Monday, September 30, 2013

International Sake Day

One of our favorite local restaurants, PABU, is celebrating International Sake Day all through October. On Tuesday, October 1st, they'll kick off Sake Month with the launch of a month-long Sake Happy Hour, featuring complimentary abbreviated Sake 101 classes taught by sake sommelier Tiffany Soto, as well as complimentary sake tastings. The restaurant will also highlight signature sake cocktails like the Cobra Kai and the Super X, and offer special pricing on sake by the glass and bottle. If you're not familiar with sake, these are great introductions to the world of this traditional and delicious Japanese spirit.

Executive Chef Jonah Kim will introduce a sake-influenced version of their award-winning Satori tasting menu to be accompanied by various sake. On Thursday, October 10, PABU will host a Kubota Sake Dinner with limited seating. Kubota has been brewing sake for more than 400 years, and their Senshin, an ultra daiginjo and competition batch sake, will be part of the dinner pairing.

We had the regular Satori tasting menu a while back, and highly recommend it. Here are some photos to whet your whistle.

"happy spoon" & izakaya appetizers
oyster, uni, ikura, ponzu creme fraiche, lotus root, seaweed salad, "goma-ae" with sesame
pabu wing "nagoya style" & pork spare rib
red chili glaze, japanese mayo
skewers grilled over japanese binchotan
tsukune "chicken meatballs," negima, skirt steak, sweet garlic, eringi mushroom
michael's "chicken noodle" soup
ramen noodles, rich chicken broth
And if you don't know what "daiginjo" and "competition batch sake" is, then you might want to enroll in a Sake 101 class. This month, Tiffany Soto will be holding them on October 5th and 12th. For those of you who have already taken the Sake 101, there will be Sake 102 classes held on October 19th and 26th and will cover the art of sake pairings with food.

For more information visit or call 410.223.1460. To make reservations for sake education courses or the Kubota Sake Dinner call Shannon Toback at 410.223.1464 or email her at

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Herb & Soul

The stretch of Joppa Road between Providence Road and Loch Raven Boulevard has become the area we frequent most often for dinner. There's Noodle Charm, Spice & Dice, Gino's, Mo's, and now, just around the corner on Loch Raven (Yakona Road), there's Herb & Soul. We paid our first visit to the restaurant on one of those days when neither of us felt like making dinner. As I checked out the restaurant's web site, I noticed they had extended their Baltimore County Restaurant Week menu for another week; that seemed like a sign from God.

It started out as a carry-out and catering operation behind a convenience store, but when the store moved out, Herb & Soul snatched up the remaining space and became a full-service restaurant that offers lunch and dinner, with live entertainment most nights that includes comedy, poetry, and music. The space is large and open, and the decor is eclectic. The few tables and chairs range from old church pews to bright green-upholstered seats. It's all very homey, like an impromptu dinner party held in someone's club basement.

The menu is Soul Food with a green twist: Herb & Soul uses sustainable organic produce, grass fed and free range meats, and they even recycle their cooking oil. Oh, and the food is pretty amazing.

After we ordered, our server brought us our glasses of lemonade (the restaurant is BYOB) and a bowl containing two sweet potato biscuits. Hello there, sweet potato biscuit! Where have you been all my life? Sweetened with a touch of blackstrap molasses, these biscuits are prepared by one of the owners, who loads them with butter and love. They are moist, slightly sweet, vaguely cinnamony, and taste like Autumn. They've quickly become my favorite baked good in the world.

The first two biscuits are complementary; extras will cost you $1 each.
But before you open your wallet, there's plenty more food coming.
As it was Restaurant Week, we had appetizers, entrees, and dessert. Mr Minx ordered the chicken and waffles. The chicken was cage-free, with a light and crisp coating. The waffle was Belgian-style, light and fluffy and still crisp, flavored with sweet potato and drizzled with a maple syrup infused with rosemary.

Chicken & Waffle
I ordered the orange-chipotle braised pork belly, and expected a few chunks of pork belly on a plate. What I received were three rather hefty "sliders," each containing a nicely-sized slab of pan-seared, moist, and lightly fatty braised pork belly and a bit of green. The buns were toasted, and there was a dab of chipotle sauce on each one. The heat was at the perfect level for me, but I could have done without the buns, as they muffled the flavor and texture of the meat.

Orange-Chipotle Braised Pork Belly
Mr Minx is a sucker for pasta, and the penne with kale pesto and garlic tofu meatballs sounded too unusual to pass up. The meatballs were very garlicky and tender, and if I had not known they were made of tofu, I might not have guessed. The pesto had a very fresh and green flavor, but could have used a bit more salt. 

Penne Rigate; kale pesto with garlic tofu meatballs
I had the free-range Old bay fried chicken with mac and cheese and sauteed squash and onions. Both entree portions were enormous, and I did the best I could with mine. I managed to finish two of the four piece of chicken (leg, wing, partial breast, partial thigh) about half the very cheesy and somewhat addictive mac, and most of the veg, which still retained a nice crunch. Like Mr Minx's chicken, mine had an almost ethereally-light coating that shattered with crispness. It was perfectly seasoned and piping hot.

Old Bay Fried Chicken (Freebird Farm Chicken)
And then there was dessert.

Mr Minx chose the apple and mango pie eggrolls. Think back to the days when a McDonald's apple pie was a real treat. The filling was always incendiary, and the crust super crisp. These eggrolls (spring rolls, actually) had those same molten/crispy qualities, but of course tasted far better. The fruits inside were cut into a tiny dice and still had a little texture, and the caramel sauce on the side just gilded the lily.

Apple Mango Pie Eggrolls
Remember when I said that sweet potato biscuit was my new favorite baked good in the world? I lied. It's actually the beignets at Herb & Soul. Ok, so they're technically not a baked good, as they're deep fried, but damn are they good. They are light and fluffy, with huge air pockets inside, almost like choux pastry that accidentally ended up in the Fryolater. So good, I barely used the brown sugar caramel dip, although that was pretty tasty, too.

Couldn't finish the beignets, so they got to share a doggy bag with my leftover chicken. As I said, the portions and Herb & Soul are large! In addition to the terrific food, the service was attentive - we never had to ask for lemonade refills - and everyone there was extremely friendly. We're definitely adding this restaurant to our regular weeknight dinner rotation.

Herb & Soul Gastro Cafe
1702 Yakona Rd
Parkville, MD 21234
(410) 668-1886
Herb & Soul Gastro Cafe on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes

It's nearly October, and we still have plenty of tomatoes on the vine, but most of them The weird summer of early rain/lower humidity slowed tomato growth down, so we have been eating more of them green than ripe. That's ok - fried green tomatoes are a delicious treat.

I didn't feel like wrestling with the flour container, which we keep on top of the cabinet we use as a pantry, so I used masa, a bag of which was easily reached. Seasoned with Old Bay, it served the same purpose as flour, coating the tomatoes as the first step in a crunchy crust. I didn't notice the difference, and was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a corny flavor. Of course, this might have been because I served the tomatoes with cheese grits, which have plenty of corny deliciousness.

To top it all off, I did a riff on the chipotle aioli that the Gypsy Queen food truck puts on so many of their items. It's smoky, spicy, a little sweet, and absolutely delicious on pretty much anything. Well, maybe not chocolate cake, but I've never tried it, so who knows?

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 green, unripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4" slices
1 cup masa
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs, plus more if necessary
vegetable oil, for frying
salt and pepper

Dip tomato slices into masa, then egg, then panko. Fry in a bit of vegetable oil until crisp and browned on both sides. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with smoky mayo.

Smoky Mayo

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle en adobo, de seeded and finely minced
dash garlic powder
pinch sugar
pinch Old Bay seasoning
large pinch smoked paprika
squeeze lemon juice

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cheesy Grits

1 cup grits
4 1/2 cups water
4 ounces of cheese - I used soft goat cheese and sharp cheddar, about half and half
2 teaspoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Cook grits according to package directions. Stir in cheese and butter and add salt and pepper to taste.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Birroteca Birthday Celebration

Go! Have fun! Eat good food!

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Quiche and Tell

We had refrigerated pie crusts. We had eggs. We had mushrooms. We had half a gallon of half & half (Mr Minx and I each put one in the shopping cart and didn't notice until we were unpacking the groceries at home). It seemed like a good time to make quiche.

I haven't made quiche in a long, long time, and I can't even remember if my last attempt was successful or a big disaster. This attempt was somewhere in between.

My first mistake was to forget to line the pie shell with foil before pouring in the rice I use as a pie weight. I discovered my glaring omission when I attempted to pour the rice out of the crust and found a goodly portion of it embedded in the bottom. As I was rubbing the (hot) rice out of the (hot) crust while attempting not to burn myself on the (even hotter) pie pan, a couple of pieces of side crust decided to break off and fall onto the counter.

At least the actual blind baking portion of the program went well. The crust was browned and didn't shrink much at all.

I replaced the crust as best as I could, then filled it and baked it. It looked lovely when it came out of the oven (as evidenced by the photo above) but it was impossible to slice neatly. The beaten egg and half & half mixture had seeped through the crust and glued it to the pan.

No worries. I just scooped it out with a big spoon. It still tasted pretty great.

Mushroom Quiche

Pie shell of your choosing
1/2 cup sauteed onions
1 1/2 cups sauteed vegetables (I used mushrooms, asparagus, and jalapenos)
3/4 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar jack, with some leftover bits of mozzarella and feta)
5 eggs
3/4 cup half and half
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Prebake pie crust, with pie weights (and foil!), for about 20 minutes at 375°F. Remove weights and allow shell to come to room temperature.

Put the onions and vegetables in the shell, top with the cheese. Beat the eggs and half and half in another bowl until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg. Pour egg mixture over vegetables.

Bake at 375°F for about 45 minutes, until custard is set.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Roy's My Prix Fixe Mondays Giveaway

Back by popular demand is Roy's My Prix Fixe Mondays! Every Monday for the rest of the year, diners can choose any appetizer plus any entree for $29.95*. It's an amazing value, considering that appetizers average $12 and entrées $29. 

Roy's invited us in for dinner to check out the promo, and we jumped at the chance. Roy's has long been a favorite restaurant of ours; we've celebrated countless special occasions there and attended several wine dinners.

The Baltimore location has been open for 12 years now and it's still going strong. There's a new chef in the kitchen, Matt Ellis, who worked as a sous chef at Roy's Tampa location before coming to Charm City. In addition to the classic Roy's menu of Hawaiian-inspired dishes like the misoyaki butterfish and macadamia-crusted mahi mahi, Chef Ellis has added dishes with a Baltimore twist, like the "Crab Pretzel." Imagining a typical soft pretzel glopped with cream-cheesy crab dip, we were quite surprised to see that Ellis' version was closer to a lobster roll. The pretzel roll-style split top bun was toasted and buttered and filled with crab in a creamy cheese sauce.

“Crab Pretzel” Lump Crab Meat, White American Cheese Fondue
It was outrageously good, and the generous portion is perfect for sharing. The lobster potstickers were nice as well, with a uniformly-browned top crust and a miso butter sauce standing in for the typical soy and sesame dip.

Crunchy Golden Lobster Potstickers, Spicy Togarashi Miso Butter Sauce
We also had the misoyaki butterfish, the rich fish plated gorgeously with swirls of three sauces flavored with wasabi, chile oil, and misoyaki. The pork tenderloin entrée was fork tender and served with a heap of smashed potatoes and a spicy gravy, continuing Roy's record of impressing us with their meat dishes as well as their fish. We also tried dessert, which is not included in the My Prix Fixe Monday special, but who can pass up Roy's famous melting hot chocolate soufflé? We also tasted one of the pastry chef's latest creations, a caramel pretzel bread pudding with honey graham ice cream. It was lighter than the typical bread pudding, had a nice crunch from the pretzel topping, and we really loved the ice cream.

Am I making you hungry? You can have a meal like this at Roy's too, mostly for free! Minxeats has one $50 gift card to give away to one lucky winner! All you need to do is leave a comment at the end of this post, and you're golden. Please make sure you use a valid e-mail address or leave some way for us to contact you electronically if you are the winner.

The Fine Print:

Winners must be 18 years of age or older and a resident of the 48 contiguous United States.
A valid e-mail address must be included.
Contest ends September 30, 2013.
Winner will be notified via e-mail.

Roy's has locations in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, and Texas.

*This offer excludes Sushi/Sashimi, Surf and Turf, Shellfish Sampler, and the Canoe Appetizer for Two.

** 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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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sausage and Peppers

When I was a kid, I had a strong dislike for bell peppers. The only ones I had ever encountered were green, and those made me belch. Not only that, I didn't like the way they made everything they touched taste like green pepper. About the only thing I really liked that contained the green menace was my Dad's sausage and peppers. He cooked the peppers forever at a fairly high heat until they blackened and shriveled. Once mixed with tomato sauce, they basically disintegrated.

I was probably an adult already when I discovered that green bell peppers were unripe red, yellow, or orange peppers, and that once a pepper ripened, it was milder and less belch-y. They're even less gas-inducing if they're skinned, so I almost always roast bell peppers before using them (except, of course, if I am using them raw, which, er, I don't do). One exception is when I make sausage and peppers. Like Dad, I cook the peppers for a long time, almost until they're unrecognizable. I don't char them like he does, but I cook them for a very long time until they almost dissolve into the sauce.

Dad's Sausage and Peppers

3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced thinly
1 lb Italian sausage, sweet or hot or a combination of the two
1 24-26oz jar of pasta sauce (plain marinara-style is best) or a quart or so of homemade sauce
handful of basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade

Cut each pepper in half, removing stems, seeds, and core. Slice into thin strips.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the pepper strips, and a pinch of salt. Cover pan and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The peppers should be very wilted at this point and fairly brown on the edges. Add the onions and another pinch of salt. Cover pan and cook an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onion appears to be browning too quickly, lower the heat.

Add the sausages. Cook, turning the sausages once in a while, until they are browned on all or most sides.

Pour in the sauce and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for another 30-45 minutes or until everything has amalgamated to your taste. Stir in the basil about halfway through cooking time, reserving some for garnish.

Serve over pasta or on sub rolls with mozzarella cheese.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dining Out for Life

I've had the banner and the sidebar graphic up for quite a while now, but in case you haven't noticed them, this Thursday, September 19th, is Dining Out for Life. This annual event raises tens of thousands of dollars for Moveable Feast, the organization that feeds home-bound people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses.

To participate, all you have to do is dine out at one of the 50+ restaurants that have agreed to donate 20% or more of their take for the evening to Moveable Feast. The list includes Woodberry Kitchen, Clementine, Heavy Seas Alehouse, Laurrapin Grille, Pappas, Birroteca, and Koco's Pub. Check them all out here, then make a reservation and dine out for a worthy cause.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

José Andrés Foods

Most foodies know the name of José Andrés, the charming and amusing Spanish chef who started his U.S. restaurant empire in Washington, DC. Those who haven't eaten at Jaleo, Oyamel, Minibar, Zaytinya, etc., might know him from his PBS show (one of my favorites), Made in Spain. And those who don't know him at all may soon find him in the local gourmet shop or grocery store.

José Andrés Foods line of extra virgin olive oils and sherry vinegars, seafood tapas (including sea urchin roe), olives, and potato chips (yes, potato chips!) will be hitting the shops soon. I got to try several items from his line at the Fancy Food Show in July.

The Galician mussels come in a simple sauce of olive oil, red pepper, onion, and tomato, and are tasty hot or cold. I had to stop myself from sucking down two or three. I also enjoyed the potato chips, which are very thin, light, and crisp. I'm sure he includes them in his line because they'd be perfect in his cheater's version of tortilla espagnole. Commonly made with sliced, fried potatoes and egg, the version in Andres' Tapas cookbook uses potato chips. There are also olives, capers, four different extra virgin olive oils, more seafood including white tuna, and sherry vinegar.

Right now, his products can be ordered from his Web site. They're not cheap ($6 for 6.7oz of chips!) but I feel they are definitely worth a try.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Another Sweet Giveaway!

I don't know about you, but I'm not all that convinced that life is like a box of chocolates, if I may be allowed to quote fictional characters. But life *with* a box of chocolates at hand always seems at least a little bit sweeter to me.

If you remember, I gave away a box of Summer Collection Macarons from Sucré A Sweet Boutique back in June. That giveaway proved to be so popular, I can't resist another one.

So we already know that Sucré makes yummy macarons. They also make king cake, traditionally served between January 6 and Mardi Gras, lovely specialty cakes, and chocolates! If you'd like to sweeten up your life a bit, Sucré is giving me a fifteen-piece box of their yummy chocolates to give away to one lucky winner!

The Indulge Chocolate Collection contains three pieces each of five flavors. Wedding Cake is white chocolate and toasted almond. Rhum is a bittersweet ganache flavored with spiced rum. PB&J is pretty self-explanatory, as is Malted Milk, and finally there's the Hazelnut Cream with hazelnut-spiked semi-sweet ganache.

Drooling? I am. If you want these yummy chocolates, just leave a comment at the end of this post. Please make sure you use a valid e-mail address or leave some way for us to contact you electronically if you are the winner.

The Fine Print:

Winners must be 18 years of age or older and a resident of the 48 contiguous United States.
A valid e-mail address must be included.
Contest ends September 30, 2013.
Winner will be notified via e-mail.

* 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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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Peeling a Hardboiled Egg

Apparently we've been peeling eggs wrong all these years.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

On second thought...don't.

I know this post comes really really really late in the season, but I attended my first Orioles game in about four years just this past weekend. When I was younger (much younger), I was a rabid fan and went to as many games as humanly possible. It became even easier to attend games when the family moved within walking distance of Memorial Stadium. But since the Os moved downtown, I probably haven't been to a dozen games. Part of the reason is that the park is a pain to get to, and part of it is that the Os sucked for what, 14 consecutive years?

They're not sucking so much now, so I was eager to take advantage of some free tickets. I figured while at the game, I could check out the new and improved concessions available on Eutaw Street. Along with stalwart Boog's Barbecue, there's Stuggy's hot dogs, Gino's, and Rick Dempsey's eponymous restaurant in the warehouse.

After a semi-crappy $20 lunch and insanely-priced beer, I recommend that game attendees with shallow pockets take advantage of the fact that MLB allows patrons to bring food and drink in from home.

I was so intrigued by the idea of a Gino's Giant topped with a crab cake, I had to order the Camden Giant, despite the fact that it came with fries and cost $16.50. The burger came out fast; it was piping hot, fresh, and tasted much like the Giant that I regularly order and pay $6 for at the free-standing Gino's on Joppa Road. Except for that crab cake. About 3" in diameter and not worth the $4 more the Camden Giant cost over the regular Giant, the "crab" cake could have been made of any fish-like substance. Even cat food. It had an off flavor, was very fishy, and should scare most out-of-town baseball fans away from our fair city's favorite seafood treat.

My brother chose to sample the bacon on a stick sold at the Jack Daniel's booth. The thick slab of tender pork belly, coated in a sweet glaze with hints of dried herbs, was a more reasonably-priced $5. And there was nothing fishy about it. That heart attack on a stick was mighty tasty, and almost made us forget that my small soda cost $4.50 and his 12oz cup of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon cost three dollars more.

While the food prices were ridiculous and the Os lost the game, the real reason I'm not planning to go to another game any time soon is the Maryland MTA. Not only did the hordes of angry post-loss stadium evacuees have to wait 20 minutes for a train, but the conductor announced that he was dumping us at North Avenue just as we were approaching Cultural Center (a mere two stops prior). I immediately intuited that the "bus bridge" assigned to carry the abandoned passengers to the next working station would be: 1) a grand total of two buses to transport two train's-worth of standing-room-only passengers; 2) a clusterfuck. Because that is the way of the MTA. I scrambled to reach Mr Minx by phone, and after three disconnects (thank you, Virgin Mobile!) managed to telegraph that we'd be alighting at Mount Royal and awaiting his arrival.

:::deep breaths:::

He arrived quickly and we were able to continue our journey home in a civilized manner.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cooking Classes at Waterfront Kitchen

In July, Mr Minx and I attended a cooking class taught by Jerry Pellegrino of the Waterfront Kitchen. It was held on the Promenade, on a perfectly perfect evening, and we had a blast. So we can heartily recommend his upcoming classes, all held on Saturday, September 28th. It promises to be a full day of fun, but you can opt for spending just part of the day with Chef Pellegrino.

All three cooking classes are hands-on and taught outdoors by Chef Jerry Pellegrino on Waterfront Kitchen’s Promenade in historic Fells Point at 1417 Thames Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. Reservations are required and seating is limited. For reservations, contact Sara at 443-681-5310 or

7 - 10 a.m. Fells Point Farmers’ Market Cooking Class

Meet Chef Jerry at the restaurant at 7 am for coffee, than walk with him to the Fells Point Farmers’ Market where he will purchase fresh, seasonal ingredients from area producers. Stroll back to the restaurant to pop the corks on some special sparkling wines and cook an inspired brunch. The cost is $59/person.

1 – 4 p.m. Promenade Fish Grilling Class

Enjoy a lovely waterfront class outdoors, while learning the secrets of how to grill fish properly. Chef Jerry offers professional tips and tricks, along with delicious food and wine. It’ll be a perfect fall afternoon. The cost is $65/person.

6 – 9 p.m. Promenade Beef Grilling Class

Learn about all those excellent cuts of beef you’ve been wondering about, and how to expertly grill them. Chef Jerry shares professional tips and tricks, along with his simple methods for grilling perfection, all with tastings of delicious food and wine. The cost is $75/person.

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Monday, September 09, 2013

Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese

Way back in 1999, my friend LaRaine and I went to Disney World for eight long days. They were made even longer by the fact that I had left my fiancé home while I was off gallivanting on teacups and monorails and watching god-awful animatronic bears and presidents and shit. We also ingested a good number of Calippo ice pops to beat the enervating heat and ate entirely too many buffet meals - both for breakfast and dinner.

We did have one very good non-buffet meal, at my instigation. At the time, I was absolutely enchanted by Emeril Lagasse. I had never had access to cable television until Mr Minx and I started dating, and whenever I was at his house, I made him sit through endless episodes of Emeril Live! as I day-dreamed about eating at one of his restaurants. That dream came true at Emeril's Orlando.

LaRaine and I basically ordered one of each - soup, salad, appetizer, entree, and dessert. There were gumbo and turtle soups, fried calamari with olive salad, barbecue shrimp, roast chicken, a "study of duck" with seared breast, confit leg, and foie gras, and banana cream pie. We were able to finish the soup and salad courses, but slowed down once the appetizers came and said uncle at the entrées. We took a shopping bag full of leftovers back to the condo, and they made for a couple of tasty lunches over the next few days. I even took the confit leg home to my sweetie, because I knew he had never eaten anything like it before.

There were some low points to the meal, but not many. The banana cream pie was a gummy mess, with floury custard and an underbaked crust. On the other hand, the mushroom bread pudding accompaniment to the duck dish was outstanding, and I've made variations on that theme many times at home. Another dish I've recreated is the salad of spinach with a warm andouille sausage dressing and rounds of nut-crusted goat cheese. It was hearty and meaty and probably why I couldn't eat very much after that.

The first time I made this salad, I couldn't find andouille sausage, so I substituted sweet Italian sausage. I also skipped the nut-crusting bit, choosing instead to add the cheese and the nuts to the salad separately. The next time I made the salad, I used andouille and found that I preferred the flavor of the Italian, so that's what I use every time now.

It had been a while since I made this dish - seven or eight years at least. But it popped into my head recently and I decided to make it as an entrée, topping it with pan-sautéed seafood to give it a bit more substance. It was as delicious as ever.

Salad with Warm Sausage Vinaigrette, Walnuts, and Goat Cheese (adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse)

2 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
3/4 cup chopped onion
olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups each fresh baby spinach and baby arugula, washed and patted dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
3 ounces goat cheese, cut into small pieces (I like Purple Haze, flavored with fennel pollen, which goes nicely with the Italian sausage)

In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage over medium heat, breaking it up with the back of a spatula until it's in small pieces. If the sausage starts to stick to the pan, add some olive oil (pork is so darn lean these days!) After about 5 minutes, add the onions and garlic and cook for 7-10 minutes longer, stirring frequently, until onions have started to brown and the sausage is fully cooked. Add the vinegar, scraping the pan to loosen any stuck sausage or onion bits. Whisk in about 1/8 cup of olive oil and remove from heat. Taste dressing and add salt and pepper.

Toss the spinach and arugula with the warm dressing in a large bowl. Season with more salt and pepper. Mound the salad on serving plates, top with walnuts and goat cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a main dish.

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Friday, September 06, 2013

Artifact Coffee

The first time I visited Artifact Coffee, my initial thought was that it looked like a smaller, more casual version of Woodberry Kitchen. That, of course, is no coincidence since both restaurants are owned by Spike Gjerde, and their rustic, crafty decor reinforces the notion that everything you eat here came from local farms and is skillfully prepared.

After the Union Mill building in Woodberry was remodeled for apartments, Artifact Coffee was created to give the tenants, primarily retired teachers, a place to have their morning coffee and a light breakfast. Special emphasis was placed on the coffee, and one can visit the restaurant on Fridays at 10 am for a "coffee cupping" to sample their new coffees. The menu expanded to daytime offerings of soups, salads, and sandwiches, and more recently, Artifact Coffee began dinner service Wednesday through Sunday starting at 5 pm. To compliment dinner, there is a selection of local craft brews, wines, and specialty cocktails.

The Minx and I went to Artifact Coffee for dinner recently and started our evening with a Duckpin Ale made by Union Craft Brewery located near the restaurant. In fact, Union Craft Brewery is one of the participants in Union Graze, a farmers' market hosted by Woodberry Kitchen and held in the area on Friday evenings from 4:30 to 8 pm through November 22. Along with the Union Craft beers, there is live music and produce provided by Five Seed Farms and Apiary.

Back to our dinner. For appetizers, the Minx ordered the roasted carrots and Japanese eggplant. Not a big fan of cooked carrots or eggplant, I opted for the griddled green beans. My green beans had a pleasant texture: slightly crunchy but without that squeaky quality that sets my teeth on edge. The toasted bread crumbs added a more definite crunch with the nutty brown butter providing that comforting depth of flavor and unctuousness usually missing in a vegetable dish.

Griddled green beans with toasted bread crumbs and brown butter
While I say that I'm not enthusiastic about cooked carrots or eggplant, I thought the Minx's dish was a fine example of those two vegetables. The carrots were firm without being hard, and their roasty flavor was not overly sweet like other cooked carrots I've had. The eggplant was soft and smooth with no hint of bitterness. The radish provided some crunch and the roasted garlic vinaigrette brought both umami and acid to the party.

Roasted carrots and Japanese eggplant, radish, roasted garlic vinaigrette
The waiter was highly enthusiastic about the Loaded Artifact Burger, so the Minx gave it a go. She asked for her burger to be cooked medium and the burger presented had a nice pinkness inside. It is amazing how much better a burger can taste when it is made with fresh, carefully raised beef. Such quality meat doesn't need much adornment, but the ample portion of melted cheese, fresh tomato, bacon, and toasted and buttered roll amped up the enjoyment factor nicely. I think the Minx would have preferred some fries over the strips of carrot, but it's okay to forego the extra fat and carbs once in awhile.

Loaded Artifact Burger: cheddar, bacon, marinated onion, house benne seed bun, vegetable ‘chips’
Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be ordering the burger or the pot pie (which looked delicious, by the way), so I thought I would be different and ordered the lamb sausage. Having a British grandfather made me a lifelong lover of lamb, and this sausage fulfilled my expectations. Lightly seasoned, the wonderfully gamy quality of the lamb shone through. The poached egg and rice were interesting additions as well. Once I broke the yoke and mixed the whole thing in with the rice, it took on a texture not unlike risotto. The yellow and orange peppers provided much needed acidity and their roasted flesh added some dimension to what could have been a fairly bland entrée.

Lamb sausage with roasted peppers, poached egg, and rice
Artifact Coffee is a place that is best visited when you wish to relax and spend some time away from the hectic world outside. They have one of the smallest kitchens I've ever seen in a restaurant (with the first induction grill ever used in Baltimore), so it's a miracle how Chef Adam and his crew produce such tasty dishes for so many patrons. However, miracles can take time, so it's best to order one of your favorite beverages, have some pleasant conversation with your dining partners, and enjoy the rustic decor.

Artifact Coffee
1500 Union Ave Ste. 114
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 235-1881

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

The other day, I found that I hadn't made adequate plans for dinner so had to whip something up from ingredients on hand. There were two fried chicken thighs and some baby spinach in the fridge, but that's not enough for two people for dinner. At least, not these two people.

I poked around in the cupboard and found a bag of pearl couscous, which made me think of the chicken salad with pistachios and couscous at Donna's. Only we didn't have pistachios. No worries - any nuts will do, really. The combination of chicken, greens, pasta, and nuts is earthy and satisfying.

Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

2 leftover fried chicken thighs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
pinch crab spice (or salt and pepper)
1 cup pearl couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 cups mixed baby greens per person
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Remove the coating and skin from the chicken thighs and place it, skin side down, into a large skillet. Cover pan and cook over medium-high heat, turning skin pieces once or twice, until dark brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.

While the skin is crisping, remove the chicken meat from the bones and tear into shreds. Mix the mayo, mustard, honey, lemon zest, and crab spice in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pearl couscous and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and stir to coat the grains with oil. Set pan aside and allow couscous to cool.

Blend together the three tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon and maple syrup to make a vinaigrette. Toss the baby greens with the vinaigrette until the leaves are lightly coated.

For each serving: Place a bed of baby greens on a serving plate. Top with a mound of the couscous (you might have to stir it with a fork, first, to break up any clumps) and a mound of the chicken salad. Arranged sliced avocado around edge of salad. Garnish with the pecans and some of the crisp chicken skin.

Serves 2-4

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Monday, September 02, 2013

Turkey Laab Burgers

I had purchased a pound of ground turkey with which to make some laab, a tasty Thai dish of seasoned ground meat. Then I remembered the two ciabatta rolls that were left in the freezer and offered Mr Minx the option of turkey burgers, instead. With laab seasoning, of course. I don't really like turkey all that much, finding it unpleasantly gamy, yet bland at the same time, so a goodly dose of chile sauce and lemongrass can only improve the stuff, don't you think?

Turkey also turns out some pretty dry burgers, so if you can swing it, add some chia seeds and water to keep the mixture moist. (I buy my chia seeds at

Turkey Laab Burgers

1 teaspoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons water
1 pound ground turkey (if you prefer chicken or pork, go for it)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2-3 teaspoons chile sauce (I used Sambal Oelek; Sriracha works too.)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons lemongrass paste (Gourmet Garden)
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 scallions, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the chia seeds and water in a small bowl. Allow seeds to absorb water, about 15 minutes. If you're using ground pork, you can omit this step.

Mix all ingredients well, including the soaked chia seeds. Put a tiny bit on a microwave-safe plate and cook for 20-30 seconds. Taste for seasoning. If the mixture needs more of anything - ginger, chile sauce, lime juice, etc. - add it now, and make sure there's plenty of salt and pepper. Turkey has a very strong flavor (I think) and it takes a bit to mask it.

Form meat mixture into 4-8 patties. Cook in a bit of olive or other oil over medium-high heat until cooked through and browned on both sides.

Serve on buns with fresh arugula, mayonnaise with a bit of Thai basil or cilantro mixed in, sliced tomato, and cheese if you want.

Serves 4.

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