Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pabu

A month or so ago, while perusing the Four Seasons Baltimore Web site for more information on Michael Mina's restaurant Wit & Wisdom, I noticed a blurb about an upcoming restaurant called Pabu. "Pabu," a Japanization of the word "pub," was going to be an izakaya-style restaurant, a joint venture between Mina and Sonoma County sushi master Ken Tominaga. I immediately got excited. While I love sushi and am happy that it's plentiful (particularly in Towson), I've long felt that Baltimore needed a Japanese restaurant that served kushiyaki (skewered things), chawanmushi (a custard dish), and the other interesting tidbits that are customarily consumed with sake.

An izakaya is basically a bar that serves food, but unlike the one we visited in New York, Sake Bar Hagi, Pabu is no mere watering hole. While the New York restaurant is dark and cramped, Pabu, located at the far end of Aliceanna Street across from the Marriott, occupies a space that is bright and spare, with lots of blonde wood and large windows. Shelves of large, nearly-identical, pottery sake vessels act as dividers that help break up the room. The bar is immediately in front of the entrance; across the room, its long shape is echoed by the sushi bar, behind which is an open kitchen.

We were seated off to one side, beyond the bar, and had a good view of the room. Because this was a media dinner*, we were presented with a special menu of the restaurant's choosing, an omakase. But before the food came, our eager and knowledgeable server suggested we try various things from the spirits menu, of which the restaurant is justifiably proud. Their sake collection is so vast (the largest in the area), it requires a special sake sommelier to keep things organized. The staff is all very well-trained, too, so feel comfortable allowing your server to make suggestions, as we did. We first tried two of the signature cocktails: the Japanese whisky-based Yakuza, with chamomile tea and yellow Chartreuse; and the Lemongrass Sour. Both were quite good, the Yakuza was surprisingly light, and easy to drink. Later, we were brought two different sakes to sample as well as a couple of special Japanese beers, one of which was made with rice, the other with sweet potato.

On to the food.

Jako - tiny minnows, ginger, shiso, goma
Seaweed salad - san baizu, creamy sesame
"Happy Spoons" - oyster, uni, ikura, ponzu creme fraiche
We started off with three "cold small plates," jako, seaweed salad, and the "happy spoon." Jako is a dish of tiny minnows - teeny, bitsy, weensy minnows even - that are cooked until they become dry and chewy, not unlike jerky, and flavored with sesame, shiso, and ginger. They're fairly salty and make a good bar snack-style accompaniment to beer or sake. The seaweed salad was a lot like the kind to which we're accustomed, with the addition of a creamy sesame dressing, and the "happy spoon" was something else entirely. A small oyster, salmon caviar, uni, and tobiko rested on a bit of creme fraiche flavored with ponzu. It was meant to be eaten in one bite, and just as I popped mine and began to chew, I was distracted by someone who appeared at our table to introduce herself, and in the confusion and haste to swallow, I forgot to taste what was in my mouth. My impression, however, was of fresh brininess, and I'd love to try this bite again.

Later in the meal, Chefs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga came over to say hello. I was thrilled to meet them, and commended them on bringing the izakaya concept to Baltimore. At least, that's what I think I said; it may merely have been starstruck gibberish. :)

Maitake & seasonal vegetable tempura
Maryland crab okonomiyaki - bonito flake, benishoga, karashi mayo
Next came two warm plates, a selection of tempura vegetables that included eggplant, asparagus, lotus root, winter squash, and a maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushroom. Honestly, I could eat tempura all day and particularly enjoyed the mushroom; maitakes are much like savory clusters of flower petals and make for particularly delicate tempura. The other plate was okonomiyaki, a savory cabbage pancake topped with an over-easy egg. This dish would make a delicious breakfast.

Tsukune, Muniniku, Hudson Valley foie gras
We then received three examples of kushiyaki, or skewered meats, that had been cooked on a charcoal-fueled robata grill. The tsukune, or chicken meatballs, were served with a jidori egg yolk that was meant to be whipped and used as a dip. The meatballs themselves were amazingly tender and juicy, with a crisp shell. So good. We also enjoyed wee lozenges of nori-wrapped foie gras dabbed with tangy umeboshi plum. The third skewer, of chicken breast, was merely ok. (There's only so much one can do with chicken breast.)

Miso with nameko mushroom, miso with fresh tofu, scallion, wakame
Our next course was soup, a classic miso with freshly made tofu and a rich, almost beefy, miso with mushrooms.

Nigiri - mebachi meguro, madai, kohada, katsuo
Sashimi - chutoro, aji, hotate
Ken's Roll - shrimp tempura,avocado, spicy tuna, pine nuts,
chili garlic furikake, eel sauce
Finally, we received selections of nigiri and sashimi, including chu-toro and a scallop that had been alive just seconds before serving. It was so fresh, it only needed a squeeze of lemon to bring out its natural sweetness. The maki was "Ken's Roll," a combination of shrimp tempura, avocado, spicy tuna, pine nuts, chili garlic furikake, and eel sauce. While the ingredients seemed pretty typical of American-style rolls, the result was far more sublime. The eel sauce (the real deal, btw, made with actual eel trimmings) was dribbled on the plate and not on the roll, so the diner could choose to have that extra bit of sweetness, or not, and the furikake had a real kick to it.

Finally, we had the best dessert imaginable: four dishes, two light and citrussy, two with a bit more heft. When combined, they offered the perfect combination of salty, tangy, creamy, and sweet. The salty came in the form of miso caramel under a bit of mochi-wrapped ice cream. A quenelle of green tea sorbet in a lemongrass broth with a brunoise of pineapple and melon was refreshing and so fragrant, I wanted to dab it behind my ears. The honey panna cotta topped with little pearls of yuzu gelee was both creamy and tangy, and the sweet white chocolates were filled with a whisky sauce that filled the mouth with sweetness.

Dessert omakase
Altogether an outstanding meal full of interesting textures and flavors. While not exactly the Saki Bar Hagi type of izakaya (dirt cheap, noisy, and crowded), we feel Pabu is a much needed - and delicious - addition to the Harbor East landscape.

Pabu
725 Aliceanna St.
Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 223-1460
http://michaelmina.net/restaurants/locations/pabu.php

Pabu on Urbanspoon

* We received free food and beverages during this visit, however, all opinions in this post are ours alone and not that of the restaurant.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Next Food Network Star 8.3

This week's Star Challenge is something completely different. Ok, no it's not. It's Chopped, from the basket on down to the judges. And they would be Marc Murphy, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Scott "Doucheface" Conant.

Man, I hope someone serves that asswipe some raw red onions. But no, it's a dessert battle. (Still - why not?) And while one mentors' team competes at a time, it's made clear that the Wannabes are competing against each other. In other words, don't bother cheering for your teammates because they are the enemy. After the basket ingredients are revealed, Wannabes have thirty minutes to create a dish, then one minute to present it to the judges, making sure to add a culinary tip to the presentation.

Team Alton goes first. His basket includes kumquats, Hershey's Kisses, pancetta, and graham crackers. It's a basket of terror for some of the Wannabes. Me, too, since I'm not a fan of Hershey's chocolate.

Martie decides to do something safe and easy: since she's got the chocolate and the crackers, all she needs to do is add marshmallows to make "indoor s'mores." Great name, lame dish. And as in past episodes, once she gets talking, she doesn't shut up. Alton has to tell her to keep quiet more than once. In the end, she doesn't transform the cracker, and the judges puzzle why it took her 30 minutes to make a dish that should have taken 15.

Justin plans on making something that a lunch lady once served him, an unbaked cookie thing with melted chocolate as the glue holding the ingredients together. Only he decides to melt his chocolate without removing the wrappers and then presses it through a china cap to get...about three tablespoons of chocolate. His next move is to hit the microwave, but for entirely too long. His chocolate burns and he has to try again. He also burns his pancetta. What a mess, but the whole time he insists there's a method to his madness. And indeed there is - the judges love his presentation, his tip, and his dish. The Network (Tushface and Susie) think he's fascinating, and a total original.

Judson is freaking out because he was once a fatty and now he doesn't get near desserts. So he makes a cornbread thing with chocolate, something as undessert-like as possible while still being sweet. It ends up being undercooked, and his presentation is neither here nor there.

And then there's Emily, the upbeat and optimistic retro gal. She makes cupcakes topped with a spicy pancetta thing and wows the judges. They like her and her presentation, too, but I still think someone is going to call her a "one trick pony" at some point in the competition.

Team Giada is next, and her team has to work with Reese's Pieces (Hershey's must be sponsoring this episode), raw popcorn, coconut, and grape soda. Giada proclaims it the worst basket ever. Obviously she's never actually watched Chopped. On that show, there would be fish sauce in place of the grape soda, and possibly calves' liver.

Ippy is intimidated by the gang of mean-looking, bitchy, chefs he has to face in this challenge. He must be thinking specifically of Douchebag Conant. I know I was. The Ipster makes a tempura using the grape soda in place of seltzer or soda water, which is kind of genius. But tempura Reese's Pieces? It turns out that it works well, except Doucheface doesn't get as many of the chocolate coated peanut butter bits in his tempura as he would like, which makes him pout.

Martita falls flat with her dish, bunuelos. The dish itself is good, but her presentation is a step back from last week, and she seems nervous. Plus, she forgot to deliver the tip. Linkie follows Martita with a pb&j mousse that everyone enjoys. Her presentation is pretty good, too. Zzzzzzzz.

Then comes the trainwreck,  Rawk-n-Roll. He's made aebleskivers, Danish donut holes. When I was a kid, I used to read the Miles Kimball catalog cover to cover because it was full of all sorts of weird and useless gadgets, one of which was an aebleskiver pan. I kinda wanted one, but Mom always said no. Anyhoo, Rawk-n-Roll being Rawk-n-Roll, he couldn't leave the donuts alone and had to Asian them up with some curry-flavored powdered sugar topping. You know, an aebelskiver pan isn't all that different from a Japanese takoyaki pan. Takoyaki are little donut-hole type dough balls filled with octopus (tako). I would have seen the connection, used the candy as the octopus, and called it a day. But he also had to make some tooth-wrecking caramel popcorn containing too many unpopped kernels. He's just a big mess and I can't wait until he's sent home (hopefully before another hour passes! fingers crossed!)

Yvan has been on Chopped before, so he has a distinct advantage (as does Michele, who was also on the show). He does a good job and impresses the judges with his coconut popcorn which Marc Murphy says should be "bottled." Just bottled, Marc, or liquefied first?

Bobby's Team gets to worth with Hershey bars, pineapple, fresh pasta sheets, and black lava salt.

When they get to cooking, Michele, who is making a free-form pineapple napoleon with fried pasta sheets, notices that Giada is staring at her the whole time. Has Giada never seen a lesbian in person before? Is she wondering about the bleached-blonde spiky hair connection that Michele might share with Anne Burrell? or does Giada have a big old girl-crush on her?

During her presentation, Michele admits that Giada makes her nervous; Bobby and Alton advise her not to let Giada get into her head. I'd advise her to keep Giada out of her pants as well. I mean...look at those teeth!

Malcolm's sugar and salt fried pasta with chipotle chocolate sauce tastes good, but his presentation is a bit flat. Eric annoys the fuck out of us with yet another "hand-crafted" dish. Honestly, the man obviously can cook and cook really well, but I don't want to watch him and his over-inflated ego week after week. I'm hoping he messes up big time sometime in the near future.

Finally, Nikki undercooks a bread pudding mess she makes with challah and pasta sheets...ew. And her presentation comes off as too robotic and disingenuous. Susie says its like an infomercial. Ouch. And, ha ha ha.

After a wardrobe change, the teams show up for judging. There's no winning team this week, but Justin gets singled out for impressing everyone after nearly setting the kitchen on fire. And then Martie, Nikki, and of course Rawk-n-Roll are told that they're on the Chopping block. The Producer Challenge this week involves answering this month's most-asked question from the Food Network Web site: how can one grill without an outdoor grill? The three have 30 minutes to concoct a dish, then they have to tape a one-minute presentation.

This week, they don't seem to get to practice in front of the mentors. They get some advice and go for it, after which they must meet with Tushface and Susie in the Palace of the Glowing Vagina.

They watch Martie's clip first, and she comes off really well. She explains technique nicely, but doesn't say much about the food. And when they taste her bland tuna, they are underwhelmed. Rawk-n-Roll is up next; his presentation is predictably horrid. He has to mention that his bandmates call him the "Rock-n-Roll Sushi Chef." Who the f*ck cares what they call him? He's giving himself this persona that he's not really showing to the camera. He just seems like a boring, middle-aged douche to me. Anyhoo, he makes a Danish meatball thingy with an Asian salad on the side, and it all tastes really great, blah blah yadda yadda. But everyone knows that cooking skills aren't necessary to be a Food Network Star.

Finally, Nikki hits it out of the park. She's still a bit phony, but she does much better. Tushface even tells her that she went from forgettable to contender in 60 seconds. I think he's exaggerating, but she's much better than Rawk-n-Roll . That's not saying much.

And we know how this turns out. Rawk-n-Roll  is sent home. Thank gawd.

Next week: Fashion Week. Why? What the hell does the Food Network have to do with fashion?

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cauliflower Caponata

I love cauliflower. When I was a kid, I could eat an entire head of it, steamed until soft and coated with melted butter. I'd still happily make a meal out of nothing but cauliflower, but Mr Minx would not be pleased. Recently, I decided to do something that involved a bit more work than merely chopping the veg into florets and tossing them into a pot - make caponata. Usually made with eggplant, I couldn't see why the typical sweet and sour flavors of caponata couldn't be used with any vegetable, especially one that's relatively bland.

Cauliflower Caponata

olive oil
1 cauliflower head, broken into small pieces
1 onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons dried sour cherries, chopped (raisins, if you prefer)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F. Place cauliflower on a baking sheet and toss with a few tablespoons of oil. Roast until edges brown and vegetable is no longer crunchy, tossing occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the topping. Cook onion and shallot in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. When onions are soft and starting to brown, add the next five ingredients. Turn the temperature to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place cauliflower in a bowl, add topping, and stir. Toss in walnuts and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Black Olive

The first time we went to the Black Olive, the prices scared us so much, we practically ran out of the restaurant. The second time, I went for Restaurant Week with my friend Melinda. After having heard so many wonderful things about the place, I expected spectacular. What we got was merely good.

I think my biggest problem with the Black Olive is the outrageous prices. This is not a restaurant that needs to pay for lots of expensive equipment, like immersion circulators and antigriddles. It's a restaurant that serves pretty simple fare. Yet, a bowl of tzatziki - yogurt with dill, lemon, garlic, and olive oil - costs $8. A single, simply grilled fish averages $30. Crazy. But, we still went there for dinner one night.

I figured that if we ordered a series of mezze and one fish dish, we could get out of there without breaking the bank. As it turned out, I was right. The appetizer platter included four spreads (tarama, tzatziki, melitzanasalata, and hummus) with some olives and feta cheese. It was $22 (!), but with a basket of outrageously good olive bread (ok, a basket and a half) it was a meal in itself. Each of the spreads was rich and thick. The hummus was strongly flavored with parsley and dill, the eggplants in the melitzanasalata had obviously been grilled, and the tarama was surprisingly un-fishy.

We also tried an order of the bread pudding, made with the house olive bread. It was incredible - soft yet crusty.

We also ordered the whole St Peter's fish, aka John Dory. It wasn't too pretty after it came out of the saute pan, but after our waiter deboned it tableside, it became a beautiful thing. This fish has a mild, buttery, flavor and a somewhat firm texture. The skin is flavorless, so completely edible. It was served with a simple sauce made from olive oil and lemon juice and accompanied by a very tart vegetable slaw. We really enjoyed it.

We enjoyed everything, actually. And we were very full at meal's end. The bill was $67 - cheaper than other recent meals and, comparatively, worth every penny. We get it now.

Black Olive
814 S Bond St
Baltimore, MD 21231
(410) 276-7141
theblackolive.com

Black Olive on Urbanspoon
Posted on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Baltimore/Washington-Area Chefs Wanted!

I participated as a judge in the last Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament and can say that it was great fun. If you're not a chef, you can attend as a spectator - it's like having a bit of Iron Chef right in the Baltimore/Washington area!

Chef Competition Looking for Local Talent
Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament Currently Accepting Applications

Who: Chefs currently working in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area.

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is currently accepting applications to compete in this Summer’s second running of this unique local competition. Eligible chefs must be at least 18 years old and available all competition nights in order to compete.

Complete Rules and Regulations of the Tournament can be found at: http://www.masondixonmasterchef.com/contact-us/rules-and-regulations.php

What: The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is a multi-week, single-elimination tournament consisting of 16 teams of chefs, each team is made up of an executive chef, a sous chef and one assistant. Two teams compete each night of the competition, and have 30 minutes for cold prep and one hour to plate up three courses (appetizer, entrĂ©e and dessert) to present to the panel of three expert judges. Each Chef will also produce 25 amuse bouche size portions of their entree to be passed out to "Judge Experience" ticket holders as well as randomly selected audience members. These "Guest Judges" will be able to taste the chefs' entree courses and score them on presentation, creativity, and taste. The scores from the expert judges and ‘Guest Judges’ will determine the evening’s winner.

At the end of this tournament only one of the 16 competing chef teams will emerge as THE Mason Dixon Master Chef!

When & Where: Competition Dates (6:00pm – 9:00pm) are as follows: June 25, 26 July 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31 August 13, 14, 20, 21 September 10 – Championship Final Match

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

Why: Celebrate local cuisine and local talent while supporting an important cause. Ten percent of net proceeds will go to a local food-related charity to be named soon.

Apply: Chefs may apply online at: http://www.masondixonmasterchef.com/contact-us/compete-as-a-chef.php

Sponsors: Current sponsors include: SYSCO Food Service, Maple Leaf Farms, Roland, Emmi-Roth Kase, Holly Poultry, Brighton Gardens of Columbia, Hatfield, Chef Revival, Marcho Farms, Manchester Farms, and Congressional Seafood.

Contact:
Karen Folkart
Mason Dixon Master Chef, LLC
Email: Karen@MasonDixonMasterChef.com
Phone: 301-830-0424

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Next Food Network Star 8.2

So...yesterday afternoon, I sliced open my left middle finger on a mandoline. Not while I was using it (neither the finger nor the mandoline), mind you, but while I was putting the device into its box. I have a big bandage on the thing, which makes typing a wee bit difficult, so if you see gibberish here and there in this post, blame it on the finger. And not my brain. Yeah, that's the ticket!

There are fourteen Wannabes left, five each on Bobby's and Giada's team, but only four on Alton's team. Makes me wonder if they're going to eliminate people in such a way that the final three just so happen to represent each of the three mentors. Guess we'll find out.

The Star Challenge this week is a bit complicated. The mentors tell the Wannabes that they'll be New York tour guides for a day, even though most of them don't know a whole hell of a lot about NYC. Each team will be assigned one foodie neighborhood, and each member of that team will have to create a dish inspired by one stop on the tour. Giada tells her peeps they're going to Arthur Avenue in Little Italy. Naturally. Bobby Flay's team is heading to Harlem (because the milk-white Irish Bobby is the first thing I think about when I hear the word "Harlem"). And Alton is going to celebrate his non-existent Jewish roots by taking his gang to the Lower East Side.

The Lower East Side is first on the agenda. Alton takes his Wannabes aside and tells them about the four stops on their tour, asking for volunteers to cover each spot. Martie gets Katz' Deli, Justin takes Kossar's Bialys, Emily takes Streit's Matzoh, and Judson is stuck with the Pickle Guys. At each stop, they get a mini-education about various foodstuffs. Emily pretends to be really excited about Streit's, comparing the room full of machinery and conveyor belts to something out of Willy Wonka. Obviously the girl has never watched Unwrapped. Judson is not feeling the pickles, although I'm pretty sure the man enjoys his pickles.

After the tour, the team goes to the Food Network Star kitchen to whip up something to feed the tourists they'll be encountering later. Ninety minutes later, their food is packed up and everyone gets onto a nifty bus with stadium seating and a giant window on one side. Susie Fogelson and Bob Tushface are on board, as are the mentors and various "tourists." Justin starts off the show talking about his visit to Kossar's Bialys. He seems really enthused about the whole thing, and the tourists enjoy his bialy chips served with smoked creme fraiche and caviar. Susie gushes about how much she likes him.

Martie's up next. She tends to ramble when she talks, and it was no different this time. However, her stories seemed to have a point and the tourists enjoyed her take on a pastrami sandwich. Emily, the retro-50s gal, serves her mini meatloaves made with matzoh and topped with what appears to be charoset (a fruit and nut paste typically eaten at Passover) and starts her spiel on the Willy Wonka matzoh factory, when all of a sudden, she feels sick to her stomach. That big glass window is not doing her any favors, and as she struggles to keep the vomit down, she messes up her presentation. Big points off for Emily.

Finally, Judson gives his presentation on the Pickle Guys, which is forced and rather fake. It's obvious he's not into pickles as much as he should be, and Jewish gays everywhere are seriously disappointed.

Team Bobby is next. He tells his group that they are going to Sylvia's, purveyors of soul food, famous for catfish. Michele doesn't like catfish, but she takes Sylvia's anyway. Casablanca meats goes to Malcolm, whose family is from Harlem. The Savoy Bakery goes to Eric, Dinosaur BBQ is grabbed by Nikki, and Kara is left with Melba's, where the specialty is chicken and waffles.

Kara tells us that she doesn't fry chicken or eat waffles. Or eat chicken on the bone, for that matter. She's probably one of those scrawny women so worried about fat that she will only eat boneless skinless chicken breasts. Ugh. WTF is she doing in the food business if she has prejudices against food?

Anyhoo...the gang heads to Sylvia's, then to Casablanca, Savoy, and Dinosaur BBQ.

Once they get to Melba's, they are greeted by Melba herself. This woman once beat the pants off of Bobby Flay in a chicken and waffles throwdown. She is gorgeous, serious, smart, and deserves a television show of her own. Hear that, Food Network? As Melba carefully explains the history of chicken and waffles to the befuddled chicken-on-the-bone hater Kara, we at home immediately understand that it's a lost cause.

(Aside: I'm shocked that Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant, Red Rooster, wasn't on the list, since he's such a publicity whore.)

After 90 minutes of cooking, everyone gets back on the bus. Malcolm does the first presentation; he comes off as passionate, and the ribs he's made for the group win raves. Michele takes the stage next. She's out of her element, and clearly lies about her enjoyment of catfish because she told us at least ten times during the episode that she thinks catfish tastes muddy. Honestly, I would feel the same way had I needed to do a presentation about tilapia. Her presentation is bland, and so is her food.

Nikki gives her high-energy spiel on Dinosaur BBQ, but Susie thinks she's rather impersonal. Then overachiever Eric, who's made a cheese turnover with coffee caramel sauce based on the danish and cup of coffee he had at Savoy, wows everyone with both his story and his food. And finally, there's Kara, who does nothing right. First she starts off by saying that she met Melba, who is a "black wo...African-American woman..." and throws herself completely off track. Susie says she is not a star, but I could have told you that.

Finally, Giada's team is up to bat. She tosses Mike's Deli to Yvan and assigns the Arthur Avenue Trattoria to Ippy. Martita takes Cosenza's Fish Market, Rawk-n-Roll takes Peter's Meat Market, and Linkie gets Palumbo's Pastry.

Tour. Cook. Bus.

Yvan is first; he's a real charmer, but his skewered mozz and tomato is boring. Half-Italian, half-Hawaiian Ippy does a great job with his story, and impresses the judges with his pasta e fagioli with the flavors of eggplant parmesan. Rawk-and-Roll is up next, and makes me wish I had a TiVo so I could fast-forward through this trainwreck (bus wreck?). He starts a never-ending story about Joe Pesci and Robert DiNiro and my mind goes numb. I'm not sure if he finishes the story or even if it has a point. He's an egobag, a snooze, and so is his food. Martita turns out a likable performance and some of the best ceviche Susie has ever eaten, and finally, Linkie does a great job of converting classic cannoli into a cheesecake.

Honestly, they are all as boring as snot.

Time for judging. Tushface declares Giada's team the winner, with all team-mates safe from elimination. Even Rawk-and-Roll, who deserves to go...soon. Hopefully next week. Then Kara and Judson are told that they sucked and will have to compete in the Producer's Challenge. This week, they have to do something fabulous with the humble potato.

Kara makes mashed potatoes, and Judson does a potato-crusted salmon. They shoot 1 minute presentations with their mentors, and then they all head off to the Salon of the Glowing Vagina for judgement.

Kara's potatoes are rich and comforting, but not memorable. Her presentation was too cheery (read, fake) for the judges. She reminds me of Jayma Mays, from Glee, with that baby voice, but with one difference: I like Jayma Mays.

Judson's turn. His dish is more about the salmon than about the potato, and his presentation is awkward. The whole time, he talks about being into technique, but then he says he "wrapped the potato with the salmon" at least three times. No, boob, you wrapped the salmon with the potato! I guess technique doesn't include language. We also discover that Judson's a big crybaby. Bowties and Tears. Pathetic. Send them both home.

Tushface and Susie powwow and decide that Kara needs to go bye-bye. Good call. Judson thinks so too, because...he cries again. Good googa mooga.

Next week...Chopped! (Get rid of all of them!)

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Koco's Pub

Out of necessity, I've been eating a lot of crab cakes. Only the smoked crab cake from Pierpoint has come even close my Platonic ideal of what a crab cake should be; most have left something to be desired.

Not the crab cake at Koco's.

I'm always skeptical about the crab cakes that have "Baltimore's Best" flags all over them, so I figured Koco's might just be another pretender to the throne. But oh no, baby, it was the real deal. Real, sweet, moist blue crab meat held together with a minimum of filler (it wasn't even detectable) and a maximum of luscious, mayonnaise-y, perfectly-seasoned, binder. This behemoth weighed 10-12 oz easy and was plenty to share.

The Kaiser roll (never one of my favorite forms of carbohydrate) was not a good match for the crab, which needed something more delicate and airy. Every bite caused crab meat to shoot out of the back end into the basket. Mr Minx was happy to retrieve those errant bits for his own enjoyment.

His dinner of choice was the chicken wings, which have also received a Baltimore's Best nod. They were large specimens, cooked all the way through, but I thought they were a little tough. The raspberry jalapeno sauce was unusual, and neither as hot or as sweet as expected.

The bar crowd at Koco's on this particular evening was a lot of fun, discussing baseball and cars, and made it seem like a place where I'd love to hang out, if I hung out anywhere. Now we know where to ease a crab cake jones (which are frequent), we'll be back. Often.

Koco's Pub and Grill
4301 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214
(410) 426-3519
kocospub.com

Koco's Pub and Grill on Urbanspoon

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Butter Chicken

Mr Minx and I made a trip to Patel Brothers Indian grocery in Catonsville and found the place to be very clean, organized, and well-stocked with a plethora of ingredients from the Subcontinent. Among the things we bought was a bag of curry leaves, because it seemed that every recipe I wanted to try called for them. Of course, when we got home and I flipped through my favorite Indian cookbook, Camellia Punjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, I couldn't find a single recipe that required them. At least, none that also required ingredients already on hand. So I do what I usually do and improvised.

Butter chicken, or murgh makhani, seemed the simplest dish to alter. It required fresh tomatoes, but I substituted tomato paste. Chopped cilantro and curry leaves, plus ground fenugreek, replaced the fenugreek leaves called for. We also had a fresh pineapple in the house, so I used part of it in a pineapple curry.

And it was all so seriously good, I had a hard time believing that I had made it with my own two hands.

Butter-y Chicken Adapted from 50 Great Curries of India

1 cup plain yogurt, drained in a sieve or a piece of cheesecloth for about half an hour
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1" fresh ginger, grated finely
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 lb bone in, skin off chicken thighs
canola oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon fresh curry leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves, torn into small pieces
1 oz half and half or light cream
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 tablespoon cold butter

Combine first nine ingredients in a bowl. Add chicken and mix to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour and up to overnight.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons or so of canola oil, then the onions. Cook onions until wilted and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken with its marinade. Cover pan and cook over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, turning chicken occasionally. Remove lid and stir in tomato paste, curry leaves and cilantro. Cook an additional 20 minutes before stirring in cream, garam masala and fenugreek. Just before serving, turn off heat and stir in cold butter.

Serve with hot basmati rice, pineapple curry, cucumber raita, and warm naan bread.

Pineapple Curry

1/2 cup onion, sliced
canola oil
pinch salt
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon curry powder (I like Penzey's Sweet)
2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
pinch cayenne
freshly ground black pepper

Over medium heat, saute onions in a tablespoon or so of canola oil and a pinch of salt until they begin to brown. Stir in brown sugar and curry powder. Cook an additional minute or so, stirring constantly. Add pineapple, cover pan, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add a pinch of cayenne and some black pepper. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Next Food Network Star 8.1

Ok, I'm going to come right out and admit it - I actually enjoyed Food Network Star last year and have been looking forward to the new season. Especially since they've changed up the format completely. Rather than the doppelganger of Top Chef they've been doing for the past few years, the Food Network has copycatted one of their own shows: Rachael vs Guy Celebrity Cookoff. Except that this time, there are three teams--led by Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay--instead of two. And no celebrities (although one could say that of the Celebrity Cookoff, too.)

Why these three? Because they already had done time on NFNS? Was Bobby tired of being the hard-nosed judge? He seemed to get a kick out of mentoring the Worst Cooks in America. Maybe he just wanted more screen time. Maybe he's shopping for another wife?  And whatever happened to the Alton Brown we all knew and loved? When Good Eats first aired, Alton was a bowling-shirt wearing geek. A bit chubby, and attractive in a "I like his personality so I don't notice his looks so much" kind of way. Now that he's slimmed down, his sartorial choices lean towards Southern Dandy, with pocket squares and bow ties and other such nonsense. That's all well and good, but now he seems incredibly uptight. And his face scares me. Then there's the Lollipop. Giada has always frightened me a little. She seems tiny when you look at her alone, but when she stands next to other people, it's clear that her head is humongous. And those teeth. :::shudder:::

Anyway...on to the show.

This two hour extravaganza starts off with the audition process, showing snippets of contestants' video tapes. There are also scenes from the big final audition in Bobby's, Alton's, and Giada's home bases, during which they choose five contestants for their teams:

Team Alton: Justin, Cristie, Martie, Judson, and Emily

Team Bobby: Eric, Malcolm, Kara, Michele, and Nikki

Team Funny Names Giada: Josh, Martita, Ippy, Yvan, Linkie

Immediately the Wannabes are thrust into the first Star Challenge of the season. Robert Irvine is there to introduce the task just as a conveniently-placed ad for Restaurant: Impossible pops up in the lower right hand corner of the screen. I see what you did there, FN.

Rather than shake all vestiges of Top Cheffery, this first challenge is basically Restaurant Wars. Each team has to design a restaurant from the ground up, with each contestant responsible for one dish. The teams pow-wow. Alton's team immediately decides on a Southern food theme, with the name "Do South," which makes them seem illiterate. Giada's team pays homage to her Cali roots with their spin on California cuisine in the restaurant "Blu." And Bobby's team goes for a hip and elegant "Tasting Space."

And at the 18-minute mark, we get our first "awesome" of the season.

As per the Top Chef model, members of each team head to Whole Foods and Restaurant Depot to shop for food and decor. One of Giada's team, Josh, is a rawk-and-roll sushi chef who has decided to make dumplings in a dashi broth for his course. Right off the bat, he comes off as annoying and nobody I want to watch on a regular basis. He's part of the Restaurant Depot contingent, and there he discovers that eggs are available only in multiples of 15 dozen, so he calls his team mates at WF and requests three dozen eggs.

Back at the kitchen, Josh discovers that his team mates are morons who forgot about the eggs. Or did they forget? Is he screwed (let's hope)? Find out later.... (Much later, considering it's a 2 hour show.)

And...later.

The wannabes are done with their cooking and are herded to meet once again with Robert Irvine. He tells them that they will be selling their restaurant to diners via a brief live presentation. The Food Network big wigs, Bob Tushface and Susie Fogelson, will also be in the crowd to jeer their efforts.

After fifteen minutes of rehearsal, the show begins with Team Alton. One of his wannabes is a completely adorable blonde name Cristie who is also a bit stiff and nervous. She's the low point of the presentation and is getting a loser edit. Next up, it's clear that Bobby's Team is serious about food but not big on personality. Team Giada's Josh, who is getting an even more loser-y edit than Cristie, somersaults his way onto the stage and does a tacky air guitar thing that makes Giada hang her head in shame. Because he's rawk-and-roll. He reminds me of a Mirror Mirror version of Chris Hanmer, winner of the second season of Top Chef Just Desserts. He even has cheesy Evil Chris facial hair.

After the diners make their choices, we see the judges take a table in Giada's restaurant, Blu. Josh's soup course comes first, and he's substituted teeny tiny nori-flecked dumplings for the eggy ones he was originally going to make. He's also drizzled some garlic chile oil on the dish, which leaves an unpleasantly greasy feeling in Robert Irvine's mouth. (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.) His teammate, Ippy, fares much better, with his gorgeous and tasty mushroom salad and his laid-back personality. Latina Martita comes out flat. Yuan is just meh. And Linkie, who has the most bizarre Southern US-meets-South African accent (not to mention a funny name), makes a key lime pie so boring, Alton likens it to cafeteria food. Plus, key limes don't come from California. Linkie is a pastry chef - why didn't she use a little imagination and use California citrus?

The judges then move to Bobby's restaurant, Tasting Space. Team leader Nikki uses too many buzzwords in her presentation. Dredlocked Malcom is "not a star" according to Susie.

Michele, a spiky-haired lesbian who competed on Chopped a couple years back (and is one of my favorites this season), was bold and confident. Eric, a fussy Asian chubster who insisted on making his own pasta AND ricotta for a mushroom lasagne, made great food but might not be a star. And finally Kara made a great cookie, but her personality was so meh, I don't even remember who she is.

Finally, Bob, Susie, and the gang head to Do South, to dine on Alton's gang's food. Martie, a woman who likes to remind us that she's maybe 20 years older than everyone else, had a good presentation but her deviled eggs three ways needed seasoning. Justin, a very young-looking Hagerstown, Maryland native (go Maryland!) is asked by Giada and Susie if he's wearing lipstick because his lips are so very pink. He says its lip balm, but I think he eats way too much salt. Apparently the girls think he's cute.

Sad, Susie.

Blonde Cristie brings out a puree of black eyed peas and cabbage because she's one of those healthy eating freaks who thinks oddball combinations of vegetables taste good, even if they do smell like farts.

Judson, who's on Alton's team mainly because he favors bow ties, is deemed charming and gracious, and finally, Emily, who's a big fan of the 50s, is called quirky and smart. (They say that now, but mark my words, she's going to be labeled a "one-trick pony" at some point in the near future.)

After dinner, the teams get feedback from their mentors, who are unnaturally kind to them, then they all go meet with Susie and Tushface. Team Bobby got the most positive votes from the diners' comment cards, so they are all safe from elimination. As we could predict from the heavy loser edits they received, rawk-and-roll Josh and angry Cristie are on the bottom, which means they have to participate in what's being called the "Producer Challenge."

As with Rachel and Guy's celebrity show thingy, the two of them have to prepare a dish of the judges' choosing, but with an on-camera presentation to boot. The theme of this week's challenge is Mother's Day Brunch, so both Josh and Cristie set to working with eggs. Then we see them practice their presentations, really badly, but not film the final take. Because, it's like a surprise. Oooh...suspense!

The two wannabes and their mentors are then ushered into the "Pitch Room," where they find Tushface and Susie behind a giant table with an odd backlit center. I find myself trying to decide whether it is shaped like a coffin, or maybe a giant glowing vajayjay.

At this point, we get to see the final presentations, both of which, predictably, suck. But after some deliberation, the judges decide to toss Cristie on her pretty little ass and keep Rawk-n-Roll for at least another episode. Ugh.

Speaking of sucking, I know this recap does, but I'm out of practice. :) Stay tuned to Minxeats for another 10 weeks of this stuff! Wheee!

Posted on Minxeats.com.
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