Monday, July 30, 2012

Zucchini Pancakes and Creamed Corn

Creamed corn topped with zucchini pancakes and a tomato
and avocado salad simply dressed with lime juice, salt, & pepper.
When Summer rolls around, the bounty of fresh vegetables available increases, particularly for those who frequent farmers' markets. Even supermarket shoppers find goodies like fresh corn, peaches, and melons, that while available all year round, are more plentiful in the warmer months (and are more likely to have been grown somewhere in the same hemisphere).

If it's hot outside, I'm less apt to want to mess around with cooking or eating meat and more inclined to attempt making an interesting meal out of produce. Like zucchini, which is everywhere. A few weeks ago, I spotted a monster-sized specimen on the sidewalk next to the local community garden. Fred Flintstone could have used it as a club, it was so hefty. Whoever picked it up probably fed their family for a week with it. For this recipe, I chose to use much smaller squash, but heck, if you have some giants lurking in your backyard garden, by all means put them to use! These pancakes borrow heavily from Polish placki, usually made with potatoes, with the delightful addition of fresh herbs.

As for creamed corn, I have never met anyone who eats the gloppy, overly-sweet, canned version voluntarily. Fresh creamed corn is another animal entirely, with better texture and flavor. I tried to make it a little leaner than most recipes that add a ton of heavy cream by cooking the corn in light milk, and adding some half and half at the end for flavor. It's thick and not too rich, almost like fresh corn grits, but chunkier.

Zucchini Pancakes

3 medium zucchini, peeled and grated (about 5 cups grated zucchini)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, etc.)
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
1/2 cup flour
oil for frying

Place the zucchini into a colander set over a bowl. Add the salt and toss well. Allow the zucchini to drain for about 30 minutes. Place the zucchini in a clean tea towel and squeeze out just about all of the moisture. You should have about 1.5 - 2 cups of zucchini after this process.

Place zucchini in a bowl and beat in eggs. Stir in flour; the batter will be extremely thick. Stir in herbs and green onion.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large saute pan. Drop the zucchini mixture into the oil by heaping tablespoonfuls, spreading slightly into a pancake shape. Cook over medium-high heat until browned on bottom, then flip and brown on the other side. Remove fritters from pan to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Sprinkle with salt while still hot.

Cook fritters in batches until all batter has been used up. Don't crowd the pan - make only 3 or 4 at a time, and replenish oil as necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Creamed Corn

6 ears fresh corn
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup half and half

Holding each ear upright in the middle of a large bowl, cut the kernels from the corn with a sharp knife. Also run the back of your knife along each ear to scrape out any pulp and milk that might remain.

Add corn and pulp to a dutch oven or large saucepan and add a pinch of salt, the sugar, and milk. Cook over low heat until the corn is tender and much of the milk evaporates, about 40 minutes. For a creamier corn, use an immersion blender to partially puree it, but if you don't mind the chunks, leave as is. Sprinkle the cornmeal onto the corn, using a whisk to combine well. Raise the heat, add the half and half and cook for a few minutes to warm through. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament Round 2

July 28, 2012 - Jessup, MD - The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament kicks-off Round 2 this week with only eight of the original 16 chefs remaining in the field and two outstanding matches lined up.

Monday, July 30th will be the much anticipated battle of two top Baltimore restaurants, Barracudas Bar & Grill with Chef/Owner Billy Hughes competing, and Roy’s Baltimore with Chef Patrick “Opie” Crooks.

Tuesday, July 31st will be the rematch of Chef Jeff Keeney of Catering by Jeff versus Chef Melissa Fordham of Gourmet Again. These two chefs used to work together at The Harryman House and competed in the 2010 Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament that eliminated Chef Keeney, so he is out to prove his skills. Both teams will be using proteins from sponsor Holly Poultry for “Battle of the Chicken”.

Rounds two will continue on August 13th and 14th with the following line-up:

Monday, August 13th
SoBo Café, Balitmore – Chef Timothy Dyson
Iron Bridge Wine Company, Columbia – Chef Chris Lewis

Tuesday, August 14th
Newton’s Table, Bethesda – Chef Luis Echeverria
Mie N Yu, Georgetown– Chef R.L. Boyd

Chefs are required to prepare original appetizer, entrée, and dessert creations in an hour for three expert judges and up to 28 ‘Guest Judges’. Final dishes are scored on presentation, creativity and taste, with only one chef from each match advancing to the next round.

Guests are invited to stand right across from chefs to witness the skills and techniques up close and interact with the chefs as they compete. A few guests will even be selected to taste and judge the chefs’ entrée creations alongside the expert judges and “Judging Experience” ticket holders.

In addition, guests arriving in time for Happy Hour (6-7pm) will enjoy complementary appetizers and wine tasting, as well as 2-for-1 drinks.

Advance Tickets*:
$25 for general admission (includes tax)
$45 for judging experience (includes tax) - these ticketholders taste the chefs' creations
Available for purchase at:
*Tickets must be purchased in advance for the above pricing. $30/ $50 at the door.

When & Where:
The competition is now over half-way completed, remaining dates include:
July 30, 31
August 13, 14, 20, 21
September 10 – Final Championship Match

Event Timeline
6:00 p.m. – Happy Hour (2-for-1 drinks, free appetizers and free wine tasting)
6:30 p.m. – Cold Prep Begins
7:00 p.m. – Chef Competition
8:00pm – Judging Begins

Blobs Park Bavarian Biergarten
8024 Max Blobs Park Road
Jessup, MD 20794

Celebrate local cuisine and local talent while supporting an important cause. Ten percent of net proceeds will go to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, a nonprofit organization that delivers nutritious meals, personal contact and related services to homebound individuals.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Summery Couscous Salad

This summer, we planted four kinds of mini tomatoes and one larger yellow tomato, and a plethora of herbs (Greek oregano, Thai, purple, and sweet basil, lemon balm, tarragon, and thyme to go with the perennial chives and mint). Despite the heat and relative lack of rain, everything's been growing like crazy and I find myself harvesting a pint of tomatoes a couple times a week.

I'm not complaining!

One can only eat so many Caprese salads, so the basil and tomatoes need to be put to other uses. I found some tri-color pearl couscous at Shop Rite recently and thought it would make a nice variation on a pasta salad. It was also a good way to use up some of the garden's bounty.

Couscous Salad

1.5 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pearl or Israeli couscous, cooked according to package directions
salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley, mint) plus more for garnish
1/2 pint tiny tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup diced cucumber
3 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

In a medium bowl, stir together the mustard, honey, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the couscous and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, and add more olive oil if the consistency seems dry. Stir in fresh herbs, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, pistachio and green onion. Chill before serving. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Earth, Wood, & Fire

Has anyone noticed that Baltimore is becoming a pizza town? Mighty fine pies are now available at Bagby's, Chazz, Joe Squared, Iggie's, Two Boots, Toss, and more. The newest kid on the block is Earth, Wood, & Fire, which opened in May. They have a lot more than pizza, so we grabbed our friend Melinda for a whirlwind tour of their menu.

The space is large and airy, with a very minimalist, vaguely industrial decor. I say "vaguely" because one has to look up at the ceiling to see the exposed ductwork; the Seussian arrangement of twisted pipes seems to be the only ornamentation in the main dining room. EW&F must have been eagerly awaited, because early on a Saturday evening, the place was packed, mostly with families. Toddlers abounded, and the place was loud. are forewarned.

Despite the general din, we didn't have trouble communicating across the table and soon selected a representative dish or three from each category on the menu.

At the moment, two soups are on offer. We tried the spicy sausage and black bean soup. The sausage must have been finely crumbled, because I didn't notice it. The soup was otherwise spicy as advertised and pretty good. We thought the flatbread accompaniment was a nice touch.

From the ubiquitous "small plates" section of the menu, we sampled the "Grilled Jumbo Asparagus with Shiitake Bacon and Caramelized Shallot." The asparagus was far from jumbo, but we loved the grilled flavor of the perfectly-cooked spears. The jumble of mushrooms and shallots punched up the flavor with elements of sweet and salty.

Another choice from the small plates menu was the "Josper-roasted" sea scallops. The "Josper" is a charcoal broiler oven, which is not to be confused with the coal-fired oven that the restaurant uses for their pizza. I was a little disappointed that we only got three scallops because I've been craving scallops for months now and have yet to be completely satisfied. Not to mention that I had to share. These were simply dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and nicely done. I would have liked more.

We were intrigued by the description of this bruschetta-like small plate, billed as "Focaccia with Goat Cheese, Fire-Roasted Peppers, and Eggplant Nectar." What the heck is eggplant nectar? Sounds like something that hummingbirds might eat. In reality, it was a baba ganoush-like spread. The bread clearly wasn't foccacia (it might have been "focaccia"), more like a thick baguette, but the combination of goat cheese, peppers, and that eggplant stuff was flavorful. However, we think you should save your carb allowance for the pizza.

Pizzas come in 10" and 14" sizes with lots of DIY toppings and a few custom combinations. The one we tried, the Bianco, was a white pie (ricotta, romano, mozz, no sauce) topped with Gulf shrimp and garlic chips. It was garlic-licious in a big way. We loved the crust, which was quite thin. Rather than venturing into cracker-ville like so many thin crusts are wont to do, EW&F's coal-fired oven produced one with a nice chew and crisp bits of char here and there. Despite having so much other food on the table (we're not done yet!) we scarfed down this 14" baby.

That's right - we also tried one of the burgers. The "Frog & the Redneck" sounded tempting with its combo of brie, fried green tomatoes, and Southern ham, but we instead opted for the Monterey, which included avocado, tomato, Monterey jack, and crispy Serrano ham. It turned out to be a rather meek-flavored combination that was largely overpowered by the pickle slices. The burger itself, however, cooked in that Josper oven, was juicy, moist, meaty, and overall delish. The side of "Josper" fries (regular and sweet potato were also choices) were a bit too thick-cut for my taste, but Mr Minx snarfled them up without complaint.

We also tried the Lorenzo salad, a flavorful combination of arugula, Belgian endive, Gorgonzola, red seedless grapes, and toasted macadamia nuts in a lemon vinaigrette. The salads are available in two sizes and can be topped with any of the myriad pizza add-ons for an extra charge. Those add-ons are categorized as "standard" and "deluxe," but none of them are quite standard (capers? roasted fennel? arugula? not standard).

Our enormous feast was quite filling, so we passed on dessert. I'd have eaten more scallops though. Maybe I can finagle to get them on a pizza next time. And oh, there will be a next time. Six big thumbs up for EW&F.

Earth Wood & Fire
1407 Clarkview Road
Baltimore, MD 21209
(410) 825-3473

Earth Wood & Fire on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Time Machine Chefs

Should I recap this nonsense?


Chefs Art Smith, Chris Cosentino, Ilan Hall and Jill Davie Star in
"Time Machine Chefs," Thursday, August 16 on ABC

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a chef in 1416 A.D., or to cook in a medieval castle for kings and queens during the Tudor era? Well fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a journey through time when "Time Machine Chefs" blasts off, THURSDAY, AUGUST 16 (9:00-10:00 p.m., ET) on ABC. With no modern appliances, amenities, running water or electricity, four popular chefs must create culinary masterpieces -- and impress three esteemed judges -- with only basic kitchen equipment, their imaginations and craftsmanship. Only one chef will be crowned The Greatest Chef in History.

The judging table consists of chef, restaurateur and cookbook author Nancy Silverton, Dave Arnold of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and chef and cookbook author Silvena Rowe of Quince in London's May Fair Hotel.

The "Time Machine Chefs" are:

Chef Art Smith is executive chef and co-owner of Table fifty-two in Chicago and Art and Soul in Washington, DC, as well as Southern Art and LYFE Kitchen restaurants. In 2012 Chef Smith opened his latest restaurant, Joanne's, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with Lady Gaga's parents, Joseph and Cynthia Germanotta. In 1997 he became the personal chef to Oprah Winfrey, a position he held for 10 years. Chef Smith has made numerous television appearances, including Bravo's "Top Chef Masters" and Food Network's "Iron Chef America." He is also the author of three award-winning cookbooks.

Chef Chris Cosentino has been executive chef of Incanto in San Francisco since 2002 and is co-owner of Boccalone, an artisanal salumeria. Chef Cosentino has worked at a number of notable restaurants, including Red Sage in Washington, DC, Rubicon, Chez Panisse, Belon and Redwood Park. He debuted his first cookbook, Beginnings: My Way to Start a Meal, in 2012 from Olive Press media.

Chef Ilan Hall is best known to television viewers as the winner of Season Two of Bravo's "Top Chef." Chef Hall trained at Italy's Lorenzo de Medici Apicus Program and at the Culinary Institute of America. He is owner and executive chef of The Gorbals in Los Angeles, CA.

Chef Jill Davie is a private chef in California. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and UC Santa Cruz, Chef Davie has served as Chef de Cuisine at Josie Restaurant in Los Angeles. In August of 2006, she won the grand prize of $10,000 on Food Network's "Hot Chefs: South Beach" competition and was a contestant on "The Next Iron Chef" in 2007. Chef Davie has appeared on numerous television programs and is currently a partner and head chef at Venice Beach Wines.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Choice Bites 7.24.2012

Taco Bell has revamped part of its menu with Chipotle-style burritos and whatnot designed by America's Next Great Restaurant and Top Chef Masters' chef Lorena Garcia. Nice try, but apparently it's not that good. Still, it's probably really tasty to those folks who routinely choose the dog food of Taco Bell over Chipotle.

Grub Street has a short but amusing interview with BFFs Tony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. Ripert has a new "show" on YouTube - watch the promo here.

Speaking of Bourdain, his wife is an animal. I wouldn't want to run into her in a well-lit alley, much less a dark one.

And speaking of animals, McDonald's employees in Paris are nuts. Beware what kind of eyeglasses you wear in their stores or you may be assaulted.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Next Food Network Star Season 8 Finale

For nearly an hour last night, the Food Network kept us in suspense as to the winner of this competition, and so I'll do the same thing here in this post. I guarantee you will be in a state of suspense for the entire 3.5 seconds you stay on this page, wondering "where the hell is the funny?"

Essentially, this episode was the usual "reunion" special that follows some reality shows like Project Runway and Top Chef. And that's ok - for the most part, I enjoy watching blooper reels and the like. Unfortunately, the Food Network takes itself too damn seriously. There wasn't all that much fun to be had in this show.

All fifteen Wannabes and the three mentors gathered together to rehash old times. The Star Challenge this week: sit through an endless series of pointless montages. Since I can't embed the video for some reason (or, I can embed it but it won't play) go watch this first, for a laugh.

Back? Wasn't that fun? Sorry if non-South Park fans were offended in any way (not really). The first montage we're treated to tells the story of the season in about 90 seconds. Ok - we're done. Can we go now? Who's the winner?? But no...another montage reveals the intense rivalry between teams. Apparently Team Bobby had something against preternaturally perky Emily Ellyn, Queen of re-purposed meatloaf. In one clip, Nikki informs us that "Begins with an E ends with a 'Y are you here?'" is annoying. In another, Justin says Team Bobby was comprised of bullies, but we know he meant Nikki. Who was also annoying.

A bit later, Susie tells the restless crowd that 4.5 million votes came in and she knows everyone is waiting for the verdict but... they'll have to wait longer. Bitch. Not only will there be a long commercial break first, but rather than come out and announce the winner at that time, they're going to name the one finalist who didn't quite cut the mustard with the voters. And that was...

But first, a word from our sponsor.

Click to enlarge.
And now they get rid of one finalist: Martie. Mr Minx calls bullshit. He doesn't believe for one second that she received the least amount of votes, not by a longshot, but that the Network just wanted to get the field down to one finalist from each mentor, as was the original plan. He thinks that they'll give her a show on the Cooking Channel. I think he's probably right.

We then find out that an anonymous survey was sent to the Wannbes, asking questions like, "who was the most competitive?" (Nikki)

 "who was the cockiest?" (Malcolm)

and "who was the oddest couple?" (Martie and Justin). How very high school.

There's a montage about the mentors, "like we've never seen them before." We did see Alton pick on Giada here and there during the season, but apparently he and Bobby did it incessantly off-camera as well. At one point, Alton quips that there should be a Giada See-and-Say toy that says things like "ree GOT a." Heh.

Click to enlarge.
Another montage reveals the secrets of the Shrine of the Glowing Vagina. Well, no secrets, really, but that Tushface and Susie felt some real power when they were in there. The estrogen levels in the "Pitch Room" were out of control. They also had some disagreements about who to eliminate now and again.

Another segment allowed the Wannabes to ask Tushface and Susie questions. Judson takes the opportunity to ask if they would take back the "BS artist" comment and Susie says she wishes she had said it to him earlier. Nikki whined that they were hard on  her, and Tushface wishes he had been harder on everyone.

[insert dick joke here]

Looking back at past seasons, Tushface and Susie had been much tougher on the contestants, and old eliminations were somewhat uncomfortable to watch. This year they were all nicey-nice, which of course is a big bore.

Then we got montages of the three finalists. First Justin, then Michele, then Yvan.

And about 100 commercials later...

Brooke Johnson, Queen Bee of the Food Network, trots out to announce the winner. She doesn't seem particularly thrilled, or maybe she's been hitting the Scotch and Valium bar set up to help the non-winners drown their sorrows after the show. She announces that the winner's show will debut in the Fall, and will be produced by his or her mentor.

A large portrait on the wall of shame (along with Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri), originally bearing a humongous question mark, is now behind a curtain. The curtain is removed to reveal the winner:

Justin Warner. No kidding. I'm shocked that the Food Network's audience has such good taste. But then I remember back to season three when Amy Finley won. She was a mild-mannered gal, chosen as the winner by the home audience, perhaps as backlash against the season 2 winner, Guy Fieri. I think the Network really wanted bigmouth Rory Schepisi to win it, and boy were they surprised that America wasn't into her. The following season, they discontinued the home vote so something like this couldn't happen again.

America has been into Justin since at least week 3, as he's had the most votes on the FN site since about then. It's no surprise that he won this thing, at least not to us.

Congratulations, Justin! Please don't let them turn you into a douche.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Pesto Mac

I had leftover roast chicken. I had pesto. I wanted to make something interesting, inspirational. Fabulous at the very least. Something worth blogging about. But my brain just wasn't cooperating. I almost made a risotto, only I didn't have any short-grain rice. I did have a box of cavatappi, that fun spiral pasta that's like a conga line of elbow macaroni, and realized there was plenty of cheese in the fridge, so my lazy brain went there.

Mac and cheese. But with pesto and chicken. Not exactly a life-changing dinner, but it was very good, and rather easy. I used Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac recipe as a guideline, switched up some quantities, and added sauteed onions for more flavor. You could skip the onions to make an even quicker version.

Macaroni with Pesto and Chicken (adapted from Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese)

1 cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cavatappi
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 5-oz cans evaporated milk
6 ounces milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
16 ounces shredded cheese (we like a combination of sharp cheddar, Swiss, and pepper Jack)
3/4 cup pesto (home-made or store-bought)
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until very soft and starting to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain water, return pasta to pot, and add butter.

Whisk together the eggs, milks, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese, the onions, and the pesto. Cook over medium heat until cheese melts and pasta is well coated. Stir in chicken and fresh basil and taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

What's in Your Pantry?

I'm doing research for an upcoming project and thought I'd get input from my readers. If you'd be so kind as to leave your answers in the comments, I'd be ever so grateful.

What are the most indispensable ingredients in your home pantry? Things that you always like to keep on hand? And when I say "pantry" I am also including fridge and freezer.


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Whatever Happened to Aaron McCargo, Jr?

In a couple of days, we're going to find out who won this year's Food Network Star competition (my money's on Justin Warner), which got me to thinking - what happened to Aaron McCargo, Jr., the dude who beat out the much more interesting Adam Gertler and Lisa Garza back in 2008? Anyone know?

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