powder and Erythritol or sugar in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and butter mixture until well combined, then add pecans and orange rind. Spoon batter into prepared molds, about halfway, and smooth with the back of a spoon (batter is stiff).

Bake until bottoms of cookies are golden and tops are springy, about 8-9 minutes. Remove pan to a wire rack, and after cooling for a few minutes, remove cookies from pan onto another rack. Allow to cool completely.

Store in a covered container. Makes 2 dozen.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Souper Freak

It may sound strange, but these days I actually look forward to Monday. Why? Because a new food truck visits the UMB campus that day. Souper Freak, as you can probably tell by the name, specializes in soup, offering four or so varieties every day, plus sandwiches, salads, and snacks. While it might seem a little warm for soup right now, those of us in over-air-conditioned offices appreciate something that can take the chill off of the afternoon.

That said, the Souper Freak serves a mean gazpacho. The soup was thinner than I usually prefer, but it had a well-seasoned tomato broth full of chunks of cucumber and multi-colored pepper. It was spicy, but not too, sweet, but not overly, and had just the right zing of vinegar. Really, really good.

Oh, and a "cup" size is pretty huge - 12 oz - and quite the bargain for a mere $4. Ok, so it's a dollar more than that container of Campbell's you've brought for your lunch today, but SO MUCH BETTER and FRESHER.

I also tried the asparagus and goat cheese wrap, which had more complex flavors than one might imagine: perfectly cooked, crisp, asparagus with a lovely, smoky, grilled flavor; creamy smooth goat cheese; and grilled onion, peppery arugula, and a balsamic vinaigrette. The combination of the gazpacho and sandwich was pretty much my idea of a perfect lunch, one I'd be happy eating at least once a week. Souper Freak's menu changes regularly though, so I have to settle for a different delicious combo every week.

For example, the following Monday, I had a Greek wrap with roasted peppers, eggplant, olive tapanade, spinach, and feta AND a Greek Watermelon salad with watermelon, olives, mint and feta. (Yes, I love feta. And olives.) I make a watermelon and feta salad on occasion, and from now on I will be adding mint and kalamata olives because they work so well with the sweetness of the melon. And I loved that I could get a sandwich with eggplant on it - such an underused vegetable that makes a perfect, almost-meaty, sandwich filling, especially with roasted peppers.

Souper Freak usually has a vegan selection, plus a couple that are vegetarian (I realize duh! everything I've mentioned fits into that category, but they do have meat items as well), so there's something for everyone. And everything I've tried has been lovely, so I heartily recommend that if you see the truck in your area you should grab some lunch or a snack.

(Psst...bring back the gazpacho. Regularly.)

Souper Freaks (Mobile Food Truck) on Urbanspoon
Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hot Fudge

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite treats was a hot fudge sundae from Read's. Read's was a local drugstore chain, and the one in my neighborhood had a full-service soda fountain/restaurant. If I went shopping with my grandma, I could almost guarantee a sundae was in my future - because she also enjoyed them. Although in those days my favorite ice cream was chocolate, I preferred my sundaes with vanilla because it didn't affect the flavor of the hot fudge. And a maraschino cherry on top, along with aerosol whipped cream, were de rigeur.

The other day, I was craving some hot fudge. I had just received two bags of sweetener with which to experiment, and I chose to use one of them, Xylitol, in the sauce. Xylitol, widely used as a sweetener in chewing gum, is a sugar alcohol sweetener that is roughly as sweet as sugar, but has only about 60% of the calories and a very low glycemic score, making it good for diabetics. I found that when tasted raw, on a damp finger, Xylitol tastes remarkably like sugar - more than artificial sweetners - with only a vague aftertaste. I found that when I cooked with the product, it tasted pretty much like the real thing, and worked like a charm in a basic hot fudge recipe.

Not that hot fudge sauce will ever be a diet recipe, or particularly safe for diabetics! I just wanted to play with the Xylitol and see if I noticed any difference in flavor. You may use 1/2 cup of regular sugar in the recipe, instead.

New-Fashioned Hot Fudge Sauce
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons boiling water
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/2 cup Xylitol
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix cocoa powder and water in a sauce pan, stirring until it forms a paste. Turn heat on to medium; add butter, Xylitol, corn syrup, and heavy cream, stirring to combine. Bring mixture up to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Yields about 3/4 cup sauce.

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cooking Something Up at Phillips

click to
enlarge
Mr Minx and I were invited to attend a cooking demonstration called "The Freshest Catch," part of Phillips' "Cook, Crack & Eat" series of cooking classes. While they are called classes, the demo was held in the dining room so participants didn't actually see any cooking being done. Instead, Phillips Harborplace sous chef Jonathan Kappes demonstrated various fish-prep techniques, like skinning and fileting a whole salmon, removing the bloodline from a side of tuna, assembling a Phillips'-style stuffed flounder, and cutting swordfish steaks. Not that we'd be doing any of that at home (except perhaps filleting and skinning a smaller fish), but it was interesting to see how a restaurant kitchen breaks down their fish for service. He also gave us tips on choosing fish for home consumption: make sure the eyes are bright and not cloudy; the flesh springs back when pressed with a finger; the gills are red and not black or cloudy. And fresh is almost always better than frozen!

While demoing each type of fish, Chef Kappes described a dish from Phillips' menu that utilized that particular cut, after which we were served that dish - definitely the best part of the class!

First off, we were presented with tandoori spiced salmon with cous cous, Mediterranean salad, & Greek yogurt. Of the four dishes we tried, this was my favorite. The salmon was perfectly cooked and moist, and the yogurt sauce (not pictured) - flavored with garlic, mint, dill, lime, and sugar - was subtle and delicious. I appreciated the pretty colors in the dish, something I don't aways achieve in my own home cooking.

After the tuna demo, we were served blackened ahi tuna with bok choy and wasabi mashed potatoes. The tuna was mid-rare and could have been more rare for my tastes (raw would have been best), but it was good and not overwhelmed by the blackening seasoning. The mashed potatoes, which were very creamy and seasoned with coconut milk as well as wasabi, were somewhat sweet and something I definitely would like to try to make at home. Luckily, I can, because Phillips provided recipes for everything we ate today.

Chef Kappes showed us the Phillips method of stuffing flounder. "Stuffed" in many places merely means "topped," but at Phillips, 3oz of crab meat is sandwiched between two 5-oz flounder filets, making for a protein-heavy portion. Rather than adding carbs to the plate, they serve the fish with a side of green beans almandine seasoned with a touch of garlic. This dish has been on Phillips' menu since day one, and it has that classic Maryland flavor profile that is so familiar to us locals.

Finally, the chef broke down a huge side of swordfish while describing a preparation that he had designed for the specials menu one evening. The swordfish we were served was very simply grilled and came with Jasmine rice flavored with coconut milk, a pineapple chili salsa, and baby arugula. I was really looking forward to the pineapple salsa, but ended up not getting very much of it on my plate. 

At this point you're probably thinking, "man, that plating is shitty!" That's because the dishes were served family style by two servers who each had different components of the dish. They're all going to look a lot prettier when they come out of the kitchen pre-assembled.

And just when we thought we couldn't eat any more (we doggie bagged most of the swordfish), out came portions of tiramisu for dessert. And then we were given a goodie bag containing more recipes, a can of Phillips seafood seasoning, a bag of seasoned nuts, coupons for Phillips products, and a $25 gift card to Phillips! So...if you think that $50 sounds a bit high for a cooking class, then consider it a rather filling lunch with bonuses, instead.

There are currently no other Cook, Crack & Eat classes scheduled, but they have become more and more popular so look for them to pop up again. In the meantime, you can like Phillips on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter, where they're likely to announce future classes.

(We were able to attend the class for free, however, all opinions expressed in this post are those of Minxeats.)

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

California Tortilla

Despite the name, California Tortilla is a local chain, started in Bethesda in 1995. I've been generally disappointed by most Tex-Mex-style chains, and CalTort is not the refreshing exception to that rule.

A couple years ago, while attending a knitting event called Stitches East at the Convention Center, I tried the outpost on Pratt Street for a quick lunch between classes; I remember not being particularly impressed. But on one recent Spring day, one on which the UMB campus is without a food truck, I decided to take a little stroll and give CalTort another try.

I can eat tacos every day (as I did for three days in a row a couple weeks ago), so I decided to try the pork carnitas soft taco combo (with chips, queso, and a drink) over CalTort's burrito and quesadilla options.

The two tacos each had with a generous amount of shredded stuff - pork, cheese, and iceberg lettuce. The tender meat had a bit of an acid bite that might have been lime - hard to tell because it was so salty. The accompanying salsa, served on the side, was a bit spicy, but otherwise tasted of canned/cooked tomatoes. 

The completely unnecessary side dish of chips and queso (rice and beans is also available) was a bit more flavorful. The tortilla chips were fresh (albeit not fried-in-house fresh) and not too salty, and the cheese sauce, decorated with bits of tomato, cilantro, and jalapeno, was nicely spicy and a couple steps above ballpark nachos. Ok, not too many steps, but it was a darn sight better than melted Velveeta.

Not a horrible lunch, but nowhere near as tasty as tacos from Gypsy Queen.

A couple weeks later, I signed up to receive the CalTort newsletter via e-mail and was rewarded with a coupon for a free taco. Perhaps "rewarded" is the wrong word; "punished" might be more appropriate. With it, I tried a taco with a "blackened chicken" filling, and boy I was glad that it was: 1) free; 2) not the only thing I had to eat. Again,"blackened" was probably not the right descriptive; "dessicated" or "mummified" would have been more appropriate. The chicken was so overcooked, it was not only dry, it was crunchy. I spat out the first bite and threw the rest of the taco in the trash. And the poor starving children in China are crying over my blatant waste.

Can't really blame the chicken's texture on having sat in a steam tray for too long - I hit the shop at 11:45am in order to avoid waiting in line with the lunch rush. Of course I don't know that they didn't cook the meat at 8am either.

I fared much better with the small "no-meato" burrito I had also ordered. Packed with a melange of black beans, rice, veggies, and a sauce that was both tart and quite spicy, it was actually decent. And it wasn't too salty, like the food in some other fast-casual Tex-Mex joints (I'm looking at you, Chipotle).

There are lots of other things on the CalTort menu to try, including salads and quesadillas, but neither of these meals thrilled me enough to go back. But....starting May 9,  they are adding limited edition "Bangkok Shrimp" to their tacos and quesadillas, and that might be enough to tempt me in for another try.

California Tortilla
300 W Pratt St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 605-0991
www.californiatortilla.com

California Tortilla on Urbanspoon
Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Swordfish, Fried Rice, Peppered Tamarind Gastrique

After all of my fancy eating in NY a couple weeks ago, I was in the mood for...more fancy stuff. Yeah, moderation? What is that? I stopped short of suggesting to Mr Minx that we go out for dinner on Sunday because, honestly, I had already spent enough money on food for the week, plus I was feeling a teensy bit guilty for dining out without my hubby at my side. So I attempted to make up for it by creating a restaurant-quality dinner at home.

That started out with a quick rummage through the freezer. There I re-discovered a package of Chinese sausage that I knew was in there but hadn't seen recently, and a ton of fish recently procured on a trip to Trader Joe's. Given the choice between salmon, mahi mahi, and swordfish, Mr Minx chose the latter. I decided to make a dish with Asian flavors (naturally - my usual M.O.) - fried rice, marinated swordfish, and some simply-buttered green beans. After more consideration, I thought a sauce might be nice and did a riff on the black pepper gastrique I had at The Modern the day before.

The fish was meaty and buttery, the rice had lots of interesting textures from the snappy mushrooms and the sausage bits, and the sauce added much-needed acid tartness. The sauce was rather rich and while it was fine with the meaty fish, it would probably work even better with red meat.

Swordfish, Fried Rice, Peppered Tamarind Gastrique

Swordfish
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
couple glugs fish sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 swordfish steaks, about 3/4" thick

Fried Rice
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 cup sliced onion
2 Chinese sausage (lop cheong), roughly chopped into about 1/2" pieces
2 ounces dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked for one hour, rinsed, drained, & roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups cold cooked rice
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup frozen edamame, prepared according to package directions
1 tablespoon chopped scallions

Peppered Tamarind Gastrique
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fig vinegar
2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Swordfish:
Place first five ingredients in a non-reactive container. Add fish. Marinate for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

When ready to cook, remove fish from marinade and pat dry. Preheat oven to 400F. Heat an oven-proof skillet over high heat and add a drizzle of canola oil. Add swordfish and cook about 2-3 minutes, until bottoms are browned. Turn fish and place in preheated oven. Bake 8-9 minutes, until cooked through.

Fried Rice:
In a large saute pan, heat canola oil over medium-high heat and add onions. Cook until wilted, 3-4 minutes. Stir in sausage; cook until onions brown and sausage begins to get crisp, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook an additional minute. Add rice, breaking up any clumps with a wooden spoon. Stir in mushrooms, five spice powder and soy sauce. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is no longer white and is beginning to crisp up a bit, about 6 minutes. Stir in edamame and scallions and cook until vegetables are warmed through.

Gastrique:
Place sugar in medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar begins to melt. Stir until sugar dissolves, then cook without stirring until deep golden, about 5 minutes. Pour in vinegar, which will cause sugar to harden. Continue stirring until sugar remelts. Add tamarind concentrate and water and turn heat to high, stirring constantly to dissolve tamarind. Bring to a boil and when liquid begins to thicken, add broth. Continue boiling until gastrique is thick enough to coat a spoon and is reduced to about half a cup. Stir in pepper.

To Serve:
Place a mound of rice on a plate. Top with swordfish steak. Drizzle with gastrique. Top with cooked and lightly buttered green beans, asparagus spears, or a handful of arugula or watercress dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serves 2, with leftover rice and gastrique

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Sushi Yawa

When I'm in NY, I like to meet up with my friend David Dust to have dinner. Usually I try to pick something new-to-David, but this time I had some restrictions. Since I was going to Sniffapalooza at 8am the following morning, I didn't want to indulge in a cuisine that was too spicy or garlic-heavy. Not only did I not want to offend anyone (ok, that's not entirely true), but I didn't want to sweat garlic and affect the way fragrance smelled on my skin.

I was pretty sure I could avoid stinky alliums at a sushi restaurant; unfortunately, David doesn't like fish all that much. But, he said if I could find a sushi joint that served fried chicken, he would be all for it. Lucky for me, many Japanese restaurants serve chicken katsu - fried chicken cutlet. I googled my way around Greenwich Village and settled on Sushi Yawa, near Washington Square Park, which seemed to have a good variety of fish and non-fish choices.

After the rather large meal I ate at Ma Peche earlier in the day, I was glad I suggested sushi over, say, a burger, which would have been too heavy and greasy. I started out with two pieces of "white tuna," aka escolar. I really love the mild buttery-ness of this fish; Sushi Yawa's was very fresh and I loved that there was a larger proportion of fish to rice.
White tuna, aka escolar
Mr Dust has never met a crab rangoon he didn't like, and had no complaints about the ones he ate at Sushi Yawa.

crab rangoon
There were some Thai-ish dishes on the menu, one of which was a crispy duck spring roll. While it sounded like a good idea, and it certainly was pretty, it had little or no flavor. The wrapper was crisp but also tough, and the meat inside was dried out. Fail.

crispy duck spring roll
My fried oyster roll was much better. Made me want a whole big plate of fried oysters though.

fried oyster roll
David did indeed order the chicken katsu, which came atop a plate full of lovely steamed vegetables including broccoli and green beans. It was a generous portion, and a big hit, too.

chicken katsu
While not earth-shattering or particularly interesting, Sushi Yawa offers pretty good food, especially when they stick to the sushi. The prices there seemed reasonable as well. Our meal was in the $40 range.

Sushi Yawa
25 W 8th St
New York, NY 10011
sushiyawa.com
(646) 666-3004

Sushi Yawa on Urbanspoon

Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Ma Peche

Because I had enjoyed Momofuku Ssam Bar last Spring and wanted to experience more of Chang's Asian-esque food, the first thing I did when I arrived in New York last Friday was to make a bee-line to Ma Peche, David Chang's first Midtown restaurant.

Ma Peche is a larger restaurant than Ssam Bar, but to maximize the space most of the seating is at communal tables. I'm not a big fan of eating with strangers, but this time I really lucked out. Across the table from me was a lovely couple, Blaine and Tim, who were celebrating Tim's birthday with a Changian feast. Like me, they were foodies, and did not object to my obnoxious photo-taking.

summer rolls – shrimp, lettuce, hoisin, peanut
I had a hard time deciding what I wanted to eat. The menu offers a three course prix fixe for $25, with a Milk Bar cookie serving as dessert. I find those to be a bit too sweet for my taste, so instead I opted to spend a few more dollars and order a la carte. I chose a fairly tame appetizer - the summer rolls stuffed with shrimp, pickled carrot and daikon, lettuce, and the unusual addition of long pieces of scallion and grissini (Italian bread stick) which stuck out of the back end. Also unusual was that instead of whole crustaceans, the shrimp appeared to be in the form of a mousse, cut into pieces.

While the flavors were fine and traditional, I think I would have preferred the natural crunch of a well-cooked shrimp over the artificial crunch of the bread stick.

pork ribs (newman’s farm, mo) – thai basil, lemongrass caramel
For my second course, I chose the pork ribs. The ribs themselves were toothsome, yet fall-off-the-bone tender at the same time. Unfortunately, the caramel sauce was so extremely sweet, I couldn't really taste the lemongrass or Thai basil at all.

While chatting with my tablemates about food and blogging and whatnot, they decided that I needed to taste more of the menu's offerings; to allow me to do this, they shared their food.

Clockwise, from top: fried shrimp po boy
pork loin chop
rice noodles with lamb ragout
I have to admit that I am spoiled by the po' boys at Cajun Kate's. While Chang's version was delicious, I felt it was a bit over-sauced. My favorite on the very generous sample plate was the loin chop, which was nearly fork-tender and had a very subtle flavor profile. The noodles, however, were not quite what I expected. I'm used to Chinese rice noodles, which are soft and slightly chewy; these Bún du riz had been crisped a bit, making them very chewy and rather crusty. While I know that's the texture that was intended, it reminded me too much of pasta that had been left out or uncovered for a long period of time and had air dried. The sauce itself was an interesting Bolognese-like concoction with a huge chile kick that I'd love to try on softer noodles.

Because it was Tim's birthday, they had ordered a small Milk Bar cake, which they also very kindly shared with me. The cake was pretty much straight-up banana bread, accented by the various textures of fudge and crunch. Mmm!

Banana Cake - banana cream, hazelnut crunch, gianduja fudge
While I wasn't as impressed by this meal as by the one at Ssam Bar, I did enjoy it, particularly the company. Thanks again, guys, for sharing! And once again, happy birthday Tim!

Ma Peche
15 W. 56th St.
New York, NY 10019
www.momofuku.com/ma-peche/
(212) 757-5878

Ma Peche on Urbanspoon
Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.
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