Monday, April 29, 2013

Pimiento Cheese

Pimiento cheese sounds like a mistake from the Kraft labs, doesn't it? Like some pinkish-orange paste that would come in a little jar in the dairy case. Something my mother would have regarded with near disgust had I indicated that perhaps she buy a jar (despite her own love for Velveeta), you know, just to try it. Like I had to try lima beans before I decided that I loathe them.

Oh wait, pimiento cheese does come in a little jar in the dairy case. Lookee there!

What exactly is a pimiento anyway (and why doesn't anyone pronounce the second "i" - pih-mee-ento)? They're the red thingies in green olives, right? That taste just like roasted bell peppers? Ah - they are peppers, but a cultivar also known as a cherry pepper, and not your standard bell pepper. But why mash them up with cheese and mayonnaise? That seems a little cruel, to both the pepper and the cheese.

...and I've just offended scores of Southerners with my ignorance. I may live south of the Mason-Dixon line, but I am a yankee at heart. (Notice I spelled that with a lower-case "y" so as not to be confused as a fan of a particular New York sports team, which I am most definitely not.)

I must admit I've always been a leetle, tiny, weensy bit curious about pimiento cheese, but I've never tried it. That is, not until Richard Blais' cookbook, Try This at Home, came into my life. In it, he offers a recipe for a decidedly non-traditional pimiento cheese with jalapenos, poblanos, and nary a pimiento to be found.

The white cheese + the green peppers makes a pretty Spring-like color combination that reminds me more of egg salad than of pimiento cheese. And the addition of cilantro and lime takes the flavor profile in a westerly direction, so the result is more Austin than Atlanta. But - cheesilicious. And, if you think about it, I still haven't tried pimiento cheese, at least not the authentic stuff.

I used Kewpie mayo; if you do, too, omit the salt. Also, I didn't like the texture at first - it was like cheese salad. Food processor to the rescue!

Richard Blais' Pimiento Jack Cheese (adapted from Try This at Home)

8 ounces white pepper jack cheese, coarsely grated
1 small poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced (or more to taste)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lime
Kosher salt to taste

Combine the cheese, chiles, mayo, cilantro, lime zest and juice, and salt. Pop the mixture into the food processor and give it a couple of pulses to break down the cheese a bit more and better amalgamate the mixture.

Serve with crusty bread or crackers or use in a grilled cheese sandwich.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Culinary Bucket List

The French Laundy
Does anyone else have a culinary bucket list? You know, a wish list of foods and restaurants to try before kicking the proverbial bucket? I do. So far it's fairly short because I can easily visit local restaurants that are on my radar, and New York is only a short train ride away.


French Laundry (Yountville, CA) and/or Per Se (New York)
Alinea (Chicago)
WD-50 (New York)
Le Bernardin (New York)
The Slanted Door (San Francisco)
Atelier Crenn (San Francisco)
Spago (Los Angeles)


Chitlins (why not?)
Boiled peanuts
Rocky Mountain oysters

It all seems pretty do-able, huh? Maybe I should aim higher!

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Grub Street Diet

One of my favorite features of the New York Magazine Web site is the "Grub Street Diet." Every week, some NY-based celebrity (actor, musician, director, media mogul, etc.) is asked to keep track of everything he or she eats during the week and submit it to the magazine in essay format. Some folks have an interesting life but a boring diet, and with some others it's vice versa.

Recently, Mr Minx and I found ourselves eating in restaurants a lot more than usual, which made me think of the Grub Street Diet. We're in the "interesting diet, boring life" category, as you'll see.

Monday, April 15
Monday is usually Panera day, and my regular order is a large coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I've been stuck on their Mediterranean egg white, which has pesto, spinach, cheddar, and roasted tomatoes on ciabatta. It's quite a tasty combo - love the roasted tomatoes - and plenty filling to satiate me until lunch.

Around 1pm, lunch was a Voskos exotic fig non-fat Greek yogurt. It tasted ok, but the fig seeds made it unpleasantly crunchy.

Mr Minx always has dinner in the works when I get home from work. This evening, he was in the process of making a day-glo yellow Curry of Indeterminate Origin from a recipe he found on teh Innernets. He insisted it was supposed to be a Thai-style curry, but it looked Indian. Smelled Indian, too. In any case, it was brightly colored and slightly sweet and went nicely with a big pile of basmati rice. It also used up the block of super-duper-firm tofu we picked up at Trader Joe's a few weeks ago that was on the verge of expiration.

Tuesday, April 16
Today, I went to Au Bon Pain for my coffee. I like iced coffee when the weather is warm. ABP only offers the caffeinated stuff, so I make my own by overfilling my cup with ice and mixing hot decaf and their Irish cream flavor half and half (their hazelnut is rather flavorless) with some milk. Their large iced drinks are so huge, I end up finishing it with lunch. But first, breakfast, which is a boring cup of Muller FruitUp yogurt in the Peach Passionfruit flavor. It's tasty enough, I suppose, though the fruity part on the top is a bit gelatinous. And now that I've gone to look for the nutrition label online, I've decided that I can no longer eat this particular yogurt. Why? Because it contains tilapia. Yes, I realize that is a fish, but I wonder if Muller knows that?

I was hoping that the UMB farmers' market would have started up already so I can get my summertime fix of two tacos from Ruben's Mexican Food. Instead, I ate the lunch I brought, which was home-made sweet potato hummus with baby carrots and sweet potato tortilla chips.

Mr Minx picked me up from work today. When I asked what he wanted to do for dinner, he suggested we could eat the leftover pasta from Friday. Except for the tilapia in my yogurt this morning, I hadn't eaten meat since Saturday, so really wasn't in the mood for that particular pasta, which had a vegetarian goat-cheese-and-tomato sauce. Mr Minx then suggested we go to Burger Brothers, which at that point on our ride was about a block away, so that's what we did. The first time we ate there, the burgers and fries both were super-salty. This time, the saltiness of my cheeseburger with bleu cheese, pickles, and tomato was my own damn fault, since bleu cheese is salty, but it wasn't anything like the first time. The fries were pretty good, too.

Wednesday, April 17
On Wednesday, I took the day off work so we could get a bunch of errands done. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal - a handful of Honey Bunches of Oats to finish off the box, and another handful of Mini-Wheats, topped with 2% milk.
Squire's everything pizza
We then went to Home Depot to pick up stuff for our new vegetable garden, made a trip to the storage locker to pick up some furniture, including a much-needed office chair. We had been using one of my Dad's old chairs from probably the late 80s. It was so wonky that after sitting in it for more than ten minutes we found ourselves sliding so far forward our knees were in danger of hitting the ground. That one was disposed of in a quick trip to the dump. We had borrowed my brother-in-law's truck, so after returning that to him, we visited with my mother-in-law who lives in the same area. By the time 3pm rolled around, our stomachs were growling and Mom suggested we order a pizza from Squire's, which we did. Almost nothing satisfies a ravenous appetite more than one of their hearty "everything" pizzas topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and meat sauce. I was a pig and ate three slices, but other than the cereal, didn't eat anything else all day.

Thursday, April 17
I was home on Thursday, too, and after a breakfast of toasted Panera honey wheat bread topped with a bit of Richard Blais's recipe for pimento cheese (post on that coming soon!), I decided to tackle a recipe from a cookbook that I received for review. The pineapple upside-down cake from Tate's Bake Shop: Baking for Friends turned out extremely well. Except for the part when the caramel oozed up the side of the pan and out onto the bottom of my oven. Luckily, it was lined with a sheet of foil that caught the now-burning and smoking caramel, and I quickly whipped it out and replaced it with a fresh sheet, all without: 1) burning myself; 2) causing the cake to fall.

No lunch again today because we planned to have dinner with my brother at Birroteca. He's been threatening to move out of town and has been trying to eat at as many of the restaurants I've recommended as possible. Earlier in the year, Mr Minx and I had a terrific meal at Birroteca with our friend Melinda, but it was mostly vegetarian in nature. This time, we ordered dishes fit for a carnivore (and a post about that meal will be forthcoming). We again ate the calamari alla plancha because it's so freakin' good, but we also tried the meatballs, the duck duck goose pizza, and the Thursday special of Sicilian steak.

Friday, April 18
I was back to work today and had an Oikos Café Latte yogurt for breakfast. No fish in that yogurt, but it does have "black carrot" juice for color. Huh? It was really good - I'll buy this one again. Lunch was leftover hummus from Tuesday with more baby carrots.

For dinner, we had the leftover pasta that we eschewed on Tuesday, beefed up (literally) with some of the steak left over from Birroteca. We try to be really good about eating all of our leftovers, whether they come from meals eaten at home or in restaurants. There's too much waste in this country as it is.

Four days a week, we eat nothing between dinner and bedtime, but on the weekends, we indulge in a bit of ice cream. Tonight we had it with some of the pineapple upside-down cake from Thursday.

Saturday, April 19
Breakfast was leftover black bean enchiladas from last Sunday's dinner, topped with a fried egg. We need the protein for the day ahead.

For the past three Saturdays, we've been attempting to downsize our storage locker. This week, we made still more progress before calling it quits and going home to wash up a bit. Honestly, I can deal with dust and grime for only so long before my dirty hands trigger my semi-compulsive need to wash them.

After washing up, we decided to have dinner at Earth, Wood, & Fire. The last time we were there, I fell in love with their coal-fired chicken wings. They're perfectly cooked, tender and juicy, with a nice crisp skin with patches of char and a light smack of cumin. I had some of those with a small arugula salad with bleu cheese and seedless grapes.

Late night dessert was a bowl of ice cream with pineapple upside-down cake.

Sunday, April 20
The original plan was to meet my brother and Dad at the Nautilus diner for breakfast. Mr Minx and my brother were then going to head down to the Orioles game and Dad would drive me home. But Dad wasn't feeling well, so I stayed home with the dog. While the boys ate omelettes and bacon, I made myself a sandwich with pancetta, a fried egg, and a spoonful of Blais' pimento cheese on toasted rye. While the Nautilus is fine and dandy, I dare say I probably got the better end of the breakfast deal.

After taking quite the long walk with the dog in order to obtain one of those horrible "e-collar" thingies so he won't scratch his eyes out (he has terrible hay fever), I spent the afternoon reading cookbooks before heading to the kitchen to work on dinner. I wasn't sure if the boys would be up for dinner after the game, but I made enough for several people anyway - red-braised chicken thighs, smashed marinated radishes (both from Fuchsia Dunlop's latest Chinese cookbook) and some oven-roasted asparagus with sliced garlic. I fixed a "beauty plate" for photographing, then ate that as my dinner, along with the lion's share of asparagus.

We finished up our ice cream stash with more cake before hitting the sack a bit earlier than usual.

See. Boring. And long-winded, to boot.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Foolproof Hollandaise

Serious Eats' Food Lab does it again:

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Tate's Bake Shop

Long Island bakery Tate's Bake Shop is famous for its chocolate chip cookies. How do I know this? Well, the press release said so. Apparently bakery founder Kathleen King's recipe has received recognition from Consumer Reports, and Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine. Hmpf. You all know Rachael doesn't impress me. But what is impressive is that King won the Specialty Food Association's 2011 sofi Gold award for Outstanding Cookie. But what does this all mean? Do the cookies taste good?

The answer is...drumroll please...yes!

Tate's sent us a sample bag of their gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, and I must say - they are pretty damn good. Crispy and buttery-tasting, Tate's cookies contain a goodly amount of chocolate, and are pretty much indistinguishable from a gluten-full cookie apart from a slightly sandy after-texture.

These cookies are hitting the Baltimore area and should be available at Whole Foods, MOM's - My Organic Market, Fresh Market, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Wegman's. If you'd rather make your own cookies, there's also a new cookbook. Called Tate's Bake Shop: Baking for Friends, it contains recipes for scones, tarts, and quick breads as well as about 40 cookie recipes.

What struck my fancy as I perused the book for the first time was the recipe for pineapple upside-down cake. Kathleen King used a lovely cheat for the topping - toffee bits - which add more caramelly flavor than the usual brown sugar and a bonus of tiny almond bits. The other thing I liked about the recipe was that the eggs were added whole. So many traditional recipes for pineapple upside-down cake require that the eggs be separated and the whites whipped before adding. King's recipe is completely un-fussy and produces a moist and tender cake that might be the best pineapple upside-down cake I've ever tried.

I have to add one important direction to the recipe - place the skillet or baking pan on a cookie sheet! I didn't do this and the toffee oozed up one side of the pan and over onto the bottom of the stove, sending plumes of smoke everywhere as it burnt. Fortunately, I keep a sheet of heavy-duty foil on the bottom of the oven and was able to whisk it out of there and replace it (carefully) while the cake was still baking.

Pineapple Toffee Upside-Down Cake (adapted from Tate's Bake Shop: Baking for Friends)

1 20-oz can pineapple rings
1 1/2 sticks salted butter, 4 tablespoons sliced, 8 at room temperature
1 cup toffee bits (I used Heath Bits 'O' Brickle baking pieces)
7 maraschino cherries, drained, stems removed
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350F.

Drain the pineapple, discarding the juice (theminx says: make a pina colada!). Reserve seven pineapple rings. Coarsely chop the rest and set aside.

Melt the 4 tablespoons of sliced butter in a 9" ovenproof skillet (or a 9x2 round cake pan - I used a 9" square glass pan) over medium heat. Remove from the heat and sprinkle the toffee bits evenly into the skillet. Arrange the pineapple rings in the skillet, placing a cherry in the center of each one.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and 8 tablespoons of room temperature butter with an electric mixer set to high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs, followed by the vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the yogurt in 2 equal additions, mixing until just smooth after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Do not overmix. Stir in the chopped pineapple. Spread the batter evenly over the pineapple rings and cherries in the skillet.

Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the inside of the skillet to loosen the cake. Place a serving plate over the skillet, and, using pot holders, invert the skillet and plate together to unmold the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats.

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Friday, April 19, 2013


On one of the final episodes of that Food Network classic, "Worst Cooks in America," the worstcooktestants are tasked with making dumplings - Chinese siu mai and wontons and Japanese gyoza. As I was watching, I thought to myself, "if those mostly-incompetent people can make an edible dumpling, a mostly competent person like me can, too!" Honestly, they made it look very easy, right down to the little pleats on the gyoza.

Gyoza, or jaiozi, in Chinese, has been my family's favorite Chinese restaurant appetizer forever. No Chinese meal was complete without them. And they had to be fried. Potstickers, they're called. One can, of course, steam them, but my favorite part of the dumpling is the crisp bottom part of the wrapper. Mmm.

I recall making jaiozi with a friend some years ago, and it seemed like a huge production. She had made the filling in advance, so it was the dumpling-forming and cooking that were intimidating to me at the time. But now that I look back, vaguely remembering that she insisted on boiling them in a large pot of water before frying, I see that we made them incorrectly. Especially since many of them fell apart before they even made it to our mouths.

I think she was mostly paranoid about using raw ground pork in the filling, but she needn't have been.

A quick online search brought up myriad variations on that filling. Some used cabbage, some didn't. Some added shrimp. Bobby Flay's recipe (found in his Throwdown cookbook) called for hoisin, chile paste, 5-spice powder and allspice. No wonder he lost. I decided to go with a more simple combination of ingredients: ginger, garlic, cilantro, and green onions. I did borrow an ingredient from Chef Flay's dipping sauce: black vinegar. The result was interesting, but the slightly molasses-y flavor of the vinegar was a bit overpowering. Much better was a more traditional sauce made with soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and scallions. I've supplied the recipe for both; you may decide you like the vinegar sauce. Flay uses hoisin (and a thousand other ingredients) in his, in place of the sugar and soy, which may work better than my substitutions if you don't mind a thicker sauce.

In any case, dumpling making was much simpler than expected. The round wrappers are pre-made and sold in 12- or 16-oz packages at your neighborhood Asian grocer. If you can only find square won ton wrappers, you can cut them with a large round cookie cutter.


1.5 lb ground pork
1 T chopped scallions
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 t chopped garlic
1 t finely minced cilantro
1 16-oz package round dumpling wrappers
oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, and cilantro, plus a generous pinch of salt. You can taste for seasoning by cooking a bit of the meat in a little hot oil. Remember that the dipping sauces contain soy and will be salty, so don't overdo it.

Prepare your area for dumpling assembly: have a clean cookie sheet or two covered with parchment, a Silpat, or a clean tea towel nearby, plus a small ramekin of water, the bowl of filling, and a teaspoon.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place it into your left palm (right, if you're left-handed). Dip a finger in the water and use it to moisten the edge all the way around. Use the spoon to place a blob of meat into the center of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper into a semi-circle. If there's too much meat, take some out at this point. Pinch the middle edges of the dumpling together and then make a pleat to one side of the middle using only the side of the wrapper facing you. (In other words, the dumpling is pleated only on one face.) Add another pleat or two (if they fit) to that end, then repeat the pleats on the opposite end of center. Gently squeeze the edge of the wrapper to make sure it's closed and that there are no air bubbles, and place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all wrappers and/or meat are gone.

(For a visual aid to pleating dumplings, check out this video of Chef Anita Lo doing just that. Dumpling making starts at about the 2 minute mark. Before that time, she demonstrates making the dumpling wrappers themselves. She's a bit fancy; I found it easier to pinch the wrapper closed in the middle and make 2 or 3 pleats on either side.)

To cook dumplings: Add a tablespoon or so of neutral cooking oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add a layer of dumplings. You can fill the pan, but don't crowd it; the dumplings should not overlap. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are a nice golden brown. If the pan seems to be getting too hot, turn the heat down a bit. Once the dumplings are brown - don't turn them! - add a quarter cup or so of water (more or less, depending on the size of your pan and number of dumplings). Cover the pan and cook until the water has evaporated. At this point, the dumplings should be shiny and somewhat translucent on the top (non-browned) side. If you're concerned about the pork being cooked, cut a dumpling in half and check. If they're not cooked, add a few tablespoons more water, cover the pan, and cook until additional water has evaporated.

Remove cooked dumplings to a plate and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce 1

3 T black vinegar
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T light soy
1 T light brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

Dipping Sauce 2

2 T light soy
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions
1 t toasted sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

If you've made more dumplings than you can eat at one sitting, put the remaining dumplings, still on the cookie sheet, in the freezer for a few hours. When frozen solid, transfer to plastic bags and store in the freezer. When you cook them, you'll need to leave them on the heat for a bit longer.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tomato Tart with Olive Oil Crust

Sometimes Facebook is really handy. I subscribe to (or "like") the news feeds of various and sundry bloggers, news agencies, and chefs, and every once in a while, something interesting comes down the pike. Like the other day, when America's Test Kitchen's feed included a recipe for a tart crust made with olive oil. Ordinarily, I would have scrolled past, but an image of the dough being dumped unceremoniously into the tart pan--without rolling--stopped me. That looked easy, and it certainly had to be tastier than an all-ready pie crust.

Ok, so it was mostly easy, but there were still several steps. First I had to drag out the food processor to blend the crust ingredients. Then they were pressed into the tart pan - the easy part. But then the pan had to go into the freezer before blind baking, and then the crust had to cool before filling. After filling, there was a second baking. By this point, hours later, I thought maybe I should have just tackled bread-making.

But the end result was pretty tasty, if not as flaky as the recipe's intro would suggest. The crust was more cookie-like, but not sweet. The recipe called for whole wheat flour, which I didn't have, but it was only 1/4 cup, so I didn't think it would matter. After tasting it, I think oatmeal might be an interesting addition, especially since the crust reminded me of a cookie anyway.

The original filling called for zucchini, but I used all tomatoes. They look a little dark in the photos because I used the greenish-brown Kumato tomatoes, which are the only grocery store tomatoes that actually taste like, well, tomatoes. All year 'round (my unsolicited opinion).

Tomato Tart (adapted from America's Test Kitchen)

Tart Crust
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4–6 tablespoons ice water

3 or 4 Kumato or other medium-sized tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1/4 thick rounds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
salt and pepper
chopped scallions

Place the flour, sugar, salt, and cheese into a food processor and pulse until combined. Drizzle in the olive oil and pulse about a dozen times. Add 4 tablespoons of the ice water and process until dough starts to form a ball. If the dough doesn't form a ball, or if there is still unincorporated flour in the bowl, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of water and pulse until it comes together.

Put the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and pat into an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. The dough will be very soft. Place the tart pan on a large plate or cookie sheet and freeze until firm, about half an hour.

Preheat oven to 375F. Set the frozen tart on a baking sheet and press a double layer of foil into the shell. Fill the shell with pie weights (I use raw rice, which I save and reuse for the same purpose) and bake until shell is golden brown and set, about 30-40 minutes. Slide the tart shell onto a wire rack and gently remove weights and foil. Allow tart shell to cool completely before filling.

While the shell is cooling, place the tomatoes on several layers of paper towels to absorb some of their moisture. Sprinkle with about half a teaspoon of salt and let sit for half an hour or so.

Cook the onion in 2 teaspoons of the olive oil over medium heat until golden brown.

Once tart shell has cooled and tomatoes have rested, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining teaspoon of oil and ricotta together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the bottom of the cooled tart shell. Arrange the onions on the ricotta and top with the tomatoes.

Bake the tart on a baking sheet until the cheese is bubbling and the tomatoes are wilted, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the tart cool on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

To serve, remove the outer metal ring of the tart pan before slicing. Garnish with chopped scallions.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Cajun Kate's softshell crab po boy, image from user philadining
Last Friday they were discussing sandwiches on WYPR's Midday with Dan Rodricks and it got me thinking about sandwiches I have known. I put in my two cents by recommending the po' boys from my friend Don's restaurant Cajun Kate's in the Booth's Corner Farmers' Market in Boothwyn, PA, because it's one of my current favorites (especially the brisket, fried oyster, and soft shell crab versions), but that's not the only sandwich that has struck my fancy over the years.

When I was quite young, my maternal grandmother had a stroke. During her recovery, we ate lunch together every day, and every day it was the same thing - an imported deli ham sandwich with iceberg lettuce and Kraft thousand island dressing on seeded rye bread from Levin's bakery, with a side of Funyuns. I don't know the origin of the sandwich, but I suspect it was my mother's invention, as I have never seen it elsewhere. Occasionally, when I'm feeling particularly nostalgic, I have a ham on rye with lettuce and thousand island for lunch. It never fails to take me back to age 3, when being cute and entertaining came far more easily.

Another sandwich I enjoyed in my youth, but not nearly as often, is the Baltimore classic, pit beef. It seemed that I only ate them in the first weekend of October, when the Fells Point Festival was in full swing. We lived on the 500 block of Ann Street at the time. Dad and I always walked down together in search of a pit beef sandwich, which Dad would order well-done, with burnt ends,  to which we'd add mayonnaise and enough horseradish to make our noses run. Oddly, we always had to share the sandwich (Dad's rule, not mine), so I tend to feel a little greedy that now, as an adult, I get to have my own.

When I like something a lot, I try to eat it often, but not often enough to tire of it. Back in the heyday of Harborplace, there was a little Greek stand on the second floor of the Light Street pavilion. After a morning of desultorily shuffling from shop to shop with my college buddies Leslie and Wanda, we'd occasionally grab lunch there. My personal favorite was a veggie pita, basically a gyro without the meat. If I remember correctly, a warm and fluffy Greek pita was piled high with a combo of lettuce, tomato, raw onion, and cucumber and glopped with tzatziki and feta before being wrapped in aluminum foil to make the messy sandwich easier to handle. So simple, but so good, and something I could eat once a week without getting bored.

I'm also quite fond of a good chicken salad sandwich, and by "good," I mean chicken salad made with a mix of white and dark meat, chopped into fairly small pieces, a generous but not overwhelming amount of mayonnaise, and bits of minced onion. The seasoning can be simple salt and pepper, or something fancier like curry powder and mango chutney. The bread can be rye or a nice artisan loaf. Chicken salad sandwiches I am currently fond of include, believe it or not, the ones found at the University of Maryland Medical Center's Aramark-run cafeteria. The sandwich ladies are not skimpy with the scoops of salad, and they carefully remove the tough part of whole romaine leaves before arranging them carefully on your sandwich. And it's a steal at about $4. Mary Mervis, in the Lexington Market, also makes a fine chicken salad sammie. I like to make it a Chicken Smith by requesting a salty addition of a slice of Smithfield ham. This sometimes confuses the sandwich makers, so tell them to slice and weigh the ham and add the price to the sandwich.

Oh, there are so many more I can mention here: the asparagus and goat cheese wrap from the SouperFreak food truck, any number of tasty grilled cheeses (love the Fresco at Grilled Cheese & Co.), Attman's corned beef! and let's not forget Maryland's potential state sandwich - the soft shell crab. And burgers - but they're a completely different post....

What are your favorite sandwiches?

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Chef Competition Looking for Local Talent

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

Competition Dates (5:30pm – 9:00pm) are as follows:

June 17, 18, 24, 25
July 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30
August 5, 6, 19, 20, 27 (Final Championship Match)

Complete Rules and Regulations of the Tournament can be found at:

Chefs may apply online at:

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Sticky Rice

The last couple of times Mr Minx and I went out for sushi, I was disappointed. While both meals featured very fresh fish, they seemed bland overall. Mr Minx says we probably just ordered badly, but I think I was just ready for something completely different. So on a recent excursion to Fells Point, I decided Sticky Rice would be the ideal place for lunch.

The restaurant looks like a dive bar on the outside, and like a dive bar on the inside, albeit one with a beautiful wooden bar and bar back and a gussied-up gold-painted traditional pressed tin ceiling. The classic rock blaring in the background and basketball on the TV belies the menu of traditional and not-so-traditional sushi items.

We vacillated between an appetizer cheekily called "sticky balls" and its vegetarian cousin, "garden balls," before choosing the former. Made with a thin skin of tofu with a pocket cut into it, the balls are stuffed with tuna, crab, and rice flavored with Sriracha before being deep-fried until crisp and topped with scallions, wasabi dressing, eel sauce, and tobiko. They are unlike any inarizushi we've ever had in the past, and I must say - a vast improvement. (Inari skins are typically soaked in a sweet soy syrup before being stuffed with plain rice; I find them to be far too sweet.) We liked the delicate crispness of the tofu, and the balance between the spicy rice and the two sauces.

We also had two rolls. One was a special, the Scorpion roll, stuffed with fried soft shell crab, plus avocado and cucumber. The other was called "Drawn-N-Buttered," an inside-out roll with tempura shrimp, lump crab, cucumbers and scallions. Sounds fairly normal, but it was served with a garlic butter dip. Who knew that garlic butter was such a fine accompaniment to sushi? We found ourselves dipping both rolls into it. Our only quibble is that the butter might have been tastier if it were hot, or at least warm.

A nice touch: the carrots and greens on the platter were not merely a garnish but an actual salad topped with a bit of the usual tangy orange sushi restaurant dressing. It was a nice acid counterpoint to the richness of the butter sauce.

Sticky Rice proved a welcome respite from our sushi doldrums.

Sticky Rice
1634 Aliceanna Street
Baltimore, MD 21231

Sticky Rice on Urbanspoon
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Friday, April 12, 2013

Choice Bites 4.12.2013

Some "healthy" foods aren't quite as healthy as you might think they are....

Someone at Buzzfeed has nothing to do but hate on cereal. Here's a list of "16 Breakfast Cereals That Should be Obliterated." Really? Obliterated? Get a life.

Like to overeat at meals? Then Gluttony Pants may be for you!

Ever thought about using food scraps in your garden? Not as is, but as compost? Food 52 has a good, brief, article on three methods of composting, just in time for Spring planting and growing season.

Confused about regional bbq styles? These handy explanations make it easy to figure out.

This Tufts' student is the ultimate recycler: he eats food he finds in Dumpsters, and plans to open a cafe to feed other students.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nando's Peri Peri

Several months back I was invited to try one of the new Maryland branches of Nando's Peri-Peri, an international chain specializing in hot-pepper-marinated chicken. The location was a bit out of my way, so I declined. But then another one popped up near work, and I was able to check out their wares on one of the "mock service" days prior to the grand opening.

My date for lunch was my Dad, and he selected the flame-grilled chicken breast with sides of cole slaw and corn on the cob. I was briefly tempted by wings but didn't feel like smelling like chicken for the rest of the day. I instead opted for the butternut squash and couscous salad with sliced peri-peri chicken and grilled halloumi cheese.

Dad enjoyed his meal. The chicken was tender and the corn was yellow. Yay for yellow corn! (I am not a fan of white.) The slaw was a bit...hmm...not bland. It just needed a little kick. It's mayo-based, but on the tart side, and if you're used to sweet slaw, it might be a disappointment.

I loved my salad. The base was baby spinach that was topped with red onion, green and black olives, grilled corn, and couscous, plus big chunks of roasted butternut squash. The vinaigrette was slightly sweet and had a bit of heat. The chicken was a sliced version of Dad's, and the slabs of halloumi (which looked just like the chicken) had been grilled. Really tasty.

The chicken comes in a range of heat levels, from "plain-ish" to "extra hot." Our food was ordered "plain-ish," and had a very mild chili kick. We tasted the lemon & herb and medium sauces as well; the former was mild and had a nice herby flavor and the latter was not particularly hot to my palate.

There are a handful of choices for dessert at Nando's, and of those we chose to sample the peanut butter cupcakes. At $3.25 each, they're a bit pricier than found elsewhere - and smaller - but the chocolate cake was moist and the peanut butter frosting was rich and creamy and full of peanut butter goodness.

While we enjoyed the food, it seemed a bit spendy, at least for lunch. For instance, that chicken breast - supposedly a whole butterflied and deboned breast, a tad larger than the size of my palm - is $8.95 all by its lonesome. One side raises the price to $10.95, and with two sides the chicken costs $12.85. A half chicken, bones included, is more of a bargain at $9.45. My salad was $7.95, not including the chicken. That was an additional $2.95. The halloumi was an extra $2.25, for a grand total of $13.15. I suppose I've been spoiled by food trucks, but I don't normally spend anywhere near that amount for lunch. But, it was good, and I'm still tempted to try their wings.

Nando's Peri-Peri
421 West Baltimore St
Baltimore, MD 21201
Nando's Peri-Peri on Urbanspoon

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Monday, April 08, 2013

Mari Luna Bistro to Host Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

The Mari Luna Bistro, the newest member of the Mari Luna Restaurant Group’s family of restaurants (, is set to be the home of the 2013 Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament.

Renowned for filling the void of authentic Mexican food in the Baltimore region, each of the Mari Luna Restaurant Group’s three area restaurants are family owned and operated by the Luna family, which includes executive chef Jaime Luna, his wife Alba, and their daughters.

The roots of the Mari Luna Restaurant Group reach back to the City of Mexicali in Baja, California where Jaime Luna was raised on traditional Mexican cooking. When he came to the United States in 1984 he began a 20-year career in the culinary field working with nationally acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore markets, including Michel Richard at Citronelle and Steve de Castro at Babalu Grille. In 2004, he opened his first namesake restaurant, Mari Luna Mexican Grill. Today, the Mari Luna Restaurant Group consists of three restaurants, the Mari Luna Bistro in Baltimore, and the Mari Luna Latin Grille and Mari Luna Mexican Grill both in Pikesville, Maryland.

Combining the warmth of the Luna family with sophisticated and delicious food preparation for a unique dining experience, the Mari Luna Bistro is the perfect place for the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament. The Bistro brings authentic Mexican food to the cityʼs cultural district. Highlights of the menu include seven styles of guacamole, each served in a traditional stone mortar called a molcajete, extensive taco offerings made with fresh corn tortillas, and house made white and red sangria. The basement of the Bistro called the Luna Lounge is a unique private party room with a built in bar and dance floor.

The Mari Luna Bistro is conveniently located right in the heart of Baltimore’s cultural district, just steps away from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Joseph Meyerhoff Hall, and the Cultural Center stop of the light rail.

Tickets for all 15 dates of this summer-long single-elimination chef competition are available for purchase at:  Tickets for most matches are $25 for general admission and $45 for judging experience (including all taxes). In addition, the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament donates 10% of the net proceeds of each ticket sold directly to their charity partner Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland (

Competition Dates (5:30pm – 9:00pm):
June 17, 18, 24, 25
July 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30
August 5, 6, 19, 20, 27

Event Timeline:
5:30 p.m. – Happy Hour with Complementary Appetizers and Wine Tasting, plus Drink Specials
6:30 p.m. – Cold Prep Begins for the Competition
7:00 p.m. – Chef Competition
8:00pm – Judging Begins

For more information about the events, go to the Tournament's Web site:

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

World's Worst Customers?

As a restaurateur, would you cater to the whims of patients customers who not only present a list of "directions" for the kitchen, but also brings their own box of pasta?

Make sure to read the comments, too.

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What's New at The Rusty Scupper

The Minx and I were recently asked to a media dinner at The Rusty Scupper to try out some of their new menu items. The restaurant's amazing view of the Inner Harbor is reason enough to pay them a visit, but General Manager Edward Prutzer and Executive Chef Mark Miranda have challenged themselves to come up with new and interesting dishes that will give diners a reason to keep coming back.

We started off our meal with salads: I chose the chopped salad while the Minx tried the spinach salad. The iceberg lettuce in my salad kept all the elements cool and refreshing and the herb parmesan dressing was appropriately light so as not to overwhelm the bright flavors. With summer coming, I can see this as a popular item. I could've gone for a little more applewood smoked bacon but, then again, who couldn't?

The spinach salad was more complex with a nice balance between the sweet (pear, candied walnuts and blueberries) and the savory (gorgonzola and roasted onion vinaigrette). The Minx especially liked the generous portion - this is no wimpy salad.

Chopped Salad - Iceberg lettuce, avocado, applewood smoked bacon, bleu cheese, 
red onion, tomatoes, scallions, and herb parmesan dressing 

Spinach Salad - Bartlett pears, candied walnuts and roasted onion vinaigrette,
 gorgonzola, and blueberries

Next we shared an appetizer portion of fried oysters. A fairly simple dish, the oysters were nonetheless fried perfectly in a delicate batter that did not seem oily or heavy. The oysters within the GBD (golden brown and delicious, of course!) coating were moist and succulent. So far, we were feeling quite pleased with the meal and we hadn't reached the entrées yet.

Fried Oysters

As a sucker for anything made with pasta, I couldn't pass up the Cajun crab linguini. The cream sauce was decadently rich, perfectly complimenting the silky linguini, and the ample lumps of crab meat provided the taste of the sea. What I was missing was the bold spiciness I associate with Cajun food, but I'm sure the chef must tailor his seasoning to a broad audience and my tolerance for heat is probably higher than many.

Cajun Crab Linguini - Jumbo lump crab, tomatoes, peppers, garlic with Cajun cream sauce

Every time we've had cedar planked salmon in the past, we're always disappointed to find that none of the smoky cedar flavor has been imparted to the salmon. This is not the case with The Rusty Scupper's version, however. The salmon was heavily infused with rich cedar smoke flavor. It was also moist and juicy, with a crisp edge, perfectly cooked. We learned later that Chef Miranda has developed a special smoking technique that allows the fish to absorb the smokiness. I think this dish was the revelation of the whole meal.  

Cedar Plank Salmon - Wild rice, vegetables, lemon butter sauce

As you can imagine, we were well and truly stuffed, but we couldn't walk away without dessert. I ordered the key lime tart while the Minx went for the Fuji apple bread pudding. The word "tart" is a bit of a misnomer; it's really more like a mini-cheesecake. The richness of the cheesecake filling, perched atop a thick graham cracker wheel, is toned down by the bright citrus of the key lime. Swirling your bites through the refreshing raspberry coulis also lightens this rich dessert.

Key Lime Tart - Graham cracker shell filled with southern style key lime custard, 
served with raspberry coulis and fresh whipped cream

The bread pudding was an enormous pile of gooey goodness, drowning in pecan praline sauce. The side of vanilla ice cream was almost overkill, but it did provide a creamy counterpoint to the pudding. So filling and satisfying was the meal, we ended up taking most of our dessert home in a doggy bag.

Fuji Apple Bread Pudding - Topped with dried cherries 
and pecan praline sauce with vanilla ice cream

With so many new restaurants opening in the area every year, it's easy to overlook some of the landmark places in favor of the next big thing. With their focus on updating their menu on a regular basis, you can almost see The Rusty Scupper as an ever new restaurant located in the same exquisite location.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Lazy Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja, which means "old rags" or "old clothes" in Spanish, is a classic Cuban dish of shredded beef seasoned with tomato, bell pepper, and cumin. It's traditionally made with flank steak, which shreds nicely into long rag-like pieces, but have you seen the price of flank steak these days? I'm sorry, but I'm not paying $13 for a chunk of meat that I'm going to stew into oblivion. Instead, I paid less than half that amount for a 2lb chuck roast, which I cut into cubes. If you're really lazy, you can buy pre-cubed stew beef, but that's going to cost a few more dollars.

There's a perfectly lovely recipe for ropa vieja in our book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, provided by Marta Quintana, owner of Havana Road in Towson, but it had too many steps for me on this particular Sunday. While I love to cook, sometimes I just like to throw things in a pot and see how it turns out. That probably makes me a perfect candidate for a slow cooker, but I have no room for another oversized kitchen gadget. Stovetop cooking is more my bag, anyway.

So to cut down on the steps, I cheated with a jar of Goya sofrito, which already contains onions and peppers and seasoning. Marta uses brisket, and doesn't brown it first, so I didn't brown the chuck. I just "chucked" it into the sofrito which I first mixed with water and seasoned with a couple of bay leaves and lots and lots of garlic. After stewing for a couple of hours, the meat was very tender. I put it aside while I thickened and further seasoned the stewing sauce with tomato paste and spices. Some ropa vieja recipes call for sliced olives and pimento, so I pulled two more jars out of the pantry and added some of each. After shredding the meat, I put it back into the sauce and cooked it a bit more before a final seasoning with salt, pepper, and lime juice.

It was delicious.

Lazy Ropa Vieja

1 6oz jar Goya sofrito
2 lbs chuck roast, cut into cubes, or 2 lbs beef stew meat
2 bay leaves
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
1/2 cup chopped pimento or roasted red bell pepper
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro and green onion (optional)

Dump the sofrito into a stew pot and add about 2.5 jars' worth of water (rinsing out any sofrito clinging to the sides while doing so). Add the meat, the bay leaves and garlic, and cover the pot. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cook for about 2 - 2.5 hours, or until the meat is fork tender.

Remove meat to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Turn the heat up under the pot of remaining liquid and add the tomato paste, cumin, and paprika. Bring to a boil, whisking well to combine. If there seems to be an excess of liquid, keep at a boil for a few minutes until it reduces to about 2 cups. If there's less than 2 cups in the pot, turn the heat down to a simmer, adding a little bit of beef stock, if necessary. You want the resulting dish to be like a very thick stew, but not dry.

Shred the meat with two forks and return to the pot. Stir in the green olives and pimento. Cook for an additional half hour. Remove from heat and add the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice, plantains, and black beans. Or just rice. Garnish with cilantro and green onion.

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Monday, April 01, 2013

Kloby's Smokehouse

At a recent signing event for our book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, we got into a conversation about bbq. One fellow lamented the diminishing size of a portion of ribs, saying full racks these days seem about as big as half racks in the past. We had to agree. Of course, talking about ribs worked up a hankerin' for them, so the next day we drove down to Howard County for what turned out to be a Festival of Meat celebration at Kloby's Smokehouse.

While Andy Nelson's is more local and mighty tasty, Kloby's has far more variety, which we think makes it worth the drive. One of our favorite things there are the chicken wings, whole wings that are smoked before being fried and doused in the bbq sauce of your choice. Our favorite are "dirty and old," which are double fried and double tossed in a Buffalo bbq sauce and then dusted with a soupçon of Old Bay. They're super crispy, with meat that practically falls off the bone, and mildly spicy. They're also a bit messy, but well worth the extra napkins.

We also tried the fried okra this time, which comes with a dip of Kloby's "Bama Pearl" bbq sauce, a mayo-based concoction flavored with horseradish and other seasonings. The okra was tender and creamy, but the coating was uninteresting and not unlike that on a commercial onion ring.

Since ribs were what we came for, ribs were what we ordered (among other things). St Louis-style ribs (bigger than baby backs) were available on this particular evening, so Mr Minx ordered a full rack, hoping there would be enough meat to take some home. And indeed, it was a nicely-sized slab of ribs that merited a large doggy bag. They were not quite fall-off-the-bone tender, but didn't require all that much work to eat. The smoky, dry-rubbed, meat was perfect eaten as is, without the application of any of the three Kloby's house sauces our server brought to the table.

Those sauces - Carolina, Chipotle, and House - were good, in a tomatoey way, and not too sweet. The peppery Carolina was our favorite, but we didn't feel the need to use any of them.

I couldn't decide whether I wanted beef or pork, so I ordered the 2-Meat platter with beef brisket and pulled pork. For $15, I got at least a pound of meat, and after putting away three wings earlier, I could only finish a couple of forks-full. The brisket was fatty and luscious, as was the pork; the latter had a bit of sweetness from being tossed with a modicum of sauce. Both were really delicious, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Our sides were all pretty good, too, although my collards and cole slaw both needed a hit from the salt shaker. Mr Minx's green beans were perfectly cooked, still a bit crunchy but not at all squeaky, and his mac and cheese was a gooey classic. Cornbread was too-sweet Yankee-style, so I ate mine last, like dessert.

Kloby's sells all of their meaty goodness by the pound, too, and their prices are at least a couple of dollars cheaper than Nelson's, so that also might make it worth a drive down to Laurel to check out their wares. Especially those wings.

Kloby's Smokehouse
7500 Montpelier Rd
Laurel, MD 20723
(301) 362-1510

Kloby's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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