Monday, April 30, 2012


I've wanted to go to Aldo's for years now, but it's always seemed like one of those special occasion places that we couldn't quite afford. And, honestly, it still does. However - it's a place that deserves every bit of kudos it receives. I can't remember when I've had such a perfect meal. You know me - I love to criticize. But I could only find one teeny thing to complain about at Aldo's, and that is just a matter of my own personal taste.

We were treated to a mini tour of Italy, starting off with a basket of fritto misto, or mixed fried seafood, with a marinara dip. The cod, shrimp, and calamari were all crackling-crisp, and perfectly cooked. A great start to the meal. With the seafood, we drank a glass of the house Pinot Grigio.

Fritto Misto
Panzanella salad came next. I loved that the greens were arugula, and that the tomato was juicy, red, and flavorful. And here's where my one criticism comes in: there was a little too much oregano for my tastes. I would have preferred basil.

A trio of pasta was our third course, accompanied by a glass of a bone-dry red called Ruche. The pastas included fettuccine with lobster in a rosé sauce, porcini agnolotti in a black truffle butter, and a classic orecchiette with broccoli rabe and Italian sausage. The pastas were silky, the sauces were rich, and all were amazingly delicious. But I think I liked the agnolotti the best. The mushroom flavor was so woodsy, so intense, and a little went a long way.

Pasta Trio
Our next course was the decadent Tournedos Rossini, prime filet mignon topped with foie gras, truffle and porcini sauce, and a side of four cheese risotto in a cheese cup. Wow. Generally, I don't care for filet because I often find it to be mealy/mushy in texture and livery rather than beefy in flavor. But this particular steak, which was cooked to a deep pink shade just shy of medium but not quite medium-rare, was outstanding. It had a nice salty crust and tasted like beef. And the texture was just marvelous. The sliver of foie gras on top was also perfectly cooked, browned on the outside and quivering pink inside. With this dish, we drank a glass of the house Amarone.

Finally, we received a limoncello cocktail made with heavy cream, which was delicious, but impossible to drink after all of the rich food and wine that had come before. Our trio of desserts included a mini cannoli, a slice of feather-light tiramisu, and a small bit of intense flourless chocolate cake that didn't look too pretty on the plate, but wow. All of it was wow, particularly the pastas and the filet. The service was marvelous, too, formal but not stuffy, and our busboy was extremely attentive.

Now I know where we need to go for anniversaries, holidays, and milestone birthdays - Aldo's.

Much thanks to Sergio and Aldo Vitale for the wonderful meal. Your hospitality is exceptional, as is your food.

306 S High St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 727-0700

Aldo's on Urbanspoon

(I was trying to be good and didn't use the flash for any of the photos I took during the course of our meal because the next table was occupied. And wouldn't you know it - when their dessert came out, so did their camera phones with flash. But I did manage to take two that didn't come out blurry.) 

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Friday, April 27, 2012


Pierpoint is one of those restaurants that have been around seemingly forever, yet I had never found a reason to go. Recently, I found myself in possession of a gift certificate worth $25 toward a meal, and it seemed like a good time to use it.

Parts of our meal were very good. The smoked crab cake, for example, that came with my "Balto Box" appetizer. It was my idea of a perfect crab cake. The smoked flavor was so subtle that I didn't even notice it, but the texture - for me the texture of a crab cake is the most important factor - the texture was ideal: crisp on the outside, soft and moist inside, with noticeable chunks of meat that were not that bogus "jumbo lump" crap that's most likely not even blue crab, certainly not local blue, and little filler. And the spinach accompaniment to my entrée was very nice.

But there were problems.

I started off the meal with the Baltimore Bento because I thought it was a very fun idea. A bento box is a Japanese container divided into small sections in which various tidbits of food are arranged. The Bento at Pierpoint made me laugh, as it was large enough to hold an entire meal. Instead, it contained two large fried oysters, one half dollar-sized smoked crab cake, two half dollar-sized coddies, and two of the tiniest clams I have ever seen, prepared casino-style, plus a small ramekin of tartar sauce. After putting it in front of me, our server dashed off to retrieve another ramekin of remoulade that the chef had neglected to put into the box. (Surely not because it wouldn't have fit.)

As an artist, I noticed the negative space within the composition more than I noticed the occupied space. And it bothered me. Not that I wanted more seafood (ok, for $17, there could have been bigger clams, or more of them); I was just rather surprised that something borrowed from a culture that prizes order and beauty was so under-utilized. A child's lunchtime bento box might have been a more appropriate size were the dish to merely contain the seafood and sauce. However, I think it would be a nice touch to use up some of the extra space in the box with some lightly dressed greens, something with a bit of acid - even a lemon wedge! - to balance the palate after eating fried after fried after fried.

That said, everything tasted great, particularly the crabcake. The brininess of the clams was lovely as well, and I do wish they had been bigger.

Mr Minx ordered the NY duck egg rolls with Longolian BBQ sauce (a cute riff on owner Nancy Longo's last name). We had both pictured slender spring rolls stuffed with cabbage and duck, but what he got was two giant American-sized egg rolls that were quite a lot to eat, particularly as a starter. Our server had raved about the BBQ sauce, but to us it tasted like a thickened version of the sauce typically used for pan fried dumplings in Chinese restaurants - soy, sesame oil, something sweet. It was all good, but it was lacking finesse.

On to the entrées. I had been craving scallops for weeks now and was eager to dig into my diver scallops. Unfortunately, when I read "diver" scallops, I still picture the teacup-sized beasts that I was served at the Joy America Café sometime in the mid-90s. What I received at Pierpoint was four scallops, each about 1.5 inches across - for $29. They were unevenly cooked - some bites were chewy, some bites were tender - and they were quite salty. The scallops were served, rather incongruously, with small cheese ravioli that were coated in a kind of Alfredo sauce. Considering how much Frank Sinatra we were subjected to over the sound system, I wouldn't have expected such a verboten cheese and shellfish combination. But then, Pierpoint isn't an Italian restaurant. Between these two elements was a large pile of baby spinach that seemed to have been barely tossed with a warm sauce. I loved that some of the spinach was raw, some was cooked. I think it was my favorite thing on the plate.

Mr Minx ordered his lamb chops medium. His first bite of each of the three double chops was indeed medium, but the rest of the meat was either rare or completely raw. A shame, because they had a really nice sear on the outside, and the accompanying sauce, subtly flavored with cumin, was lovely. His mashed potatoes had an interesting blend of spices (we detected none of the promised saffron), but were cold. And yes, we did lie when our server asked if everything was ok. It wasn't. But we took the chops in a doggie bag, figuring it would be easiest to repair at home.

We decided to eat dessert elsewhere.

Pierpoint does many things well, but other things just not well enough.

1822 Aliceanna St
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 675-2080

Pierpoint on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Healthy Snack Bars

Mr Minx's triglyceride levels have been high recently, despite having low cholesterol, so we've been working to get those numbers down by eating fewer carbohydrates. Those we do eat are whole grain, and I try to throw flax seed and chia seeds in everything because they are full of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

Recently, I experimented with a snack cake that was full of good stuff - oats, flax, chia - with relatively little fat. The results were excellent - a not-too-sweet cake with good texture and hearty flavor. The cake was nice and moist when it came out of the oven, but did dry out a bit as time passed. I liked it toasted and topped with a bit of preserves.

Oaty Snacks

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon chia seeds, ground, and hydrated in 2 tablespoons of water
1 cup low- or non-fat yogurt
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries, cranberries, or raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.

Put one cup of rolled oats in the food processor and grind to a flour. Set aside.

Put flax seeds in a skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking/stirring constantly, until they start to smell toasty, about 5 minutes. Allow to cool, then grind to a powder in a coffee grinder or food processor.

In a bowl, mix oat flour, remaining oats, flax powder, whole wheat flour, almond flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and cinnamon.

In another bowl, cream together brown sugar and oil. Beat in egg. Stir in chia seeds and yogurt.

Fold in dry ingredients. Stir in nuts and fruits. Press into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Panera Bread

Dear Panera,

Thank you for opening a branch near the University of Maryland Baltimore's crime-riddled 'hood. Perhaps Starbucks and Au Bon Pain aren't so thrilled that you've arrived, but judging by the massive lunchtime crowds, I think the rest of the campus is delighted.

Your breakfast sandwiches are quite tasty and filling. I particularly enjoyed the jalapeno bagel with egg, white cheddar, and ham. It was nicely greasy (unlike the arid sandwiches from Au Bon Pain) and kept me sated until late in the afternoon.

Can't really fault your baked goods, either. The family-sized loaf of rye bread stayed fresh for most of a week and made great sandwiches. Your baguettes are nicely crusty on the outside and springy on the inside. And your pastries are pretty good. Except for that "Cobblestone" thing, which just seemed like an over-baked, muffin-shaped apple fritter to me.

On to the rest of your offerings.

Why do you call your "Thai chopped chicken salad" by that name? There's nothing even remotely Thai about it. Edamame is a Japanese snack, and wontons are Chinese. Perhaps the "Thai cashews" (or the scattering of vaguely nutty-flavored dust in my particular salad) are what earned the salad its name. Or not. And is it really necessary to include both cashews and a peanut sauce in the same dish? Not that I got any of the promised peanut sauce, either, but I was curious. Your Thai (there's that word again) chili (chili or chile?) vinaigrette does indeed pack a bit of heat, but I didn't enjoy the perfume-and-lime-juice flavor. At least the chicken was tender.

A proper Greek salad has tomato, cucumbers, onions, peppers, feta, and olives. It does not have lettuce. Crappy American versions have lettuce. The one "Greek" salad I ate at your establishment was firmly in the "crappy American version" category. While it is odd that cucumbers are not a regular component of the salad, it is odder still that you would use hard, flavorless, and nearly white winter tomatoes when sweet ripe grape tomatoes are available all year 'round. And would it hurt for you to use more than half a teaspoon of cheese? That said, the chunk of baguette on the side was really good.

Out of the sandwiches I tried, your riff on a Cubano was pretty good, despite your substitution of chicken for the customary roast pork. The bread was crisped nicely, and I liked the cheesiness, but the sun dried tomato mustard didn't work for me. There was just something about it that threw the whole thing off.

The Mediterranean Veggie, with Peppadew peppers, feta, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, onions, and cilantro hummus on tomato basil bread, on the other hand, was delicious. The peppadews had a nice sweet-tangy thing going, but they also made the sandwich a little sloppy. A firmer bread might work a little better. As for the name...I suppose "tomato" "basil" and "feta" say "Mediterranean" to a lot of people, but the main flavor component - the Peppadew pepper - is from South Africa. Just thought you should know.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased that you've come to this neighborhood, mostly because I can buy a loaf of bread on the way home from work. And a good breakfast sandwich when I know I might be too busy to stop for lunch later in the day.


Panera Bread
413 W. Baltimore St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 637-3604
Panera Bread on Urbanspoon

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Friday, April 20, 2012

7 West Bistro Grille

Mr Minx and I had a Chewpon to World of Crepes, but couldn't find the place (turns out it had changed names) so we ended up across York Road at 7 West Bistro Grille. (Not sure if it's really a bistro or a grill, or if it really needs that extra "e.") We had heard good things about the place, were hungry, and there it was.

The space is rather cavernous, with high ceilings and exposed brick walls. The front half of the restaurant is the bar area, and by 6:30 it was full of noisy post-work revelers getting their drink on. I can only imagine how loud the place gets when it's completely packed.

We were led to a table in the back, which was quieter, at least for a while. One good thing about arriving during Happy Hour is that the half price appetizer discount applies to the whole restaurant, and not just the bar area. We ordered the dip sampler, which including taramosalata, tzatziki, eggplant dip, and hummus and wedges of warm pita. "Dip" is rather misleading, as the four thick-textured items on the plate would be better described as "spreads." That said, they were all quite tasty, particularly the smooth and garlicky hummus. Between the spreads, bread basket, and bowl of fruity olive oil, we got full pretty fast.

Then the entrées came out. Mr Minx ordered the whole branzino (the menu calls it bronzini, but I'm partial to the Italian term for this European sea bass) with rice pilaf and broccoli, and I couldn't pass up the evening's crab cake special.

The crab cake was huge, full of jumbo lumps. Honestly, I don't really get the appeal of jumbo lump crab cakes. The huge chunks of crab tend to be dry, and unless a goodly amount of breading is used to mortar them together, the thing falls apart. Maybe tourists like them. Anyhoo...7 West's crab cake wasn't too dry, and there wasn't an extreme amount of breading, but overall, I didn't think it had much flavor. My side of green beans, however, were extremely flavorful, redolent of tomato and mint. The broccoli was a bit undercooked for my taste. However, the whole shebang was $12.95, and I had enough left over for a hefty lunch the next day, so I really shouldn't complain that much.

Mr Minx's branzino came to the table whole - with head and tail - and piping hot, with crispy skin and fluffy flesh. It was also full of bones. (For $24, I think I have every right to expect the fish to be boned. After all, I paid $24 for a three course lunch at a very nice restaurant in New York that served their branzino boned.) The accompanying rice pilaf tasted reheated. Honestly, if you can't make rice properly, don't serve it at all.

I have mixed feelings about this meal. Some elements were very good, and they were the Mediterranean-style ones - the spreads, the green beans. The branzino was well cooked, but sloppily presented. The crab cake was certainly better than some I've had recently and well worth the price, but it could have been better. Perhaps if we had stuck to the Greek items on the menu, we would have had a more successful meal. Maybe next time.

7 West Bistro Grille
7 W Chesapeake Ave
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 337-9378

7 West Bistro Grille on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Around the World in 80 Plates

In case anyone is wondering, Minxeats will not be recapping Bravo's upcoming food competition show, "Around the World in 80 Plates," mainly because she can't stand looking at Curtis Stone.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sous Vide Chicken

After owning the SousVide Supreme™ for several months now and not really using it all that often, I thought it was time to change that. Our freezer is full of all sorts of sous-vide-able meats - pork belly, beef heart, boneless leg of lamb - but it was high time to try chicken. Boneless, skinless, flavorless chicken breasts, to be exact. I checked out the optimal temperature for cooking chicken in a water bath, marinated a couple of BSCBs, and commenced to cooking.

The result: the most tender, juicy, and flavorful chicken breasts I have ever eaten. The meat had a subtle garlic flavor from the marinade, and really didn't need the sauce I made for it at all, except to make it pretty (in other words, hide its naked ugliness).

I can't picture myself using any other method for chicken breasts from now on.

Sous Vide Chicken with Leeks and Red Curry Peanut Sauce

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon lemongrass paste

Combine ingredients in a zip top bag. Marinate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat water oven to 140°F. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry. Place each breast in its own quart-sized sous-vide bag, or use a half-gallon bag for both, and vacuum seal. Cook in water oven for at least 1 hour 35 minutes and up to 10 hours.


2 leeks, light green parts only, halved, sliced, and well-rinsed
1 cup chicken stock
olive oil or butter
salt and pepper to taste

Place leeks in a sauce pan with the stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook at a simmer until leeks are very tender, about one hour. Bring back to a boil to cook off any remaining stock. Remove from heat. Add a bit of butter or olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Red Curry Peanut sauce

Red curry paste
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemongrass paste
1 garlic clove, minced

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Serve chicken on a bed of leeks, napped with sauce. Or vice versa.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Arigato Hibachi & Sushi

When Mr Minx and I visited the Woman's Industrial Kitchen recently, we chatted a bit about local restaurants with proprietor Irene Smith. She revealed that she had recently had a religious experience at a brand new sushi restaurant on Belair Road, in Overlea. Called Arigato Hibachi & Sushi, the place actually specializes in dishes cooked up on a flat griddle, or teppan. Kinda like Nichi Bei Kai, only without the show. We love sushi, so we took Irene's word for it and drove out to Overlea to check it out.

She wasn't wrong. The sushi was pretty damn great.

We started out with a selection of nigiri - tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and escolar, or "white tuna." All of the fish was, as they say, like buttah. We barely had to chew. I love that they garnished the escolar with tiny bits of caramelized crisp onion. We also ordered a spicy crawfish and cucumber roll that came out with the nigiri. It wasn't all that spicy, but it was fresh and tasty.

Irene had emphasized that Arigato offers a lot of unusual and inventive rolls, and that's what we tend to enjoy most. We ordered three of the most interesting sounding combinations: the Kamikaze (center), which had salmon and avocado inside and was topped with baked scallops, scallions, tempura flakes, roe, and spicy mayo; the Volcano (top), a California roll topped with baked creamy octopus, crab, shrimp, tempura flakes, roe, and teriyaki sauce; and the Cowboy (bottom), with seared beef, cucumber, and avocado, topped with teriyaki sauce.

All three were terrific. The fish and the beef was extremely tender, the sauces were subtle, and the toppings were interesting. And the wasabi was super spicy and gave a real kick in the pants.

I think the thing that really won me over, besides the super tender fish, was that the rice was still a bit warm. Also, the rolls were small, despite the plethora of ingredients, which made them really easy to eat.

While it was a bit of a drive for us, it was well worth the trip, and we'll be back for more. Maybe we'll try a hibachi dish next time, but maybe not - there are still plenty of rolls for us to explore.

Arigato Hibachi & Sushi
7698 Belair Rd, Suite 103
Baltimore, MD 21236

Arigado Habachi & Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Cheesy Meatballs

I got an email a couple weeks ago asking if I'd like to try a new cheese product. "Sure," I said, "I love cheese." And indeed I do. Within a few days, a bag of Piacci cheese had arrived on my doorstep. I had been hoping for some of their Fior-de-Latte, but with the warm weather we'd been having, it was nice that they sent a sturdier cheese along - Parmesan.

We always have some parm in the house, either a small slab or some of the pre-shredded stuff that comes in little tubs in the gourmet cheese department of most supermarkets. Mostly it goes on pasta or salads, but here was a new form to play with - nuggets. Actually, perfect little 1" cubes. My first thought was that they'd be fine for snacking out of the bag, but after sampling one, I realized they were perhaps a bit too intense for that. Better to eat them with a selection of antipasti - olives, salami, roasted peppers. Then I realized that little 1" cubes would be a perfect thing to stuff into a meatball. A turkey meatball, flavored with fresh basil and topped with pesto. Ordinarily, I'd use a softer cheese for that, like mozzarella. That makes for a gooey center, but there's also a good chance that the cheese will find a way to migrate out of the ball and into the pan. And I know there's a dirty joke in there but I'm just too tired to think of it right now. I'm sure you'll help me with that.

I served the stuffed meatballs with a simple steel-cut oat risotto, a side of asparagus, and some marinated tomatoes. And it was all good.

Cheese-Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

1.5 teaspoons ground chia seeds
3 tablespoons water
1.5 lbs ground turkey
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, minced (mince after measuring)
1/4 cup minced onion
plain or Italian-style dry bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1 package Piaggi Parmesan Cubes
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup pesto (home made or store bought)

Soak the ground chia seeds in the water for about fifteen minutes until they reach a jelly-like consistency.  Place the bloomed seeds in a bowl with the ground turkey, basil, and onion. Mix well to incorporate seeds and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture seems too moist, add some dry bread crumbs, a tablespoonful at a time.

Divide the meat mixture into 10-12 portions. Form each portion into a ball, poke a hole in the center and add a cheese cube, then use the meat to close the hole over the cheese. The cheese should be completely encased in the meat.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Brown meatballs all over, then add stock. Turn heat down to low and cover pan. Braise meatballs for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally, to make sure they are cooked through. Most of the liquid should evaporate during that time. Stir in pesto and heat through.

Serves 3-4.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Rusty Scupper

The venerable Rusty Scupper, a fixture at the Inner Harbor since 1982, will be 30 this year. To celebrate the momentous occasion, we were invited to partake in a sampling of their menu classics; I must say I was happy for the opportunity to eat there again. I hadn't set foot in the Scupper since 1998, on a date that would have been forgettable except for one thing: it was then I had my first taste of raw oyster.

Let's just say that part was a bit too memorable.

When I was younger, my family dined at the Scupper every once in a while, since we all loved seafood and the view was the best around. And now that everything at the Inner Harbor has been so built up, the view is even better. I dare say the only better view is probably seen from Tom Clancy's apartment in the Ritz Carlton next door.

View of Harbor East from our table.
The interior of the restaurant is a lot more elegant than I remember. There are still timbers on the high ceiling, which makes me feel like I'm dining in an ark, but there are also crisp white tablecloths and live piano music in the background. Our recent dinner there would have been quite romantic, except for two things: 1) I was there with my Dad; 2) inelegantly-dressed tourists. Shorts and white table cloths do not match.

Food-wise, we were pretty happy. We got to choose selections from a four-course prix fixe menu. We started off with a shared appetizer of coconut fried shrimp that came with a spicy Chinese-style dipping sauce. Dad loved it, and I thought it was pretty good, too. Then came my favorite course of the evening - soup and salad. I had the chopped salad, which had a generous portion of bacon and a slightly sweet herb vinaigrette. It's the kind of salad that I can consume in large quantities and be very content. Dad's cream of crab soup was lovely - a warm ivory concoction flavored with sherry, containing lumps of crabmeat. One of the best cream of crabs I have eaten in years. So many of them these days are just flavorless wallpaper paste, you know?

For our entrées, Dad had the 7oz filet mignon. It was cooked to well (Dad had requested medium-well) but as the steak was so thin, it was probably hard to cook it anything other than medium-rare or well-done. Doesn't matter - it was fork tender and very nicely seasoned, with a nice grilled flavor. I had to try the crab cakes, which were small but meaty, broiled and topped with a mustard butter. I am a bit of a crab cake snob these days, but I rate the Scupper's crab cakes as being firmly in the top-middle of the pack. Both entrées came with chunky mashed potatoes and perfectly cooked green beans with thin slices of carrot.

For dessert - my second favorite course of the evening - Dad had the upside-down apple pie, which was buttery and fantastic. I had the sweet potato cheesecake, which had a lush, dense texture and combined the best of both sweet potato pie and cheesecake. It was quite evil.

Service was professional, yet friendly. Our waitress seemed always to be right there whenever we needed her, but never in the way. We had a good time at the Rusty Scupper, loved the view, and look forward to going again in the future.

Rusty Scupper
402 Key Hwy
Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 727-3678

Rusty Scupper on Urbanspoon Posted on

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Curried Banana Bread

In between 30 Rock and Project Runway one week, Mr Minx and I caught an episode of Food(ography) that featured frozen treats. One of said treats was a "sexy" banana split using a base of curried banana bread topped with various exotically-flavored ice creams, served at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in Miami. I immediately decided that I needed to make that bread. My curry cupcakes were pretty amazing, if I do say so myself, and the addition of bananas could only make it better, right?

I couldn't seem to find chef Hedy Goldsmith's recipe online anywhere, so I concocted one of my own. The result Outstanding. The combination of banana, coconut cream, and oil produced the moistest banana bread I've ever eaten, and it had a rich and complex flavor that, while spicy, didn't necessarily taste of curry.

Curried Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons of sweet curry powder (I like Penzey's)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
coconut cream (see directions)
4 large, very ripe, bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9" loaf pan.

Mix together flour, soda, spices, and salt and set aside.

Carefully remove the lid from a can of full-fat coconut milk. Scoop off the cream on top and place in a measuring cup. If necessary, add coconut milk to equal a half cup total. Stir in mashed bananas and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or by hand, combine sugar and eggs until fluffy. Beat in oil, then add coconut milk mixture. Fold in dry ingredients and walnuts and pour into loaf pan.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Republic Noodle

I've been wanting to try Republic Noodle since before it opened because it seemed like my kind of place. And I was not wrong. Our meal there, while not perfect, made me very happy. Because fun, flavorful food, particularly if it's Asian-style, is a very good thing.

The small restaurant is quietly decorated and rather zen. We sat at a table by the large front window and from a distance watched the chef - the lone man in the open kitchen - work. Because he was the only one cooking, food came out at a leisurely pace, but that was fine with us as it gave us more time to savor the many dishes we ordered. Somehow it seemed right to order one dish from every menu category even if it meant we'd have a rather large doggie bag at the end.

We started off with the green papaya salad, which was tangy, sweet, bright, spicy, and fishy, just as it should be. It was a very good way to start our meal, as the vibrant flavors really woke up the palate.

Next up, we got a duo of fried things, the Thai chicken rolls and a small order (6) of the Northern Thai-style wings. The spring rolls were piping hot and grease-free, the crisp wrappers filled with a springy and flavorful ground chicken mixture. The wings were amazing - fall-off-the-bone tender, extremely juicy, with an intense chicken-y flavor. The spicing was very mild to our palates, especially compared to the papaya salad that left our lips tingling, and it was unusual. And unlike most wings, these didn't make our hands sticky or gloppy. 

Oddly enough, for a place with "noodle" in the name, the two noodle dishes we ordered were the biggest disappointments. Mr Minx went for the stir fried vermicelli offering topped with chicken. The noodles were bland, the chicken breast was tough and overcooked. A couple of squirts of Sriracha from the bottle that was part of the table decor helped a bit but there was still something missing.

I went for udon noodles in a Khmer coconut curry with more of the same overcooked chicken. While more flavorful than the vermicelli, it was also a little on the boring side. It needed more heat, more acid, more something, to jazz it up. The udon noodles themselves were good though, somewhat chewy and not too thick.

Finally, we ate the Shanghai-style fish & chips with black soy tartar sauce. I don't know what exactly made the battered pieces of cod "Shanghai-style," but they were delicious nonetheless. Even better were the chips, actually super crisp shards of sweet potato with a curry-like seasoning that made them positively addicting.

Four out of six dishes ain't bad. We'll definitely go back and try more of the hot and cold small plates, and I think it would be fun to go with a group of people and order every one of the seven varieties of wings available. Anyone game?

Republic Noodle
1121 Light St
Baltimore, MD 21230
(443) 263-4435

NOTE: Sadly, Republic Noodle closed not long after we visited.

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Friday, April 06, 2012

Cook Like a Top Chef - Edward Lee's Tomatillo Gazpacho

While lots of recipes from Top Chef seem like they might be delicious, not all of them are do-able at home. Sometimes the chef's directions aren't particularly clear. Other times the recipes are simply too complicated. But there's nothing complicated at all about Edward Lee's tomatillo gazpacho, which he prepared for the Quinceanera in episode 3 of Top Chef Texas.

I'm a big fan of gazpacho - toss a bunch of raw veg in the blender and end up with a flavorful, nutritious soup. Doesn't get much easier than that. Ed's recipe is a bit more involved in that he cooks most of the vegetables before puréeing them and mixing them with cucumber purée. He included his poblano peppers in the cook pot, but I thought they might have more flavor if roasted first. I also tossed out his watermelon, jicama, and pork rind garnish because I didn't want to buy a bunch of extra stuff. I already had a daikon in the fridge and thought if I pickled it, it would cover the juicy, sweet, and crunchy bases covered by his original garnishes. I also didn't bother to strain the soup; after all, I wasn't being judged on its appearance. I thought it was pretty nonetheless, as pretty as something Army green can ever be. And it tasted good, too.

Tomatillo Gazpacho, adapted from Edward Lee

1.25 pounds tomatillos, quartered
1 medium onion, quartered
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and deveined, roughly chopped
2 cups vegetable stock
1 poblano peppers roasted, seeded and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped
sour cream
ground cumin, to taste
cilantro, chopped, to taste

2" long piece of daikon, or 5 radishes, cut into tiny dice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons agave syrup

Place tomatillos, onions, garlic, jalapenos, and vegetable stock into a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.

When veg are cool, puree in a blender. Pour puree into a large bowl.

Place cucumbers in the blender with a handful of cilantro and puree. Stir into tomatillo puree in bowl. Cover bowl and refrigerate until cold.

Serve in bowls. Garnish with dollop of sour cream, spoonful of daikon, and a bit of cilantro.

Makes about 2 quarts.

Garnish directions: place daikon or radishes, vinegar, agave, and pinch of salt in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or more so the vegetable pickles.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Woman's Industrial Kitchen

Once upon a time, I was on the board at the Woman's Industrial Exchange. At the time I was working at Nelson Coleman Jewelers, which was located in the basement of the building. I would frequently go upstairs to check out the consignments and occasionally dine in the restaurant, where I would always order one of two things - the chicken salad, or the crab cake. The whole time I worked at 333 North Charles, there was worry that the Exchange would have to close its doors, but fifteen years later, things are still running along.

The old-fashioned lunchroom with its elderly servers changed management several times over those years, with little success. Today, the Woman's Industrial Kitchen, as it's now known, is in the capable hands of Irene Smith, of the Souper Freak food truck. She brought back the chicken salad and aspic, sassy (and much younger) waitresses, and painted the place shocking pink but kept the black and white tile floor and wainscoting. The tables are now works of art, decorated with the faces of historical women who have made a difference. When Mr Minx and I dined there recently, we sat, appropriately enough, at Barbara Mikulski's table. (She had been a neighbor of my family's in Fells Point.)

I knew immediately that I wanted to try the "Bridge Club Sampler," which included Granma Adelaide's sweet potato casserole, Amelia's broccoli and cheese casserole, and Grandma Linda's macaroni and cheese. The broccoli casserole was the standout of this trio, with a light and fluffy texture not unlike a souffle.

We also tried the other sampler on the menu, the "Consignor's Sampler" with perfect, old-fashioned deviled eggs, a portion of tomato aspic, and a bowl of pickles. Don't fear the aspic! Sure it's soft and wobbly, but it's also nicely tomato-y, with a hint of celery seed flavor. (It struck me that if one added a little vodka to the aspic, it would make a nice Bloody Mary-style jello shot.)

The pickles, however, were my favorite thing on the plate. The combination of cucumbers and onions were only lightly pickled and redolent of coriander. Mmm!

Mr Minx tried a bowl of Flo's Charm City Chili, which wouldn't fool anyone from Texas, and enjoyed a slice of Tina's Mushroom Pie, a quichelike creation on a sturdy home-made crust and a bed of lightly-dressed baby greens.

We passed on dessert because we were so full, but I noticed the menu included an old favorite from the original Exchange lunchroom, the Charlotte Russe cake. We'll try that next time.

Woman's Industrial Kitchen
333 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 244-6450

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Tofu Stir-Fry

Mr. Minx here. In my ongoing battle to keep my pesky triglycerides down, I've had to seek out new ways to make healthy ingredients interesting enough for me to eat. I've always enjoyed eating vegetables, but usually in small quantities next to a big pile of pasta or mashed potatoes (yes, potato is a vegetable, but really...). Anyway, a recent trip to H Mart yielded a plethora of veggies and tofu, so the only logical thing to do was make a stir-fry dish.

The very sound of those words usually fills me with sad thoughts of my mother's bland combinations of dry chicken breast, broccoli florets, and carrots with virtually no seasoning. It was like eating warm corn flakes. Therefore, I always try to load the pan with lots of spices, but sometimes my overzealous seasoning yields odd results. Also, cooking each component perfectly can be a dodgy proposition. By the time the vegetables are the right texture, the meat is overcooked. At least with tofu, that's not an problem, but proper cooking is still an issue. With my latest concoction, however, I think I finally got it right.

To start, I drained and dried the tofu as best I could before cutting it into one-inch cubes. Then I marinated the tofu using one smashed clove of garlic, about a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger, and a few splashes of soy sauce. I left the tofu in the refrigerator for about 3 hours, but a shorter marinade time should be fine.

When I was ready to cook, I put together a sauce using the following ingredients:

1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon of Sriracha
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon ketchup
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix everything up in a bowl until the sugar and corn starch are mostly dissolved.

Next came the vegetables. I cleaned about 1/2 pound of snow peas; chopped one large carrot into thin strips; and sliced about 5 ounces of king oyster mushrooms into long strips. I also sliced one large shallot and one glove of garlic and put that in a separate container.

With everything prepped, I put about a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a pan on high heat and waited for the pan to get hot enough to cause the oil to smoke. Then I threw the vegetables into the pan and stirred them constantly for about five minutes. After transferring the vegetables to a bowl, I put another tablespoon of oil in the pan and turned the heat down to medium. I tossed in the shallot and garlic and stirred them until the mixture became soft. Then I added the marinated tofu and the sauce into the pan to cook. Once the sauce had thickened, I put the vegetables back into the pan and stirred to incorporate all the elements. A couple minutes and everything was hot enough to plate.

Serve this over some rice and you will have a healthy, satisfying meal.
theminx adds: This recipe, is reminiscent of Chinese sweet-and-sour dishes, although not nearly as sweet or as sour. Also, no bell peppers or pineapple! It borrows heavily from an America's Test Kitchen recipe, so you know it's got to be good. I think the sauce would be perfect on just about any kind of protein.

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