Friday, January 31, 2014

Oyster Bay Grille

I've been sorta curious about Oyster Bay Grille since it received a measly 1-star from Sun critic Richard Gorelick. Urbanspoon users give the place a 40% positive rating, with only five votes. This prompts me to ask two questions: 1) is it really that bad?; 2) does nobody know the restaurant exists?

When they posted a tasty-sounding menu for Restaurant Week, I thought it was high time we found out for ourselves. Our dining experience was as uneven as expected.

The place is handsome, with dark paneled walls and soothing blue-gray tones. The space is oddly-shaped, however, and the bar area runs the length of the restaurant. Diners looking for a quiet experience will be disappointed when Happy Hour rolls around with its crowd of Loud Talkers and People Who Have to Yell to Be Heard Over Them. (Honestly. Nobody really cares to hear about your crappy job and your idiot boss. Stop drinking so much and shut up.)

We had already determined we would order items from the Restaurant Week menu, but took a gander at the regular menu as well. Ordering oysters at a place called Oyster Bay Grille seemed like a fine idea. We decide on two each of the blue points, Delaware Bay, and Honeysuckle varieties listed on a chalk board in front of the oyster shucking station. Our server immediately ran off to place the oyster order and then lingered behind the far end of the bar until the oysters were ready, rather than return to take the rest of our order. We expected service to be spotty for the rest of the evening, and while we had other issues, our waiter ended up being fine.

On to the food, which was better than expected from a 1-star restaurant. The man in charge of the kitchen has some skill, which was apparent in the lovely hash of sweet potatoes, andouille, asparagus, and corn that accompanied my fish. However, billed as "crispy-skinned," the rockfish was anything but. It was also unseasoned, but nicely cooked otherwise.

Mr Minx's lamb duo featured two fat and well-seasoned lamb chops and a chunk of fatty lamb belly on a dollop of lentils lightly flavored with cumin. The chops were perfectly-cooked and had a nice smoky grill flavor. I thought it was a very nice dish.

Starters of tomato-based crab soup and fried oysters were fine, if unremarkable. The remoulade that came with the oysters did not taste of the promised goat cheese, but the breading on them was nice and light. The soup needed a bit more spice, but it was pleasant enough.

The online menu suggested that a chocolate mousse flavored with Thai basil would be a dessert choice, which was intriguing. Instead, there was a chocolate cake that was like a cross between a brownie and a pound cake, flavored with cinnamon and cayenne, and served with a bit of caramel. The serving was ridiculously small (hopefully a non-Restaurant Week portion would be bigger), but it was pretty good.

The dessert that was more intriguing, the "candied bacon caramel cheesecake," turned out to be a combination of elements that didn't necessarily work together. The menu listed a pistachio brioche crust, Charlottetown Farms chevre, and goat milk caramel. The crust was indeed nutty and reminded me of baklava, but the cheesecake itself was lemon-flavored, which made the bacon seem like an intrusion. There was no hint of goat (the lemon was too strong), and the sauce on the plate seemed more like dulce de leche than a goat caramel. Take away the lemon, or keep the lemon and remove everything else, and it would have been fine.

So...while the food was good, between the noise level and the oyster incident, the visit was disappointing. Take from that what you will. The place seemed pretty busy, so our staying away isn't going to hurt business any.

Oyster Bay Grille
1 East Joppa Road
Towson, MD 21286
(443) 275-7026

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dining Out on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is one of the restaurant industry's biggest nights, and some notable local eateries are offering special menus.

Clementine's four-course Valentine's Day dinner is $50. I want to eat all of it, including the cauliflower and Gruyere bisque, smoked pork belly confit with spiked peanut sauce, and crispy potato-crusted halibut. Check out the menu here. Clementine is located at 5402 Harford Road in Hamilton. Call 410-444-1497 for reservations.

Cunningham's, the new Bagby Group restaurant in Towson, has a three-course Valentine's Day menu for $59 (wine pairings an additional $29). The special menu is here. A la carte items will also be available. Call the restaurant at 410-339-7730 to make a reservation. 1 Olympic Pl, Towson, MD 21204.

Fleet Street Kitchen is offering a $69 3-course seating from 5-7pm (menu here) and an $89 4-course second seating from 7:30 - 10:30pm (menu here). Fleet Street Kitchen is located in the old Bagby Furniture building at 1012 Fleet Street. Call 410-244-5830 for reservations.

Fork & Wrench is doing a four-course tasting menu for $60, excluding beverages, taxes, and gratuity. Selections include fricassee of escargot with a hazelnut flan, roast squab with Szechuan poached pears and chestnut gnocchi, foie gras wonton soup, and other tempting choices. The Fork and Wrench is located at 2322 Boston Street, Baltimore, MD 21224. Reservations can be made by calling 443-759-9360.

Waterfront Kitchen has a three-course menu priced at $69 ($99 with wine pairings). Menu items include roasted and stuffed marrow bones, cassoulet, and dark chocolate panna cotta. The whole menu can be viewed here. Reservations can be made by emailing, visiting or calling 443-681-5310. Waterfront Kitchen is located at 1417 Thames Street in Fells Point.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off Season 3 Episode 4 Recap

I almost didn't watch Rachael vs Guy last night. As it was, I missed the first eight minutes of the program, but I'm pretty sure I didn't really miss anything of consequence. From what I gathered when I tuned in, the celebs were making chicken wings.

At that time, Judy was mixing plum jam into something, and Herschel was turning the drum part of his wings into lollipops by scraping the meat into blobs at one end of the bone, leaving the bare bone poking out. Not sure what the time limit was for the challenge but Guy sure did seem to be in a hurry, the way he nagged his team.

After barking at Herschel to hurry up, Guy barks at Tiffany to see where she was in the process. "Dry rub?!" "Done!" "Brine?!" "Done!" I'm pretty sure Tiffany didn't have time to properly brine her wings, and they looked mighty naked to me. Perhaps she dry rubbed them before brining, and the brine washed off the rub? In any case, she was putting her whole wings in a hot cast iron pan and then placing another hot iron pan on top. Nice technique, but a bit much for wings, which are mostly bone. Predictably, they are burning in spots so she has to start over.

Off on the sideline, we have our Special Celebrity Guest Judge for the day, Alex "Cranky Pants" Guarnaschelli. She's making bitchy Chopped-style remarks to some pretty boy sitting next to her. Penn is doing classic Buffalo-style wings, with bleu cheese and celery sticks. She thinks he's making things hard on himself because everyone knows what those are supposed to taste like, and if he f***s it up, well....

As we all know, Vanilla Ice is a vegetarian, so he's bravely making fried tofu lollipops in an incendiary sauce that makes his team mates Herschel and Tiffany cough.

Time is up and judging commences. I'm surprised to see that it's only about 17 minutes into the show and secretly (or not so secretly) hope that this week's episode will miraculously last only half an hour. The celebs plate their wings and take them to Pretty Boy and Cranky Pants.

Ma Brady's wings were baked (I missed that whole action sequence). Despite that, they were pleasingly crispy. Her soy honey glaze could have been hotter, however. Penn's classic Buffalo wings turned out very well, and Cranky Pants appreciates that there was some real acid in the sauce--something she's always looking for. (Personally, I think she's got enough in her already.) Judy's plum teriyaki wings were pretty, garnished as they were with sesame seeds and scallions, but the sauce was too sweet. Vanilla's fried tofu blobs-on-a-stick were anything but vanilla, and were a bit too hot for Cranky Pants. Herschel's wasabi ginger wings were terrific, but Tiffany's were all technique and no flavor.

Each team gets an MVP again this week, and those two folks also get immunity. Immunity? I guess that means the episode will have a second challenge. Insert frowny face here. Herschel and Penn earn the title, and that gets each of their charities (Patriot Support and Opportunity Village, respectively) $2500.

Before the second challenge, the pretty boy has to "go back to GMA." Turns out he's Josh Elliott from Good Morning America (I don't know these things--I'm at work at 7:30am, not watching TV.) He worked for ESPN before going to GMA, which apparently makes him an authority on chicken wings. (Srsly?) Either that, or Cranky Pants refused to be alone with Rachael and Guy.

The second challenge in this "the Super Bowl is coming up so let's make game day food" episode (although it was probably filmed before the 2013 season even started) is to make "elevated" stadium grub. The celebs go off with their respective mentors to their ginormous cushy trailers to get told what to make. Each of the non-immune folks (Tiffany and Vanilla, Florence and Judy) is responsible for a dish, plus there will be a team nacho presentation. Herschel and Penn will act as sous chefs for their team, and likely take on the bulk of the nachos.

Over in Rachael's trailer, Judy suggests crab cakes, which of course she has never made because shellfish are not Kosher. Rachael thinks she's brave; I think she's stupid, but then I feel that way about most people. Florence, who grew up on a farm as one of 10 children, wants to make corn on the cob. Because who doesn't want to eat a butter-dripping ear of out-of-season corn while wearing mittens and sitting in 20°F weather? Also, that's not so elevated, so she's going to do a shrimp salad, too. Because shrimp salad and corn are a natural pairing! As for the nacho part of the program, Rachael suggests that they do them New York deli-style, topped with corned beef, sauerkraut, and mustard. My blood runs cold at the thought, but whatever--I don't have to eat them.

Over on Guy's side of the street, in his giant air-conditioned bus that probably gets a whole 12 miles per gallon of hair grease gas, Vanilla Ice forgets his vegetarianism momentarily and volunteers to make lobster rolls. Guy tells him to make lobster mac and cheese, instead. Tiffany wants to do a chicken and waffle sandwich, which Guy seems ok with. He then declares that their nachos will be individual nacho bites, which doesn't seem all that special to me.

Out on the cooking field (they seem to be in some sort of sports arena for this exercise, possibly somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey once again), Vanilla starts throwing the word "voodoo" around (in place of last week's "ninja"), and immediately burns the roux for his cheese sauce while mugging for the camera. Guy makes him throw it out and start over, much as he had to do with his "brittle." The lobster mac and cheese has morphed into a lobster mac and cheese sandwich, and a cute round toasting iron has miraculously appeared from nowhere. I have to wonder how that happened....

Producer: Hey Guy, mac and cheese is a great idea, but your team is supposed to make a toasted sandwich.
Guy: Dude, mac and cheese with lobster is the fast bus to Flavor Town! It's a party on your palate! It will be the bomb diggity dog do! Plus--my show. We make what I want. You do want to continue getting that paycheck, don't you?
Producer: But you made me buy that iron--with my paycheck--at that flea market in Podunk, Arkansas, when we filmed one of the new episode of Diners, Dipshits, and Douchebags. Remember? When I indulged you yet again on your never-ending quest for Three Stooges memorabilia? I was going to use that money to buy something for my wife, but you insisted on that damn sandwich iron.
Guy: Dammit. Can we use it next week instead? Or just give it to Rachael. I think it's her turn to lose.
Vanilla Ice: Did you say "dog doo?" It's "voodoo."

Over on Rachael's side, Penn is cutting up what appears to be canned corned beef. And I'm going to be sick. Judy is mixing her crab and seasonings together rather violently, like its cake batter. Definitely no Maryland-style lump crab cakes going on over there! And she's dumping all sorts of crap in the bowl--grainy mustard, seasoning that looks like Old Bay, Tabasco--because she says she knows these judges "love flavor." Rachael suggests that she fry up a tiny cake and taste it for seasoning before making larger cakes for judging. Judy says she likes the flavor, but she doesn't look convinced.

Back on Guy's side, Tiffany confesses that she's never made waffles before. And this is how Guy tests the consistency of her batter:

<shudder> ::::runs to the bathroom::::  <vomit>

Vanilla says while the thought of eating animals sickens him, seafood is ok. He's whacking up the raw (aka live) lobster into chunks before tossing them into a pot of boiling water. Like any good carnivore who has no regard for the feeling of the animals whose flesh they enjoy. He's tells us he's being a "vegiquarium" today. Ooo-kay. Then he's layering cheese sauce and mac and cheese and lobster and more cheese sauce between little rounds of bread and toasting the whole shebang. The result resembles Smucker's Uncrustables, the ultimate food for lazy people. (I mean, come on. If you can't be bothered to smear peanut butter and jelly on white bread for your own offspring, you really need to reexamine your lifestyle.)

Judging time! Grumpy Pants has to tie the feed bag on yet again.

Flo's shrimp salad is a bit saucy (which is what she wanted) but otherwise quite delicious. Her corn on the cob topped with cilantro pesto is good, but not quite what anyone considers "elevated." Judy's crab cakes are a mush-fest, and Grumpy Pants wants more texture. Even a few shells would have been good. Vanilla's lobster mac and cheese grilled cheese is wrong on so many accounts, but GP really loves it. Tiffany's chicken and waffles are pretty good if you eat the components separately, but together the combination is a bit sweet, and the waffles are gummy. There were some of Guy's knuckle hairs in there, too, I'm sure.

Rachael thinks the New York corned beef and sauerkraut nachos are a clever idea, but then they were *her* idea, weren't they? But Grumpy Pants doesn't like getting bites of pickle, mustard, and sauerkraut. What? Too much acid? Team Guy's individual nachos sport some of Vanilla's tasty "voodoo" cheese sauce, but Herschel over-smoked the chicken, making their nachos less-delicious than Rachael's. Even with canned corned beef.

Grumpy Pants is then left to make the winner/loser announcement. She chooses Guy's team as the winner. Surprisingly, that means Rachael's team has lost two weeks in a row. I suppose that doesn't matter when both teams have the same amount of members, as they do this week. I predict Guy's team will lose next week, whether it needs to or not.

Judy manhandled her crab meat, and there was perhaps a bit too much flavor going on between the crab cakes with their mustard and whatnot and their Sriracha horseradish aioli accompaniment. So bye bye Judy.

I'm betting she called her therapist immediately thereafter.

Next week? I dunno...I didn't stick around to watch the promo. Fifty minutes of the show was plenty for me, thanks.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Carrot Cake Blondies

I love carrot cake, but don't always want to go through the whole rigmarole of making the typical layer cake and frosting, or doing math to make a single layer cake. I had been wondering what blondies would be like with some carrots and spices added. Would they be chewy, or cakey?

Turns out, when a quarter cup of bourbon is added to the batter, they turn out cakey. And super boozy. Probably not the thing I should be taking to work for a lunchtime dessert, but....I did. Kinda takes the edge off of things, you know?

Carrot Cake Blondies

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup bourbon
1 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
1/8 baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups shredded carrot (approximately two medium carrots)
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the egg until well combined, then add the vanilla and bourbon.

Mix the dry ingredients and spices in a bowl. Combine with wet ingredients. Stir in carrot and walnuts.

Bake for 25 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.
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Friday, January 24, 2014

Shuck You, Too.

Sometimes I have to wonder why people go into the restaurant business.

It was Restaurant Week, and I chose a place we had never been to before because I thought their menu sounded good. The restaurant had a nice selection of raw oysters, so we decided to supplement our prix fixe dinner with a sampling of three varieties.

We could see the oyster shucking station from where we were seated. To my eyes, it didn't seem as though the shuckers had any idea what they were doing. They were wrestling with the bivalves, and each one seemed to take a while to open. I hoped that we wouldn't get a mangled mess.

When the oysters arrived at our table, accompanied by cocktail sauce, mignonette, and a grilled lemon wedge skewered by a single oyster fork, they looked quite nice. They were very fresh, but two of the three I ate had bits of dirt or shell inside and Mr. Minx ate one with grit in it as well. Moreover, the oysters hadn't been disconnected from their shells. Mr Minx found this out the hard way when he cut his lip on one of the shells during a vain attempt to slurp the creature out (the one at the top of the photo, which has quite a gnarly-looking edge on it.)

Blood ensued. Why does the tiniest cut seem to produce so much blood?

When a busser came by to remove our empty plate, I pointed out my husband's blood that was swirling around in the oyster shell. Our server had come back by that time and when he saw the carnage, the two of them scampered off together.

In a few moments, the man who had shucked the oysters came by, ostensibly to apologize. Now, let me give some pointers on apologies for restaurants. Restaurant Apologies 101, if you will. The very first thing to do is to say, "I'm very sorry." The next thing to do is to offer recompense. "Let me take the oysters off the check," or some such. And that's it. Then go away and let the diners finish their meal. Sticking around to make excuses like, "they were hard to open," and "this is why we put oyster forks out" are not acceptable. (Especially when there was only one oyster fork present, and it was jammed into the rind of a lemon. Were we to wrestle it out and then share it?) You work at a damn oyster bar--learn how to shuck a fucking oyster. Bleeding customers are not happy customers, and Mr Minx spent the rest of the meal in a foul humor. Especially when another man, presumably an owner or manager who had been randomly wandering, came around to say he saw something going on at our table. He did not offer an apology or anything else; it seemed that he was there simply out of curiosity. When each of these men returned to our table yet again, individually, to ask "you ok?" later on during the meal, it must have been the thought of liability niggling them. It just plain annoyed us.

Granted, the first man did say he was sorry, and he offered a free drink. Because alcohol on a cut would feel really swell. There were other things he could have done to make the restaurant seem more hospitable: send a warm damp napkin or paper towel to the table to help clean up the blood; offer a bit of Neosporin from the restaurant first aid kit. (Surely there was such a thing on hand?) I suppose we could have requested these things, but really, I don't think we should have had to. A restaurant's primary reason for existence, other than to feed people, is to make people happy. At the very least, not piss them off.

I did notice that the one who had shucked our oysters never went back behind the oyster bar. He wasn't dressed like an employee, so he was probably another owner "helping." He sure helped us decide never to go back, that's for sure.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Trio at Roy's

Roy’s Restaurant will be offering a special dish they're calling the Winter Trio, featuring Hoisin-Glazed Duck, a Grilled Kalbi Beef Short Rib, and a Singapore-Style Crab Cake with Asian vegetables and noodles. It will be available for a limited time--Monday, Jan. 27 through Sunday, March 23--at the low price of $26.95.

The Winter Trio will be available at all locations, except Hawaii and Pebble Beach. To try it for yourself, make a reservation at your nearest location via the Web,, and use promo code “TRIO.”

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off Season 3 Episode 3 Recap

This week....

...the celebs meet Rachael and Guy at a huge Fairway supermarket in Woodland Park, New Jersey. There they are told they have 2.5 hours to shop, cook, and package a product that represents them. They'll need 30 packaged products, as well as enough samples for 50 guests.

This week, each team will have an MVP; for some reason Guy keeps emphasizing that the MVP's charity will win $2500 today. Today. How is this different from the last two episodes, when the MVP's charity got the same amount of cash? Were representatives from each charity somewhere in the Fairway, ready to receive a check? would the checks be awarded on the Today show? or was this just some lame way to raise some excitement on this lame show?

The teams go off to their honkin' huge trailers to talk about their products. Why such enormous vehicles? With four people per team, a mini van would have sufficed, and gotten better gas mileage too.

Tiffany, who is one of the few contestants every week to make her own decisions, tells Rachael she's going to make a "red" sauce. Herschel is going to make a sauce, too, one that's versatile enough to be served with chicken, fish, and vegetables. Florence is another saucy wench; she'll be working on a spicy Italian pasta sauce that she's already named "Mama Flo's Hot Marinara." Rachael suggests that to make it spicy, she should add red wine. That left me scratching my head. Must have been a bad edit. Jake, for whom being cheesy is a way of life, wants to make chocolate-dipped fruit. Rachael, after rolling her eyes, suggests salsa instead. Because this challenge is all about creating a product that represents the celeb. Apparently in Jake's case, that celeb is Rachael....

Because of the great success with his dessert last week, Vanilla Ice has decided to go the sweet route again, this time making "Ice Ice Brittle." He's never made brittle before, so this could be interesting. Or it could be absolute shit. Judy is really taking the "make something that represents you" instruction to heart and is making an old family cookie recipe, no matter what Rachael says. And finally, Penn is making a sea salt chocolate sauce with a touch of spice.

After meeting, it's time to shop! Florence still has a broken foot, plus she's 79 years old, so she gets one of those scooter contraptions with a shopping basket attached to the front. She can't reach things on the upper shelves, so she flirts with male shoppers to get them to fetch things for her. She's no dummy.

After shopping, it's time to cook!

Herschel is a self-proclaimed Renaissance Man who not only played football, has a fifth degree black belt in tae kwon do, competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics as a member of the 2-man bobsled team, and owns a food service company, he also danced with the Fort Worth Ballet. In 2012, he even talked about starting a political career. The man also has Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, and has written a book about it. The man is amazing. But he can't do math. Doing the calculations to increase the original sauce recipe for his "Famous 34 All-in-One Paint" by several gallons is kicking his ass. I can sympathize--math isn't my strong suit either. But neither are football, ballet, or martial arts, so he's at least three up on me.

Commercial break! In addition to the seemingly daily marathons of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Douchebags, the show also has a new 11pm time slot. The tagline is "don't go to bed hungry." Oh no, if I watch DDD that late, I'll just go to bed nauseated.

Back from the break, we find that Vanilla Ice is making "ninja" brittle. And if by "ninja" he means not cooking the sugar long enough for it to caramelize because he doesn't have a candy thermometer and has no clue what he's doing, then ok. Guy tastes his first batch of ninja undercooked sugar and pronounces it garbage.

Jake is putting peaches in his salsa, which he pronounces, "salza." Rachael doesn't like that idea at all, but Jake is using the peaches and that's final. He thinks the result is "awesome."

Judy is hell-bent on making her family cookie recipe, which she is calling "pugochles" but I can't find that term anywhere. The dough is supposed to be refrigerated for 2 hours before baking, and of course there's no time for that. Instead, Judy puts the dough in the freezer, which is way way far away from where the celebs are working. The ovens are apparently even farther away, which causes Judy to grumble about why nothing is convenient. Um, because people in the bakery department don't normally do their prep work in the deli department?

Penn is really happy with his chocolate sauce, to which he's not only added chocolate, but also both Hershey's and Nestle's cocoa, along with something hot and spicy. Also probably a good quantity of sweat. He says if his son Zolten were there, he'd ladle his sauce directly into the kid's mouth until he threw up. His son is named Zolten--isn't that enough abuse?

Vanilla Ice is still having issues with his brittle, finally caramelizing the sugar enough but pouring it out too thickly. He doesn't want anyone to break a tooth, so he just puts it in the food processor and makes dust out of it.

As the cooking time draws to a close, the celebs frantically spoon and funnel their respective glops into small jars. They plan to "sell" these to unsuspecting customers who should have been told to immediately throw the stuff out since the jars were likely not sterilized and I wasn't seeing any refrigeration, either.

Jars filled, the celebs become hucksters, offering samples to customers and begging them to trade tokens for product. The Special Guest Celebrity Chef Judge Person this week is Madison Cowan, who sure seems to enjoy being on reality competition shows.

The consensus seems to be that Jake's "salza" is too sweet and needs a kick. Penn's chocolate sauce does have a kick and is "amazing." Judy is telling bad jokes to sell her cookies, which are deemed "fabulous."

Florence is begging for tokens, but her sauce is "perfect." Tiffany is telling people she's "Tiffany from the 80s," and her spicy sauce seems popular, as does Herschel's, which looks like mayonnaise but people seem to like it anyway. Guest judge Madison Cowan thinks it's "wicked." Vanilla Ice's brittle is too pulverized and there's not enough of it to taste what with all the ice cream and chocolate syrup he's dishing out with it.

Rachael, Guy, and Madison discuss their favorites, then leave Madison to make the ultimate decisions. Penn and Herschel have earned the most tokens from the guests, which makes them the MVPs. I didn't see any checks being handed to anyone, so apparently "today" didn't mean "right now." Or even today.

Rachael's team, despite having three well-received dishes and only one disaster, is declared the loser. (Guy's team lost last week and we can't have the same team lose members two weeks in a row!) Jake's "salza" was the bomb, and I don't mean that in a good way, so he gets to fly his plane to some other reality show.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

In 2012, I made caramels for the first time; they turned out so well, I promised myself I'd try other candies in 2013. I don't know why I drive myself so crazy with making holiday treats, but I do (especially considering how few gift recipients I have). I'm sure cookies and fruitcake would suffice, but even more sweet stuff is better, right? Fudge! Brown sugar caramels! Mini chocolate orange loaf cakes! Bacon jam! And pumpkin seed brittle!

Why pumpkin seeds? Because my dear brother has nut allergies, but can eat seeds. I searched the Interwebs for a fairly simple recipe and came up with this one at Food 52. I didn't have enough allspice on hand, so rewrote the recipe using the amount I used. I also added a bit of cayenne pepper, for a nice kick.

A few days after Christmas, my Dad called and said, "What is this stuff I am eating? It's crunchy and spicy and like heaven in my mouth!" So apparently my alterations were a hit with the parental unit. I thought it was pretty fabulous, myself.

If you try it, don't skimp on the salt.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle (adapted from Food 52)

1 cup shelled pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Kosher or sea salt

Pour the pumpkin seeds into a dry skillet. Turn the heat on to medium-high and toast seeds, shaking pan frequently, until seeds have started to turn from greenish to brownish and are plump. Remove from heat and pour seeds on a plate to cool.

Measure out the spices and toss with cooled pumpkin seeds.

Combine butter, sugar, and maple syrup in a saucepan over medium heat. Using a candy thermometer, boil mixture until it reaches 280°F. Carefully pour in seeds and spices and stir. The mixture may clump up a bit but keep stirring until it smooths out. Continue cooking over medium heat until the thermometer reads 300°F. If the mixture smells like it's burning before it reaches 300°, remove from heat anyway.

Once the candy has reached 300° (or smells like its burning!), pour onto a Silpat-covered cookie sheet and spread out to a thickness of about 1/8" - 1/4". Sprinkle with sea salt while it's still warm.

When completely cook, break into pieces. Store at room temperature in tightly covered containers for a week or two.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Myth & Moonshine

Ever wonder what it would be like to sample a dozen or so kinds of moonshine and moonshine cocktails, followed by a ton of food? Sounds like the premise for a fab new show on the Discovery Channel, no? It actually describes a recent dining experience we had at a year-old bar/restaurant in Canton called Myth & Moonshine Tavern (originally Moonshine Tavern), where owners Shanna Cooper and Jake Millisock wined (moonshined) and dined us until we could barely stand without support.

I know, speak for yourself, Minx.

Our little group met at the bar, where we were invited to order drinks from the vast array of moonshine on the menu (some of which are house infusions).

Now, when I say "moonshine," I'm really talking about unaged white whiskies. Real moonshine, the stuff cooked up in backyard stills, is still illegal. However, Tennessee has legalized commercial moonshine production, and there are several brands on the market, some of which can be found in Maryland liquor stores. There are also some whiskey companies that have jumped on the moonshine bandwagon, including Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.

Legal moonshine may seem like an oxymoron, but let's just ignore that for now, shall we?

Mr Minx, a fan of the Manhattan, ordered the White Manhattan, a combination of High West silver oat whiskey, Bianco vermouth, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and Regan orange bitters. It was indeed completely colorless, but very flavorful, if not completely Manhattan-like. I went for a drink called the High School Crush (Ole Smoky cherry moonshine, fresh lemon juice, Coke) which was sweet and easy to drink, like an alcoholic cherry Coke. Armed with our cocktails, we went into the dining room and sat at a table lined with still more cocktails and shot glass samples of variously-flavored moonshines.


These two drinks are the Fizzy Daddy (left), made with Catdaddy moonshine, Coke, and ginger ale. The other drink is a Russian Bride and contains Kahlua, Rumchata, and more of that Catdaddy stuff. That was our favorite, by the way. Catdaddy moonshine is flavored with vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon and is pretty damn delicious. (And can be found at Beltway Fine Wines!)

Other moonshines on our side of the table included shots of Midnight Moon Apple Pie, and moonshines flavored with butterscotch and fruit punch. Also included was a shot of Tim Smith Climax, made by the star of the Discovery Channel show, Moonshiners. He's gone legit, and his original moonshine is sweet and clean-tasting. Other flavors that made their way around the table included peach, pink lemonade, and pumpkin pie, all of which were smooth and quite tasty.


Now, we didn't just drink. We sampled an assortment of appetizers, including deviled eggs topped with crawfish...

...blackened crab dip...

...a spinach-topped flatbread...

...and something called Mushroom Manchego toast, which was a pile of mushrooms served guessed it...toast topped with Manchego cheese. As a mushroom-o-phile, this was my favorite dish of the evening. Just give me a bowl of mushrooms and a couple shots of Catdaddy, and I'll be a happy camper. Oh, I'll take some of that crab dip, too, while you're up.

And then there were entrees. Among those our group sampled were the non-traditional, rice-free "Maryland-style" jambalaya served with a dollop of very rich grits.

And a fine shrimp and grits.

I had ribs, which were a special that night. The half-rack was very tender and the sauce was, happily, not too sweet. It's bed of mashed potatoes was very rich, yet only about half as rich as those grits.

Mr Minx chowed down on a bacon cheddar cheeseburger flavored with Guinness and accompanied by a pile of well-cooked fries. 

And, despite being full and half (mostly) drunk, we were served sweets, too. We were brought all three of the restaurant's house desserts, including a huge slab of dark chocolate brownie, a filo-wrapped baked banana, and unusual cinnamon roll hush puppies.

It really was quite the feast.

Now, nobody needs to eat and drink quite as much as we did at Myth & Moonshine (especially when one has to get up at 5:45 AM the next morning!) but we recommend a trip to sample some tasty hooch and an appetizer or three.

And then drink lots of water and take a couple aspirin before bed.

Myth & Moonshine
2300 Boston St
Baltimore, MD 21224
(410) 327-6455

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