Monday, March 31, 2014

Nutella Cannoli Dip

A recent dinner out inspired me to whip up this little treat. We were served mini cannoli stuffed with Nutella-flavored ricotta, and I thought, why bother with the cannoli shells?

I was originally going to make it for last weekend's Stitch 'n' Bitch, but everyone bailed on me. I made it anyway, and we ate it all ourselves.

A little tip for food geeks and people watching their weight. (Which is everyone, except me.) The more powdered sugar one adds to the dip, the better and thicker the texture. But sugar, of course, has calories. Ultratex 3, a thickening agent derived from tapioca, can deliver the same texture with far fewer calories. Unlike other starches, it doesn't need to be heated first and doesn't leave a starchy or gummy mouthfeel. Two teaspoons of Ultratex 3 is plenty for this amount of dip, allowing you to decrease the amount of sugar used to 1/4 cup.

Nutella Cannoli Dip

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Nutella
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 - 3/4 cup powdered sugar
Chopped hazelnuts, for garnish
Cookies and fruit, for serving

Combine the ricotta, Nutella, vanilla, and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in powdered sugar until it reaches a dippable texture--neither runny nor thick, somewhat like cooked pudding.

Speaking of pudding, one can certainly skip the dippers and serve this as a pudding.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Pulled Pork with Peaches

The February issue of Saveur magazine has several interesting recipes for peaches, which seems odd when there's snow on the ground. But canned peaches can be just as tasty; indeed the focus of the article was canning. And while I don't do any canning myself, Del Monte, Libby's, etc., does.

When I spotted a relatively inexpensive pork shoulder at the grocery store, I decided we needed to try the peach-braised pulled pork. Once home, I realized the recipe called for a 3 lb boneless shoulder, and we had just purchased one that weighed 8.5 lbs, bone-in. It also called for whole cloves, smoked paprika, and lager beer. We had ground cloves, no paprika, and a couple bottles of my brother-in-law's home brewed ale. So I do what I always do--make substitutions. Allspice works just as well as cloves when it comes to matching with peaches, and as long as the beer wasn't stout, it would be fine. As for the paprika--I could have sworn I had a big bag of it in the cupboard, but I suppose I'll have to order more from Penzey's or the Spice House. There's really no substitute, so I just skipped it completely.

I knew from the get-go that 3 hours wouldn't be enough cooking time for the porky behemoth we bought--but what would be?

Three hours into cooking, the meat was cooked but still a little tough. I decided to hack the shoulder into chunks, to help it along. By four+ hours, I was getting impatient and hauled the thing out of the oven. It was plenty tender, but not tender enough to shred with two forks. Instead, I chopped it up with a big knife, all the while sampling it to make sure it was good. I'm all about quality control.

The magazine calls for using only half a cup of the pan juices. There were at least 2 cups, and it seemed like a real waste to toss it (and the onions, garlic, and peaches within it) because it tasted so rich and porky. So I emulsified the whole mess with a stick blender, added half a cup of brown sugar and the rest of the peaches and peach syrup, and boiled it vigorously for about fifteen minutes. And instead of serving it with sauteed onions and peach jam, I made some slaw with brussels sprouts, because that's what we had.

It was great, but we had pork for days and days. And days. Not complaining, but 8.5 lbs is a lot of pork for two people.

Peach-Braised Pulled Pork, adapted from Saveur

3 tbsp olive oil
3-8 lb boneless pork shoulder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 allspice berries
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters
2 (12-oz.) bottles beer
1 (1-qt.) jar canned peaches in syrup, drained or use store-bought
1/2 cup brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325°.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a baking pan or dutch oven large enough to hold your meat.

Season pork with salt and pepper. Brown meat on all sides, about 10–12 minutes. Remove meat from pan and add allspice, bay leaves, garlic, and onion to pan; cook until browned, 6–8 minutes. Add beer; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan, until reduced by half, 10–12 minutes.

Return pork to pan and add half the peaches. Bake, covered, until pork is tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into pork reads 190°, 3–5 hours. Let cool. If pork is tender enough, use two forks to shred the meat, otherwise, chop it with a sharp knife.

Pour two cups of the pan juices, plus any solids (minus bay leaves), into a sauce pan. Puree with a stick blender. Add the remaining peaches and their juice and the brown sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for fifteen minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir chopped meat into the sauce. If you are using a huge shoulder, like we did, save some of the meat for other uses, like pasta sauce.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mediterranean Bean Dip

Before I started Minxeats in 1995, I had a knitting blog. Yes, that would be a blog all about knitting, and no, that's not just a thing for old people to do. While knitting is fine as a solitary pursuit, it's often more fun to knit in a group situation. I started a Stitch 'n' Bitch this year so I could commune with my fellow knitters and also to instruct non-knitting friends in the craft.

We meet once a month to knit and chat. So far, the meetings have been at Casa Minx, and I've provided the snacks. I figure thick dips, when eaten with veggies and dry dippers like pita chips, are the easiest and cleanest snacks for people who are using their hands for other things (that would be knitting.) Unless they dip their fingers, or drop a loaded chip onto their laps, yarn and needles should stay clean.

That is the hope. It has worked so far, but the year is still young!

Last month I made some tzatziki with feta in it, and a lovely orange bean dip flavored with preserved lemon and roasted red pepper. Both were a big hit.

Mediterranean Bean Dip

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 jarred roasted red bell pepper
1 tablespoon diced preserved lemon or 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
Extra virgin olive oil
Pinch cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
Honey or agave syrup
Small handful of basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade

Place beans into a food processor with the bell pepper and lemon. Pulse to create a smooth puree, adding as much olive oil as needed to complete the job (a couple tablespoons at least). Season with cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. If the dip seems like it needs a little something, dribble in a tiny bit of honey or agave syrup to balance the lemon. Before serving, stir in the basil.

Serve with pita chips, sugar snap peas, carrots, raw bell pepper slices, whatever floats your boat.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Maryland Bacon Festival

The inaugural Maryland Bacon Festival will be held on Saturday, Aprill 26th, from 12pm - 10pm at Rash Field in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (A bacon festival at Rash Field? Shouldn't the name be changed to "Rasher" Field for the occasion?)
This extraordinary culinary adventure will be all the fun of a bacon-themed block party mixed with a full scale festival experience. Join us as over 30 of the area's top restaurants and food trucks, several of the area's top bands, and thousands of the area's top food lovers gather to celebrate an american tradition - BACON. This event will feature both bacon sampling and full sized bacon cuisine, bacon confectionary delights, bacon eating contests, bacon cooking demonstrations, live music from some of the area's top bands (who also love bacon), a bacon themed children's zone, bacon cooking competitions, full service bars with beer, liquor, wine and bacon themed cocktails, a vendor village featuring various non-food bacon themed vendors and much more.
Sounds like fun, no?

Tickets can be purchased at Keep up with the bacon-y news via Facebook ( and Twitter (

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Scoozi Restaurant, Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys

Last fall, the Minx and I went to a media dinner to preview the new restaurant in the Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys. The new place was called Scoozi and, as the name suggested, the menu would have an Italian emphasis. The dishes we tasted showed real promise and we vowed to come back as soon as it opened. Flash forward several months and, although the restaurant had been opened for some time, we still had not gone back. The oversight was even more egregious since we live only 10 minutes away. We finally resolved to return, this time with Minx's brother and father in tow so we could sample a variety of dishes.

The atmosphere felt a bit chaotic when we arrived. Part of that could be explained by the fact that it was a Saturday night, but we later learned that they were short on wait staff. Nevertheless, we were seated promptly and our waitress happily took our drink orders. She also dropped off the bread, which turned out to be strips of pizza dough nicely charred by the pizza oven. She then took our food order and disappeared.

Nothing happened for about 10 minutes. Our drinks had not arrived even though we had all ordered beers (no complicated cocktail alchemy involved). We drank our water and nibbled on the bread (which was quite good, btw), wishing for something stronger with which to wash it down. After the wait, a server arrived with the appetizers at the same moment that the bartender arrived with our beers. Each server elbowed the other in an attempt to get his respective items on our table. It didn't help that there was too much stuff on the table already, like an oversized candle and a foot-high salt-and-pepper shaker. We reared back in fear of being splashed with beer or tomato sauce or both. Once that crazy moment of awkwardness was over, we settled into tasting the food.

Point Judith Calamari - pomodoro and roasted garlic-caper aioli
At first glance, the calamari appeared hopelessly burnt. If you go much beyond a quick deep fry, the calamari can turn to rubberbands, but we were relieved to discover that they were still tender in spite of the extra crispy coating. The dish has both a pomodoro and roasted garlic-caper aioli dipping sauce. I preferred the pomodoro sauce as the aioli was a bit too thick in which to dip the calamari properly.

Veal Meatballs, white bean puree, whipped basil ricotta, tomato sauce
We had tried the veal meatballs at the preview dinner and the recipe had not changed. They were tender and garlicky with a bright tomato sauce and whipped ricotta on top. I could eat an entree portion of these meatballs.

Scampi -Shrimp, rose sauce,‎ grilled fennel and a pinch of hot pepper
Next came the pizzas. The crust has the kind of texture I prefer: crusty and slightly charred on the surface, but thin and pliable like New York style pizza. The shrimp scampi pizza was my favorite of the two since I'm a sucker for shrimp and the fennel brought a nice crunch. Fennel also marries well with tomatoes.

Kennett Square - local wild mushroom, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, garlic-herb-ricotta cream, white truffle oil
The Kennett Square pizza got the Minx's vote. While not ordinarily a fan of grainy ricotta cheese dolloped on pizza, she loved this. The smooth ricotta was nicely seasoned, and the combination of wild mushrooms and just enough white truffle oil brought out an earthiness that balanced nicely with the sweet flavor of the caramelized onions.

Cheese ravioli with olives and capers, served over ravioli topped with regiano frico
For the entrees, we chose the ravioli and the short ribs. The ravioli was tender and the sauce was a zingy concoction of chunky tomatoes, olives, and capers. Overall, quite satisfying.

Chianti Braised Short Ribs - Crispy parmesan risotto cake and sweet potato ribbons
The short ribs were also very good, with an nice wine-tinged flavor. The risotto, while more of a rice dish in a runny sauce than a true risotto, was still a fine accompaniment. I'm not sure it was worth the $27 price tag, however, given that the piece of short rib was more like an appetizer portion. Probably better to stick with the appetizers and pizzas if you're looking for optimum bang for your buck.

I think Scoozi still has some wrinkles to iron out, but there is certainly a commitment to the food. The service was clunky (there was a comedy of errors over a request for more bread that's too long to go into), but it could have been a bad night or some growing pains. I'm sure we will go back again, if only to savor those meatballs and pizza again.

5100 Falls Rd
Baltimore, MD 21210
Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys

Scoozi on Urbanspoon

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Quick Red Ale Bread

During this excruciatingly long winter, the Minx and I have been looking for any excuse to bake. Turning the oven on adds a little extra heat to the house and the resulting concoctions warm our bellies, so it's a win/win. The other day, Minx was flipping through cookbooks looking for some baking recipe that would spark her interest. Nothing seemed to strike her fancy, but one recipe she mentioned sounded intriguing to me: quick beer bread from The Joy of Cooking. The thought of a hearty, dense bread flavored with beer sounded like a great accompaniment to a soup or some other winter time meal. Also, it would give me a new way to use my brother's red ale other than just drinking it.

The recipe is wonderfully simple: combine the dry ingredients with the beer until everything is thoroughly mixed, then pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven. The crust is crunchy and the interior is dense and moist. The beer adds a nice yeasty flavor. The recipe calls for two tablespoons of sugar, but I left that out because I wanted a savory bread.

The bread came in handy one night when we were at the supermarket with no idea what to have for dinner. We decided to buy some Italian cold cuts and take them home. We ate the bread and cold cuts with cheeses and pickles. A simple, no-fuss dinner that was satisfying for a cold night. And it worked for breakfast, too, as Minx took a slice to work with her the next day.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Tavern Room @ Fleet Street Kitchen

The Bagby Group's white tablecloth Fleet Street Kitchen has added a new, more casual, spin to their dining experience by transforming the area just beyond the restaurant's large front windows into the Tavern Room. In this discrete space, the tablecloths and multiple tasting menus that may have intimidated some diners are gone. In their place are bare wood and an accessible menu of small and large plates. While lush multi-course meals of fine modern American cuisine are still the backbone of Fleet Street Kitchen, it's now also an attractive place to stop for a snack of bone marrow and a beer or a light supper of charcuterie and cheese.

Mr Minx and I were invited to participate in a media dinner to taste several of the Tavern Room's offerings. We were brought several share-able items from the "tastes" and "small plates" sections of the menu, and then each of us were asked to choose one large plate or entree and one dessert for our personal consumption.

Before I get into the food, I want to mention the punches, which are served exclusively in the Tavern Room area of the restaurant. Unlike the spiked ginger ale with rainbow sherbet we may have encountered in our youth, beverage director Tim Riley's concoctions are more exotic, and of course, more delicious. We snagged samples of the sublimely smoky "Cry of Delores" (which includes mezcal, apple brandy, sherry, smoked tea, and citrus), and the refreshing Kentucky Navy (with bourbon, rye, spearmint tea, black walnut bitters, citrus, and cider). We found them both to be dangerously easy to drink. While the punches come in large Mason jars intended to serve 2-4 people, it wouldn't be all that hard to guzzle more than intended. [hic!]

Now the food: we started out our meal with samples of the roasted bone marrow, which came with thin slices of baguette toast. I grew up eating bone marrow, and was pleased with this taste of my childhood, amped up with the flavors and textures of finely chopped mushrooms and fennel.

Bone marrow, roasted mushroom duxelles, fennel
The tasting plate called "pig face & pickles" had intrigued me most when I had originally perused the menu, so I was happy to see it come to the table. We had a portion of eye socket meat among the selection of moist porcine flesh that fans of pork belly are sure to enjoy. Acid from the pickles cut through the luscious fat, and sauce gribiche (a tartar sauce-like concoction made with hard-cooked eggs) added additional tang.

Pig face & pickles: Chefs choice of jowl, snout, chin, cheek, pork rind, tongue and ears, sauce gribiche 
Crisp-crusted blobs of soft pretzel encased aromatic bites of merguez sausage...

Merguez pretzel bites: Lamb sausage, fennel-fines herbes mustard 
...and a lip-smacking-good beef short rib glazed with a rich veal jus were also served. Additionally, we tasted the ocean trout crudo with creme fraiche and blood orange attractively arranged on crostini, and a plate of sunchokes glazed with hazelnut butter. While the sunchokes were, shall we say, not pretty, their artichoke flavor and potato texture made for an unusual snack. The crudo was fresh and light and a touch of summertime among all of the more boldly-flavored and earthy dishes.

Braised beef short rib, creamed spinach, red currents, veal jus
For his entree, Mr Minx chose the duck confit, which came with a medley of beans that pushed the dish in the direction of cassoulet. I know better than to ask him to share duck confit, but my husband did offer me a small taste of the tender meat and crisped skin.

Confit duck leg, heirloom summer beans, preserved summer tomatoes, mirepoix, bacon duck jus 
I chose the lamb neck, mostly because I had never eaten lamb neck before, but also because I love lamb. I'm trying to come up with an apt comparison to another cut of meat, but I'm falling short. I suppose the meat texture was a bit like braised short rib or brisket, moist and easily broken into stringy shreds. There was also a nice fat cap that covered almost the entire top of the meat. I rather enjoyed it. It was glazed with a thick and flavorful veal jus that had the sticky quality of a much-reduced stock--a sign that while this is "tavern" food, it's also being served in a high-end restaurant.

Braised lamb neck, glazed baby carrots, fines herbes, carrot beurre blanc, lime, veal jus
The desserts, by new Bagby Group pastry chef Aja Cage, were elevated versions of old favorites like chocolate pudding and eclairs. Mr Minx had the warm apple clafoutis, which seemed more like a sponge cake than the traditional custardy fruit-filled dessert, but it and its accompanying salted caramel sauce were terrific.

Warm apple clafoutis, apple chip, salted caramel, pink peppercorn ice cream
My trio of eclairs, which were freshly filled, had crisp choux pastry shells and rich innards. The chocolate especially was decadent. The orange filling was a bit lighter, and the pistachio (which seemed more like salted caramel to me) was somewhere in between.

Trio of eclairs: chocolate, pistachio, and tangerine
Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, the Bagby Group can do no wrong. We love Ten Ten, eat at Bagby's Pizza as often as possible, and have so far visited Cunningham's three times. And now, with the new menu of elevated-rustic goodies at the elegant Fleet Street Kitchen, we think that they have a new hit on their hands.

The Tavern Room @ Fleet Street Kitchen
1012 Fleet Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 244-5830

Fleet Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Blend Your Own Bordeaux at Fork & Wrench

The Fork & Wrench is having an interactive food and wine event on Thursday, March 27th at 6:30pm. Diners will enjoy a multi-course family-style meal paired with Trinchero Family Estates wines and have the chance to blend their own Bordeaux. Yes, I did say, "blend their own" wine. Now who gets the chance to do something like that outside of Napa? Additionally, those wines will be judged in a blind taste test and prizes will be awarded.

Says the Fork & Wrench’s libation mistress, Shana Leachman: “Sometimes wine can come across as intimidating or unapproachable, and adding a formal coursed dinner can be uncomfortable for some. This ‘Blend your own Bordeaux’ dinner is different; it is more interactive, fun and welcoming to all levels of wine enthusiasts.”

There's only room for sixteen guests, so make your reservations now at 443.759.9367.

Fork & Wrench’s “Blend your own Bordeaux”
Thursday, March 27th – 6:30 p.m.
$75 per guest for reception, 4 course dinner, and paired wines
(Excludes tax and gratuity)
Limited Seating: 16 guests
Reservations: 443.759.9367

The Fork & Wrench
2322 Boston Street
Baltimore, MD
Twitter @ForkandWrench

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Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick's Day Eats

Despite our last name, we are not Irish in any way, shape, or form. Consequently, we don't partake in drinking green beer or dressing up like leprechauns on St Patrick's Day. And we normally don't eat corned beef and cabbage, at least not together. So the recipes I'm going to share with you now are only vaguely related to the holiday. Around these parts, it's as good as it gets.
"Cabbage," aka bubble and squeak made with brussels sprouts.

Korean-style Rubenadas, aka empanadas stuffed with corned beef and kimchi.

Even better than making your own corned beef at home - go to Attman's and get a pound or three and feast on that.

Lamb stew with Asian flavors and sauteed cabbage

And finally, one of my all-time favorite ways to eat cabbage - okonomiyaki. Nobody will tell if you want to put corned beef in it, too..

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Homemade Tortillas

I bought a bag of masa flour some time ago, intending to make all manner of yummy Latino foods. What I really wanted to make was corn tortillas, but I didn't have a tortilla press and didn't trust my ability to make perfectly thin and even tortillas without one. I found an inexpensive tortilla press on Amazon and put it on my wish list, but Christmas came and went without it.

So I purchased it for myself. Sheesh, what a gal's gotta do sometimes to keep a food blog going.

One evening, I had no dinner ideas (it happens more often than one might think). We had a fridge full of sundry leftovers and raw veggies and I figured it might be a good time to break out the tortilla press. Hey, pretty much anything can be turned into a taco, as long as there's a protein, a sauce, and a salsa or slaw. (My kitchen, my rule!) The raw veggies were brussels sprouts and sugar snap peas, so I turned them into a kimchi-style slaw. There was leftover pork tenderloin, which became the protein, and a bit of peanut sauce left from making a vegan pizza that I mixed with plain yogurt to make a creamy sauce.

Now I just needed to make the tortillas. And they were a snap. As long as there's a bag of masa in the house, I'll never have to buy corn tortillas again. The dough involves only two ingredients--water and masa flour--and cooking them is a fairly quick process. Homemade tortillas are more tender and more corny-flavored than commercial ones, and if you only make as many as you need, you don't have to worry about a gigundo pack of tortillas getting moldy in your fridge (ugh).

This is just a guideline...and this isn't real kimchi. I'm not Korean so don't go crazy on me.

Trim and slice thinly a pound or so of Brussels sprouts and/or other veg (cabbage, sugar snap peas, bok choy).

In a small bowl, mix 1 or 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon Korean pepper flakes, a couple of squirts of fish sauce, a tablespoon or two of white vinegar, salt, four chopped scallions, a teaspoon or so of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger, and a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. If you have sesame seeds, toast about a tablespoonful in a hot skillet and add to the salad. Mix into veg and taste for seasoning, adding more fish sauce, sugar, salt, vinegar until it tastes balanced to your palate. (After all, you're going to eat it. We're not going after authenticity here.) Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple hours so the brussels sprouts have time to tenderize a bit and the flavors can do their thang.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

1 cup masa harina
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water

Put the masa in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the half cup of water and turn the mixer on to medium power. If the dough just looks like crumbs, add the additional water a tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a ball and completely comes away from the sides of the bowl. The texture of the dough should be like non-sticky cookie dough. If it's sticky, add a little more masa. If it's still crumbly, add a bit more water.

Remove the prepared dough from the mixer bowl and form into 8 balls. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, but not more than an hour or so.

When ready to cook: heat a cast iron pan or other heavy skillet so a drop of water dances across the surface (crazy hot).

Cut down the sides of a small zip-top plastic bag so it's only connected at the bottom edge. Put one half of the bag down onto your tortilla press. Put a ball of dough on the press, cover with the other side of the bag, and close the press. Open the press...if the tortilla isn't big/thin enough, squeeze again.

Transfer the tortilla from the bag to your right hand (left, if you're left-handed). Slap the tortilla onto the hot pan, making sure not to touch the pan with your hand (the tortilla should fall off your hand before it gets too close). Cook for a minute or so on one side, then use a spatula to flip the tortilla. Cook for another minute. Flip again, then press down on the tortilla with the flat side of the spatula, making it puff up. Flip and press again. After the tortilla has puffed on both sides, transfer it to a plate and cover with a piece of foil, to keep it warm.

Repeat with remaining dough balls.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Rocky Road Brownies

My family were never vacation-takers. Once every couple of years or so we'd end up in Atlantic City for a long weekend, and a few summers we went to Willow Valley Farms, in Lancaster. Apart from what I thought was an outstanding buffet at Willow Valley (hey, I was in middle school) and the Planters Peanuts shop on the Boardwalk near the Steel Pier, those trips don't particularly stand out in my mind. But one summer, when I was about 9, my Mom took my brother and me to Ocean City, Maryland, for a week, via Trailways.

The three of us stayed at the Commander Hotel, where we set up a routine pretty quickly. After a full breakfast (included in the price of our room), we hit the swimming pool. After a few hours of splashing around, we went to a place just off the boardwalk for slices of Sicilian-style pizza. We then changed and wandered the boardwalk until dinner (also included).

Every night after dinner we went to the candy store to pick up some TV-time nibbles. My brother always got milk chocolate bark, but I wanted something more exotic, like peanut butter fudge or rocky road. Oh how I loved the textures of rocky road candy, with its squishy marshmallows and crunchy nuts! I still love it today, but I try to stay away from eating it every night, like I did during that summer week in 1975.

I found a recipe for brownies with marshmallows and peanut butter chips in my copy of the Fat Witch Brownie cookbook. The bakery's owner calls them "bumpy highway" brownies, but I prefer "rocky road," and with real nuts instead of chips. Walnuts are my preference, but you can use any nut you like. These are very sweet and gooey, owing to a high sugar-to-flour ratio and of course, to marshmallows. They're also quite chocolatey, and a little goes a long way.

Rocky Road Brownies (adapted from Fat Witch Brownies)

3/4 stick unsalted butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
4 tablespoons semi sweet chocolate chips, divided use
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9" square baking pan.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in half the semi sweet chips until they are melted.

Beat the sugar and eggs until light and lemon-colored. Blend in the chocolate mixture. Sift the flour and salt together and add to the batter, mixing until well-combined.

Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 12 minutes.

Stir the remaining semi sweet chips, marshmallows, and walnuts into the remaining batter. Spread as evenly as possible over the partially-baked layer. Bake 15 more minutes.

Allow brownies to cool completely before cutting. Makes 12-16.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

Tuna Casserole

I was raised in a Polish Catholic family, so Lent was a big deal when I was growing up. I hated Lent. I resented that I had to give something up. I disliked the whole weekly standing/ kneeling/ chanting torture known as the Stations of the Cross. And I hated the customary Friday suppers of either fish sticks or tuna casserole. Back when I was in grade school, my mother wasn't a very imaginative cook, so we were stuck eating either Mrs Paul's (later Gorton's, which were much tastier) or a combination of canned tuna, noodles, and Campbell's cream of celery soup every Friday for six weeks. A relatively short amount of time, but it felt like an eternity to someone who just didn't want any part of it.

It's been at least 25 years since I've eaten tuna casserole. By the time I graduated high school, my mom was a more creative cook and also felt we could fix our own Friday dinners. Yay for adulthood! Honestly, I'd rather have egg salad or fried eggs or pancakes or a veggie burger than fish sticks or tuna casserole on a Lenten Friday evening. (Even more honestly--I'd rather have a steak.)

Not long ago, I decided to try making a tuna casserole. Mr Minx had been spared the lifetime of horror but he was still completely dubious about the idea of hot tuna + noodles (although he did like the noodle part on its own). I wanted to make my Mom's casserole--partly to see if it was as scary as I remembered, and partly because (more honesty here) I did occasionally enjoy it--but I couldn't find her recipe. I was pretty sure she used the one on cans of Campbell's cream of celery soup, but the recipe found there now, labeled "classic," involves pimientos and peas. Yuck. Lets not make things worse, shall we?

I did remember that Mom's dish had cheddar cheese and crushed pretzels in addition to egg noodles and that soup, so I went with that. Part of me hoped when we went to the grocery store that Campbell's had discontinued the cream of celery variety. Alas, it was there, in a low-sodium version that had no flavor at all, celery or otherwise. I added some sauteed onion and celery to the dish to make it taste like something other than hot tuna.

Surprisingly, the flavor-less soup was actually not a bad thing at all. I think the strong celery flavor was what made me dislike the casserole more often than not. The rest of the ingredients were spot on though, really evoking a taste of the 70s. But in a good way. The real trick is to season that bland soup. Dress it up with herbs and spices, add onion and garlic, some cayenne or Tabasco. If you're not averse to a little more work, make a couple cups of bechamel and use that instead.

Mr Minx actually enjoyed the casserole, as did I, and we ate the whole thing over the course of a few days. And I'd actually make it again, maybe for Lent. But more likely we'll be having steak instead.

Tuna Casserole

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
1 10 1/2-ounce can cream of celery soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
Pinch cayenne
2 6-ounce cans tuna (in water), drained well
1 bag of egg noodles, cooked and drained
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Thin pretzels, crushed into small pieces to equal 1/2 cup

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a 3 quart saucepot, cook onion and celery in the butter until vegetables are soft. Stir in the soup and milk. Season with dill, onion powder, pepper, salt, and cayenne. If you think it needs more flavor, add more of the above, or even other stuff. A pinch of tarragon might be nice. Stir in the tuna.

Add cooked egg noodles to the pot a few handfuls at a time, stirring to coat with soup mixture. You will not need all of the noodles, so hold back a cup or two.

Pour half of noodle mixture into a buttered 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle over about 1/2 cup of the cheddar cheese. Top with the remaining noodle mixture and the rest of the cheese. Sprinkle the crushed pretzels on top. Bake for 25 minutes, until cheese is melted and the edges of the noodles are getting brown.

Serves 6

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Duckhorn Wine Dinner at Roy's

Mr Minx and I have attended (and enjoyed) several wine dinners at Roy's, so when this information came through, I just had to share it with you!

Roy’s Restaurant is partnering with Duckhorn Vineyards for a spectacular dinner at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12. Guests will delight in five unique courses (including Kona Kampachi Tartare, Lobster & Peas, Maple Leaf Duck Duo, Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Peach Napoleon) expertly prepared by the Roy’s culinary team and accompanied by four Duckhorn Vineyards wine pairings. The cost per person is $85 plus tax and service charge.

This event will take place in the private dining room at all Roy’s Restaurant locations, except in Hawaii, Pebble Beach and downtown San Diego. To make reservations at your nearest location, please visit

Special Roy’s and Duckhorn Vineyard prizes, including a Roy’s cookbook, hukilaus and an autographed Duckhorn Vineyards wine bottle, will be available during the evening’s raffle.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Goddess-y Dressing

So, more snow. I really can't take much more of this. And I like winter--I just don't like the seemingly endless cycle of shoveling and salting, shoveling and salting. Walking the dog on slippery sidewalks (because nobody else in the neighborhood seems to understand that they should salt their sidewalks so pedestrians won't slip and break anything) is annoying and scary and I just want this crap to melt and never come back.

While it seems most appropriate to make a comforting stew or other such cold-weather food, I felt like I needed a reminder that Spring was somewhere around the corner. We had a bunch of cilantro and basil in the fridge, so I whipped up a green dressing with them. The lovely color and zingy flavor was a nice harbinger of things to come. If they come.

A typical green goddess dressing has tarragon and anchovy, but I think any combination of flavorful green herbs (except rosemary) works fine. In place of the anchovy, I added a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.

Goddess-y Dressing

1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
3 scallions, white and green parts chopped
extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
lime or lemon juice to taste
few drops of Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Place the cilantro, basil, and scallions in a food processor and pulse to a puree with the help of some of the olive oil. Just use enough to get the herbs going. Add the yogurt and mayo and puree. Season to taste with the citrus juice, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper.

Makes about half a cup.

We had some leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge, so I made a chicken salad using some of the herb dressing. Chopped apple adds additional green flavor and a nice texture.

Goddess-y Chicken Salad

2 cups cooked chicken, torn into medium-large chunks
1 small apple, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons or so of Goddess-y dressing
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Serve on greens or in sandwiches. Serves 2.

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