Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ejji Ramen

Baltimore is always a few (or more) years behind current restaurant trends; at least we are still unmatched in the crab cake department. The ramen craze has finally hit at long last and Ejji Ramen, in the Belvedere Square Market, is one of the first to do things right.

Ejji (sounds like and means "edgy") is not purely a Japanese restaurant, however. The owners, Oscar Lee and chef Ten Vong (whose families also own Chocolatea Cafe in Tuscany/Canterbury), are Malaysian and have incorporated Malaysian elements into their short menu of dumplings, skewered meats, and noodle soups. Mr Minx and I were invited to a media tasting in the week before Ejji's opening to get an idea of what their food was all about.

We started out with a sample of their gyoza, stuffed with cabbage, shiitakes, and smoked tofu. The fresh and delicate filling gets punched-up with a dip in a super garlicky sesame/soy sauce.

Next, we tasted their pork belly yakitori and both beef and chicken satay. The pork, cooked over traditional Japanese charcoal called binchotan, was pleasantly chewy and nicely seasoned. Shakers of sichimi togarashi (a spicy seasoning blend that includes red chile) were on hand to add a bit of heat to the pork, while the satay had a delicious lime-infused peanut sauce for dipping. The skewers of beef and chicken had been marinated in lemongrass, kaffir lime, ginger, and coconut milk and were flavorful even without the sauce. There were murmurs of dry chicken around the table, but mine was lovely.

Ejji offers three styles of ramen, which one can mix and match. Choose one broth, one noodle, any of thirteen toppings, and a sauce, to make the dish your very own, or order something from the predetermined menu.  We tasted all of the chef's house-made sauces, including two very spicy sambals in red and green, a puree of scallion and ginger, soy perfumed with yuzu, and a black sesame garlic soy. There are also shishito peppers pickled with fish sauce, which offers a milder heat than the sambals.

We sampled three styles of ramen. The first was Ejji's vegetarian version of a Hokkaido-style miso ramen. The rich noodle soup is customarily topped with sweet corn, but Ejji uses the corn in the broth itself, instead of pork. To mimic the fatty mouthfeel of pork-based stock, chef Vong uses butter, which works perfectly with corn. Our servings were topped with soft-boiled egg, enoki mushrooms, scallion, and a large piece of bamboo shoot. Of course, this being ramen, the star of the dish was the tangle of chewy, thick, curly ramen noodles. Ejji gets their noodles from Sun, a noodle manufacturer of some reknown based in Hawaii with a branch in New Jersey. (Consumers can buy Sun noodle products at HMart and Lotte.)

The second bowl of ramen we tried was made with the perhaps more-familiar tonkotsu broth. Making the broth is a two (or more) day process involving cleaning, boiling, rinsing, and more boiling of pork shin bones until they no longer leach out blood and create a nearly opaque milky broth. (Read about making tonkotsu broth at Serious Eats.) The rich stock was then ladled over thin curly ramen noodles and topped with cha siu pork, a miso egg, and slices of melt-in-your-mouth crispy pork belly.

The soups were so good, it was hard to stop eating them. Unfortunately, that meant we didn't have much room left for the final bowl, a laksa. Laksa is a Malaysian favorite, often made with coconut milk and, as with Ejji's version, curry. The broth had a shellfish base (clams and shrimp) and contained slices of clam, a fried shrimp, and spongy bean curd puffs and a sprinkling of katsuobushi (bonito flakes). The thicker curly ramen noodles were used in this dish (but you can order the laksa with more traditional rice noodles). This was the heartiest of the three soups we tasted and a bit on the sweet side due to the coconut milk. A big spoonful of spicy sambal added some brightness, as did a squeeze of the accompanying lime.

Ejji Ramen has been a long time coming. Lee and Vong had been planning the restaurant for two years, and personally, I think it was worth the wait. I predict the restaurant will be very popular in the cold months to come.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Chili Verde

Football season is here, which means a goodly portion of my Sundays are spent in front of the tube, simultaneously laughing and crying with the Baltimore Ravens. Ordinarily, I'm doing mise en place and cooking parts of dinner at different times of the day, but on these football Sundays, I have to get stuff started before kickoff. This usually means stew or chili is on the menu.

I've made and posted several variations on typical beef chilis, so I thought it was high time to try something different. Like a green chili. I made a really scrummy one with ground chicken and canned chiles not too long ago, but I was taking a day off from blogging and didn't bother recording the recipe. This time, I took notes.

Green chilis are tangier than red ones, and a bit lighter, so they are perfect for nippy-but-not-exactly-cold October weather. I roasted the vegetables first, then pureed them in a blender to make a thick green sauce. After a couple hours of simmering, the pork was meltingly tender and the dish was nothing short of perfection. Perfection for a day spent watching both football and baseball playoffs, that is.

Chili Verde

1 lb tomatillos, husked and quartered
Olive oil
2 poblano peppers, quartered, stems and seeds removed
2 jalapenos, cut in half, seeded or not, depending on how hot you want the end result to be
1 red onion, peeled and quartered
1 bunch scallions, trimmed
2.5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into smallish cubes
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
Masa harina
Sour cream
Tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place the tomatillos on a rimmed baking pan lined with foil. Drizzle with some olive oil and toss to coat. Place peppers, onion, and scallions on a separate foil lined baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Put both pans in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove tomatillos and scallions. Roast remaining vegetables, stirring once or twice, an additional 20 minutes.

Allow vegetables to cool, then put everything in a blender. Puree the vegetables and set aside.

Brown the meat cubes in a couple of batches. I didn't use any oil, but you may want to if your pork isn't as fatty as mine/you find it sticking. Once the meat is browned, stir in the garlic and cumin, then turn the heat up and add the vegetable puree and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat so the mixture is barely simmering.

Cook for the length of a football game, 2.5 - 3 hours. After an hour or so, add the cilantro.

If the broth seems too runny at the end of the cooking time, mix a tablespoon or two of masa harina with enough water to make a slurry the texture of pancake batter. Turn up the heat to get the chili boiling and drizzle in as much or as little of the slurry as you want, to get the texture you like.

Season aggressively with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve in bowls with sour cream, pepitas, more cilantro, and tortilla chips.

Makes 4-8 servings.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Fleet Street Kitchen

We chose to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary at a restaurant we hadn't tried before--Fleet Street Kitchen. To clarify, we had eaten in the Tavern Room part of the restaurant at the front, but had never dined in the more formal dining room at back.

The place is gorgeous, all wood and crystal chandeliers, but the unadorned row of windows on the west wall and horse-blanket upholstery on the long booth on the east wall give the place a more casual feel.

We started our feast by squinting at the cocktail menu. Honestly, with dim lights, serif font, and bad eyes, reading it was no easy task. Eventually we settled on our bevvies and proceeded to the food menu, which I had checked out earlier in the day. I settled on the scallops and halibut, with a side of broccoli rabe. Mr Minx ordered the short ribs, the rockfish, and a side of brussels sprouts. Everything was outstanding.

The scallops were aggressively seasoned, with a nice crust on the outside and properly translucent middles. The radish and radicchio salad offered both tart and bitter notes, and the broccoli puree was just plain pretty. (And tasty. And it didn't particularly taste like broccoli, which for some might be a plus.)

Mr Minx's tender short ribs came atop a mound of kale cooked with currants. A lot of currants. (From across the table, I thought it was a bed of lentils.) Leafy greens + raisins are a classic Mediterranean combo, and the deep, lightly sweet, flavors worked well with the beef.

I love halibut and wasn't disappointed by the perfectly cooked hunk of seared king halibut atop a veritable mountain of glazed baby carrots with lemon and hazelnuts. This carrot lover was quite pleased.

Mr Minx's rockfish dish paired the fish with elements of clam chowder, including baby white potatoes, bacon, clams, and a chowder emulsion. Turnips found their way into the mix as well.  The fish had a nice sear, and the elements worked well together.

We had gone for the four course prix fixe dinner, which included a vegetable course. The spicy broccoli rabe with garlic confit and brussels sprouts with marcona almonds and creme fraiche seemed more like side dishes than a course unto themselves, so we asked them to be brought at the same time as the entrees. Both were terrific, and I particularly enjoyed finding the nuggets of almond in the sprouts.

Those three courses provided a lot of food, but we had dessert coming, too. I had the frozen cappuccino, made with a frozen coffee-flavored cream (not sure it was technically ice cream, as it didn't melt) atop a thin slice of chocolate cake, topped with crunchy candied cocoa nibs and milk froth. It wasn't exactly like a frozen coffee drink, but the textures and mild cappuccino flavors were appealing.

I think I preferred Mr Minx's tender peach almond upside down cake with creamy mascarpone sorbet and candied almonds. Again, a lot of really pleasing textures and flavors there.

As expected, everything we ate was delicious and well-executed and service was friendly yet professional. The atmosphere was nice, too, that is until a large group of people who didn't have inside voices took over the dining room with their inappropriate shrieks of laughter. A shame there's no way to turn the volume down on other people.

Fleet Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Pumpkin Spice Cake

Have you all noticed that Autumn is the time for pumpkin spice everything? Starbucks kicked off the Pumpkin Spice season in August, with the release of their pumpkin spice latte. I'm not normally a PSL gal--I prefer the more Christmas-y gingerbread or peppermint mocha flavors--but I jumped on the bandwagon when I discovered that PSLs are really quite tasty when iced. A jumbo one of those really hit the spot on the long-ass drive back from Pittsburgh.

Once Starbucks opened the floodgates, a plethora of pumpkin products hit the grocery store shelves. Everything from coffee creamer to yogurt got the pumpkin spice treatment, and it's a wee bit excessive. I've tried the yogurt and thought it was just ok. The Weis brand ice cream was decent enough (and Weis ice cream isn't particularly good, IMHO), just pumpkin-y enough. The other stuff I won't try for you, but feel free to leave a comment if you have.

Various pumpkin-flavored Entenmann's products, Chobani yogurt, coffee creamer,
ice cream, Tastykakes, cookie dough, and pudding, all available at Weis Market.
My contribution to the season is a pumpkin spice cake. It's somewhat like a blondie, but moister, and, filled with pumpkin and all of the spices that make pumpkin pie so good--cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger. I also added some toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.

This pumpkin spice cake makes a nice snack on its own, but is especially good with a scoop of pumpkin spice ice cream. Hell, drink a PSL on the side, too, if you want. Just don't blame me when you start turning orange like a human jack-o-lantern.

Pumpkin Spice Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup toasted shelled pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8x8-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and brown sugar until completely smooth. Whisk in the egg until fully incorporated, then add the pumpkin, spices, and salt, stirring well. Add the flour and baking soda and stir until no white bits of flour are visible. Fold in the pumpkin seeds.

Spread into prepared baking dish and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature before cutting into squares and serving. Cover and refrigerate uneaten cake.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lamb Burgers

I've written about lamb burgers here before at least once. So sue me, but I think ground lamb makes some of the juiciest and tastiest burgers. And unlike beef, which purists insist must only be seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper, it doesn't seem to be a sin to spice up lamb a bit. True, the already strong flavor can stand up to some fancying. And so I take advantage of that and go to town with the spice rack.

Middle Eastern flavors seem to work best with lamb, so I added sweet spices like allspice and cinnamon to this batch of burgers, and a handful of pistachios as well. Topped with a tangy preserved lemon mayo (just chop 1/8 of a preserved lemon finely and add to commercial mayo) and my homemade beet ketchup, a bit of cheddar cheese and sauteed onions, they were rich and exotic tasting, and not all that much more involved than making beef burgers.

Of course, you do need to have preserved lemons and beet ketchup hanging around the fridge....

Pistachio Lamb Burgers

1/4 cup shelled pistachios
1 lb ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash cayenne
Your favorite cheese (I used  Trader Joe's cheddar flavored with caramelized onions,)
Sauteed onions
Sliced tomato

Put pistachios in a plastic baggie and bash them with a meat tenderizer until some are pulverized into dust, some are small pieces, and a few are chunky bits. Combine with the lamb and seasonings. Make 4-6 patties.

Cook patties in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until browned and crusty on both sides. Top with cheese, lower heat, and cover pan for a minute or so until cheese melts.

Serve on buns with thinly sliced tomato, sauteed onions, and beet ketchup.

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Monday, October 20, 2014


We tried Liv2Eat last month during the Dining Out for Life event. It was our first time there, despite including the restaurant in Baltimore Chef's Table. (Hey, if we ate at every place it was suggested we *had* to eat, we'd never eat at home.)

The restaurant space is bright and light, with both high and low tables that somehow make the rooms seem less crowded. The menu is short, full of seasonal goodies with no differentiation between appetizers and entrees except for the prices. It was also happy hour, which meant we scored less-expensive booze, but we passed on the $8 mussels and $10 burger. (The latter, made with Roseda beef, sounded like a pretty good bargain. Next time.)

I started off with the Sungold tomato gazpacho. While I normally like the grainy texture of an unstrained gazpacho, the smoothness of Chef Kevin Perry's version elevated the summertime soup. The flavor was bright and sunny, like its color; a refreshing way to start a meal on a warm-ish evening.

Mr Minx chose the jamon salad, a huge pile of mixed greens and herbs, Granny Smith apples, and toasted hazelnuts, tossed in a light tangy vinaigrette on a bed of thinly sliced cured ham. I couldn't decide if the salad needed the ham, or if the ham needed the salad; nevertheless, all of it was tasty and I was happy to help eat it.

Because this event was raising money for Moveable Feast, I ordered an expensive entree, two crab cakes, with potato puree and cabbage slaw (one cake was available at half the price). The crab cakes were excellent, pan-crisped and dressed with a wee bit of a creamy mustard sauce. The crab itself tasted like it had been freshly picked, and I could detect neither binder nor filler. The lightly vinegary slaw tasted like it was made by someone's grandma, and in combination with the potato puree reminded me of a summertime picnic.

My handsome dining companion went for the sirloin steak, served medium rare, with more of that excellent potato puree. The menu listed arugula as a side, and our thoughtful server suggested that Mr Minx request something else, since he had just finished a large salad. The chef provided sauteed spinach and a mix of mushrooms, both of which were appropriate accompaniments to the meat. And Mr Minx enjoyed every morsel, including the slightly sweet yet meaty-flavored sauce.

The desserts that evening included cookies and milk and flourless chocolate cake, but we passed in order to pig out on ice cream at The Charmery, another Dining Out for Life participant.

We enjoyed our meal at Liv2Eat, and the service was friendly and thoughtful. What more can one ask?

Parking is a bit of a challenge in that neighborhood, because it's largely residential, so you may have to park around the corner or a couple of blocks down the street and walk a bit. It's well worth it, and burns off a couple dozen calories in the process.

Liv2eat on Urbanspoon

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Farmbox Direct & Winter Squash Soup

Squash, pomegranate, turnips, carrots, pear, apple, grapefruit, lemon, cucumber, green beans,
kiwi berries, garlic, tiny onions, and Havarti cheese. Whew!
I recently was approached by organic produce delivery service Farmbox Direct asking if I would be interested in their product. Of course I was, so they sent me a free box of goodies, which you can see above. Farmbox Direct offers three sizes of boxes at three price points, the box I received was a small, one person, box.

Farmbox Direct founder Ashley Turner hand-picks all of the USDA Certified Organic producers that her company uses, including the dairy farmers and bakers whose products can also be added to a shipment. Each week, subscribers get an email with information on the contents of that week's box. They are then able to make up to five substitutions (swapping out apples for additional lemons, for example) and add other grocery items to their shipment. Boxes and packing material are eco-friendly, and shipping is FedEx Periship, for perishable goods.

I think programs like Farmbox Direct are great for folks who don't want to subscribe to a traditional CSA, which involves regular weekly deliveries and payment in advance. If you don't want a box one week, with Farmbox Direct, you can skip it. It's ideal for people like us, who, for work purposes, end up eating dinner in restaurants more often than not, and can't always use up an entire shipment in one week.

If you want more information on Farmbox Direct, check out their Web site.

So what did we do with all of our produce? Well, the onions, some garlic, pomegranate and the squashes went into this yummy soup.

I've seen a lot of squash and pumpkin soups that are more like a puree than an actual soup. Soup shouldn't stand up in a mound in the bowl! This recipe has plenty of broth, so it's pleasantly thick but not a porridge. And the warm spices make the common squash seem almost exotic.

Spiced Winter Squash Soup

3 round winter squash (acorn, turban, sweet dumpling, etc.)
Olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Pomegranate arils

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut squashes in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into quarters. Place squash pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet. Rub each piece with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until pieces are very tender and starting to caramelize, about an hour. Remove from oven and cool long enough to handle.

When cool, remove squash pulp from rinds with a spoon. Discard rinds. Put pulp in a blender, in 3-4 batches, and puree. You might need to add a little water if you don't have a high speed blender.

Melt the four tablespoons of butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent and just starting to brown. Stir in the garlic and cook an additional minute or so. Add the squash puree, spices, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a bare simmer. Cook for 30 minutes before stirring in the cream. Taste for seasoning and remove from the heat.

Serve garnished with pomegranate arils and pistachios.

Makes at least 2 quarts.

* 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.

Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Zucchini Bread

So we joined an on-demand CSA at the end of August, because our little backyard garden wasn't producing the way we wanted. Perhaps our lovely temperate summer had something to do with it. We aren't used to low humidity, and neither were our zucchini, eggplant, and other veg. We got a couple of nicely sized zucchini in our first box. Just two, nothing extraordinary. Personally, I love zucchini any way I can get it - raw, grilled, stewed, etc., but Mr Minx appreciates its squishy cooked texture about as much as I like lima beans. (I hate lima beans.) So rather than torture him with it, I decided to use the zucchini in a quick bread.

Before I had the chance to look for a zucchini bread recipe, Melissa Clark posted one on her Facebook page. Or she posted a list of ingredients. I saw that I had just about everything on her list and went from there. Here's my interpretation, which makes a lightly-sweet bread that is super-moist and has a nice springy texture. It's great as a snack, and for breakfast.

Zucchini Bread, adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark

3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 eggs
2 cups AP flour
1 cup oat flour (you can use more AP flour, or whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lemon yogurt
2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a stand mixer (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer), combine the sugars and olive oil at medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking soda and powder, and cinnamon. In another bowl, combine the orange juice and yogurt. Alternate adding the flour and yogurt mixtures to the sugar mixture, starting and ending with flour.

Squeeze the zucchini dry and add to the batter. Pour into a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs.

Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting the bread onto a rack to cool completely.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Okra Etouffee

Who doesn't like okra? So delicious! I know, right?

Wait. You say you don't like okra? What? And neither do you, or you, or you?

Poor okra doesn't seem to have many friends. But I love it, and so does Mr Minx. Yeah yeah, I can hear you whining now, "it's slimy! ewwww!" Shut up. It's not slimy at all if you cook it correctly. And it tastes great, a little like green beans, I think.

So we had this huge bag of okra from the CSA, and it was going to go bad if we didn't use it up pronto. I decided we should make an okra etouffee, so consulted teh Innernets for a recipe. Just about every one I found involved dumping okra in a casserole, covering it with tomatoes, and then baking it. No, no, no...I wanted an etouffee recipe, like crawfish etouffee or shrimp etouffee. Stuff smothered in a roux-based sauce. Not just stuff smothered with other stuff. So I threw one together based on an old crawfish etouffee recipe I've used in the past. Roux + trinity + stock and seasonings. Add okra, simmer for a while et voila! Okra Etouffee.

Okra Etouffee

3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup diced onion
1 bell pepper, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (we like Emeril's Essence)
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 lb okra, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Steamed white rice for serving
Chopped scallions for garnish

Melt butter in a large pot. Add the flour and open the windows. Stir flour and butter together over medium-high heat until the mixture is medium-dark brown, a bit darker than peanut butter. It will smoke, but as long as you are stirring constantly and watching it like a hawk, it should not burn. Once the roux reaches a nice brown shade, dump in the onion, bell pepper, and celery. Inhale deeply, for the scent of trinity cooking in roux is one of the best cooking scents there is. Stir the vegetables and roux until veg are completely coated. Turn the heat down to medium, add a big pinch of salt, and cover the pot. Allow the vegetables to soften, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic, Cajun seasoning, chicken stock, and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Stir in the okra. Cook over medium heat for 25-30 minutes, until okra is tender. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, more Cajun seasoning, a bit of hot sauce, whatever floats your boat.

Serve over white rice and garnish with chopped scallions.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Spicy Smoky Beet Ketchup

I tell ya, even getting a small CSA box leaves one with a ton of veggies and fruits to use up before they go bad. Every time I open the crisper drawer, I spot something else that needs to be cooked. "Oh yeah - those Chioggia beets! I forgot all about them!" Mr Minx had cooked up the tops and combined them with organic kale, but left the root part for me. He's not a big fan of beets, and the three beets I was now staring at were enormous--no way I was going to eat them without assistance.

So I made ketchup. As with everything I cook, I think "why the hell not?" I've had mango ketchup and banana ketchup. Beets are sweet, too, and red. Like ketchup. Chioggia beets are pink though, so to up the color, I added balsamic vinegar. And, of course, brown sugar and spices. I always think ketchup tastes like cloves, but those little suckers are pungent. I didn't want to go overboard, so I just added a pinch. After tasting my concoction, I added a bit of smoked paprika and cayenne, for oomph. You can add more cayenne, if you want, but I thought a small amount was more prudent.

The texture, after pureeing, is rather thick and spoonable, rather than pourable. Heinz ain't got nothing on homemade.

We served the ketchup on lamb burgers, and it was really delicious. I think beet bbq sauce made with beet ketchup might be the next step.

Spicy, Smoky Beet Ketchup

2 cups chopped roasted beets
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
Pinch ground cloves

Place the beets, garlic, and vinegars in a saucepan and stir to combine. Turn heat on to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until beets are tender. Stir in seasonings and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Puree mixture in a food processor or blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

More is More

As they say, less is more. But sometimes more is more.

I was looking for a quick desserty-type thing to whip up on the weekend, and found a one-pan cookie cake recipe on the Joy the Baker site. She tossed bananas, walnuts, and chocolate chips into a batter that was both stirred up and baked in a cast iron skillet. Being cast iron skillet-less myself (heresy, I know), I opted to bake my cake in an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Since the recipe called for melting butter, I decided to go a little further and make brown butter. And in addition to chocolate chips, banana, and nuts, I tossed in some Heath bits, well, because they were there. The chocolate chips and toffee bits melted a bit in the hot pot, turning this cookie cake into a cookie and candy cake. Pretty tasty!

If you don't eat it all in one go (I don't recommend doing that), store it in the fridge. The candy part will harden quite a bit when cold, If you want a chewier, cakier texture, allow your serving to come to room temperature before eating.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Almond Toffee Cookie Cake (inspired by Joy the Baker)

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 ripe banana
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark chocolate chunks
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
1/4 cup Heath bar bits

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in a large saucepot over medium-high heat. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter ceases to make sputtering noises and begins to brown and smell nutty. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until completely combined. Mash in banana, then add the egg, stirring well. Whisk in the vanilla, then add the cinnamon, flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Stir well with a wooden spoon to incorporate all of the flour.

Fold in the chocolate, almonds, and Heath bar bits. The heat from the pot will melt the chocolate and Heath bits a bit. Pour into a greased 8x8 baking pan. Smooth top and bake for 18-20 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Preserved Lemons

Let me tell you about one of my favorite ingredients. It's something that adds sunshine and happiness to any dish: preserved lemons. Yeah, regular fresh lemons can do much the same thing, but when you preserve a lemon, that is, pack it in salt and allow it to sit for a while, the lemon flavor seems more intense. And you can eat the whole thing. But maybe throw away the seeds.

So what to do with preserved lemons? A traditional North African condiment, found predominately in Moroccan cuisine, the lemons' flavor works beautifully with olives, lamb, chicken, and smoky harissa paste. I chop a bit up and put it in chicken salad, and I've stewed chicken thighs with tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives, and preserved lemons, too. Stir a little into mayo to make a nice topping for a lamb burger. You'll find several uses for preserved lemon in the Minxeats archives, for example in this swiss chard dish, this bean dip, and this chicken and fennel dish.

Preserved lemons even taste good in guacamole.

Making preserved lemons is the easiest thing ever. It just requires a bit of patience. Like six week's worth.

Preserved Lemons

Lemons (organic if you can find them; Meyer lemons are great)
Kosher Salt
Lemon juice
Jar large enough to hold lemons snugly

Cut the lemon nearly in half lengthwise, stopping about a half inch before you reach the other tip. Make another identical cut perpendicular to the first cut, so the lemon is nearly quartered. Holding it over the jar you're going to use, prise the four sections apart and pour kosher salt into the space between them. Close the lemon and place in the jar. Repeat with enough remaining lemons, squashing them as you put them in, that the jar is full and lemons are packed very snugly. Fill the remaining space with lemon juice and a couple spoons-full of salt. Cap the jar and shake it so the juice is evenly distributed.

Refrigerate, shaking every couple of days so any salt and juice that accumulate at the bottom is distributed through the lemons. I find it takes about a month to six weeks for the lemons to soften to the proper texture (they should feel cooked).

To use, cut off a the amount you need and rinse it (or not) before adding to your dish.

Yes, I started this post so long ago, we still had a Christmas-themed tablecloth on.
Preserved Lemon Guacamole

2 ripe avocados
1/8 of a preserved lemon, rinsed lightly and minced
3 scallions, finely chopped

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add the preserved lemon and scallions and mash with a fork until the desired texture. You shouldn't need to add salt, as the lemon is quite salty.

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Gluten-Free Mango Lychee Crisp

One evening after dining at Hunan Taste, we popped into H Mart (since it's in the same shopping center) and picked up a few odds and ends from the produce department. There was a big bin of lychees that was being swarmed by women who seemed to be digging around for particular fruits. I had no idea what they were looking for, but put ten or so lychees in my bag and left them to their digging.

Lychees are weird fruits. When I was a kid, they were occasionally served as dessert in Chinese restaurants. They came straight from a can, preserved in syrup. They were oddly eye-ball-like and had a strange fleshiness. I wasn't sold.

Fresh ones are better. They're small and spiky, easy to peel, with a white fruit (and pit) inside. Still on the eyeball-ish side. I bought them green, which is apparently immature, although they were plenty sweet and juicy already. The texture of the fruit is similar to that of a grape, but more, I don't know...sinewy? Fibrous, I guess. The flavor is not far off from that of passion fruit and is very perfum-y. They're tasty, but I'm not big on the texture.

I had a mango left over from my Ananda chutney experiment and thought I'd make a fruit crisp with the mango and the lychee. Why not? It actually worked really well, especially with a scoop of ice cream on top.

You might have noticed the "gluten-free" label in the title of this post. I'm not going all special-diet on you, believe me. I still like gluten and eat plenty of it. But I figured I could use oat flour along with the oatmeal and make a gluten-free crisp as tasty as one with wheat flour.

Because lychees are oddly fibrous, it's best to chop them fairly finely. They are also juicy as heck, so make sure you add those juices to the crumble. You can sop 'em up with some cornstarch so the resulting crisp is actually crisp and not soggy.

Gluten-Free Mango Lychee Crisp

1 ripe mango
10 lychees
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup oat flour
1 tablespoon roughly chopped nuts (I used pistachios and walnuts)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch cardamom
Pinch cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Peel and dice the mango. Peel, deseed, and chop the lychees finely. Toss the mango, lychee, and lychee juices with the sugar and cornstarch and divide the mixture between 4 half-cup or 2 one-cup oven-safe ramekins.

Combine the oatmeal, oat flour, nuts, brown sugar, and spices in a bowl. Pour over the melted butter and mix well. Sprinkle the oat mixture evenly over the mango/lychees.

Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly around the edges. Allow to cool a bit before eating.

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