Friday, November 28, 2014

Brunch at Wit and Wisdom

Mr Minx and I were recently invited to try Wit & Wisdom's revamped brunch buffet. Despite our usual lazy weekend mornings that involve eating breakfast in the vicinity of noon, we don't consider ourselves to be brunch people. Our experience at Wit & Wisdom might just change that.

The brunch buffet there is serious. Executive chef Zack Mills' offerings include everything from soup to nuts. (Almost literally--we didn't see any nuts.) There are plenty of familiar breakfast options like scrambled eggs, potatoes, Belgian waffles, buttermilk pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and omelettes. But there are also salads and soups, raw oysters, smoked salmon, poached shrimp, and more substantial items like pulled pork, roasted salmon, and teres major.

Raw oysters with mignonette, tuna tartare, lamb chop, pita, labne
Near the front of the line was a chef's choice table featuring flavors of the Middle East, including some lovely lamb chops that, despite resting under a heat lamp, were perfectly pink and juicy inside and nicely crusty on the outside. There was also hummus and labne with pitas, a spiced rice pilaf, and a pot of ful medames, an Egyptian fava bean stew.

Smoked salmon, shrimp, rice pilaf, scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, bacon, tuna tartare
There's also a section of items for the kids--thoughtfully arranged on lower, child-height tables--with chicken fingers and fries, mac and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Bacon, eggs, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, roasted root vegetables, biscuit with sausage gravy
We had to try a little of everything. Well, almost everything, because two people couldn't do the expansive buffet justice. Everything we tried was quite good and served at the proper temperature. My favorites were the lamb chops (I was so tempted to make a pig of myself and eat two) and the roasted root vegetables.

Rice pudding and assorted Viennoiserie
The dessert table was hard to resist. Pastry chef Dyan Ng's tiny croissants and other sweet morsels are a perfect ending to the meal. Even if you pig out on savories, there's always room for a tiny cream puff or a couple of spoonfuls of rich rice pudding. Or both.

In addition to all of the various eats, Wit & Wisdom's brunch also features a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and bottomless Mimosas. A full array of cocktails crafted by lead bartender Aaron Joseph are also available. (We chose to stick to more traditional breakfast beverages: coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice.)

Wit & Wisdom's brunch is served on Sundays from 9am - 2pm. The cost is $49 for adults and $19 for children 12 and under. Yes, the price is steep, but you probably won't need to eat for the rest of the day....

Wit & Wisdom on Urbanspoon
* 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!

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Round-up

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and if you're one of those people who don't like to plan too far ahead, here are some recipe ideas for your holiday table.

Side Dishes

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cranberry Quince Sauce

Normally we don't have it together enough to make holiday dishes in advance merely for the purpose of blogging about them. Perhaps if people left comments here, requesting such things (or even if people left comments at all...ahem.), we'd try. Ordinarily, the cranberry sauce doesn't get made until the day before Thanksgiving, but this year, the three of you lucked out.

There are quince at the farmers' markets. We can hear you now, "I thought quinces were birds?" "What the hell is a quince?" Quince is a relative to pears and apples and looks like a cross between the two. Unlike pears and apples, they can't be eaten out of hand--they are far too hard, astringent, and acidic. But they smell wonderful. The two quince we picked up at the UMB farmers' market perfumed the car and made the evening commute far more pleasant than usual.

The last time we did anything with quince, the result was quince butter flavored with star anise and vanilla. Delicious stuff, especially as a side for roast pork. But there was a bag of cranberries in the freezer begging to be combined with quince. After discarding the idea of a chutney, we went with our usual cranberry sauce-making technique: throw stuff in a pot until it tastes good.

The quince and cranberry combo is wonderfully aromatic on its own, but even more so when a healthy dose of rosemary is added. Be sure to crush the rosemary needles in your hand before adding them to the pot, to ensure all the yummy essential oils can be dispersed through the sauce.

Cranberry Quince Sauce

2 quince
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup amaretto or bourbon (optional)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 lb cranberries
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Peel and dice the quince. Add them to a 2-quart saucepan with the brown sugar, orange juice, amaretto, and water. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer, uncovered, for twenty minutes, until quince are softened. Add the spices, cranberries, and salt. Cook until cranberries pop and mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the maple syrup and remove from heat.

Makes about a quart.

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pappas Cockeysville

The Taylor Avenue location of Pappas Restaurant, thought by many to have the best crab cakes in Baltimore, has been a landmark for local diners since 1972. Now they have expanded to a new location in Cockeysville, adding a spacious sports bar to compliment the restaurant offerings. The Minx and I had already visited the new Pappas when it first opened and were quite happy with our experience, so when we were invited to a media tasting of their new menu and cocktails, we didn't have to be asked twice.

We started with some appetizers, including a seafood sampler of mini crab cakes, calamari, scallops, and shrimp. The calamari was tender, which is always important. The crab cakes were delicious; the Minx thought they were even better than their larger counterparts.

We were also served Santa Fe eggrolls, which were not unlike mini chimichangas, and a rich crab dip with lightly fried pita chips. Chef Carlos Zea, who hails from Ecuador, is not afraid of spice. Everything was well seasoned.

One member of our party ordered raw oysters, and seemed pretty pleased with them.

For my entree I chose the salmon dijon. Salmon can be difficult to cook and serve at just the right level of doneness, but my salmon was cooked through without being dry and flaky. The creamy sauce had a pleasant lightness to it thanks to the tangy dijon mustard, and the ample amount of mushrooms brought an earthiness to the dish.

The Minx went for the chicken Chesapeake, which is a chicken breast topped with broiled crab imperial. As with salmon, chicken breast has a danger of becoming overcooked, but the breast was quite tender. Every element on the plate was nicely seasoned, including the green beans. In fact, all the dishes we've had at Pappas show a great deal of care when it comes to seasoning.

Just like their flagship restaurant, Pappas in Cockeysville is a great place for a satisfying lunch or dinner seven days a week, but the new location's sports bar offers a welcome spot for a drink and a light meal. Happy hour starts at 11 am (yes, that's not a typo) and lasts until 7 pm with drafts and rail drinks at $3. They also offer tasty mule drinks for $5 and $2 off wines by the glass. To keep things hopping, there's live music every Wednesday and Friday nights and late night trivia on Tuesday nights starting at 11 pm. Even if you don't have time to hang around, you can always order from the carry out menu.

Pappas Restaurant & Sports Bar on Urbanspoon

* 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!

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

c. 1740 Lounge at the Milton Inn

Shrimp scampi, beef tenderloin tartare, blackened beef tenderloin
In our minds, the Milton Inn is a swell spot for a celebratory dinner. The elegantly appointed dining rooms and the rich cuisine seem so very appropriate on anniversaries and birthdays. But now there's the more casual c. 1740 Lounge, which incorporates the restaurant's bar, Hearth Room, and outdoor patio. On a recent chilly evening, we were invited to sample proprietor/executive chef Brian Boston's new lounge menu of small plates. As our group enjoyed a drink before dinner, a couple dining at the bar, Milton Inn regulars, made it known to us that they were thrilled about the new concept.

After conversation and a snack of creamy crab dip with the smack of horseradish, we were encouraged to take seats at tables set up in the cozy Hearth room and an adjacent smaller dining room perfectly sized for a fun dinner for a dozen or so friends.

Now, when I said "sample the menu," I meant it. There are 26 items currently available; we tasted 21 of them. And not a clunker in the bunch. The oyster stew (which happens to be featured in our cookbook, Baltimore Chef's Table), is a standout, and the shellfish soup is light and dreamy, redolent of lobster stock. Other favorites included the beef tenderloin tartare, the Fall Harvest salad and its surprising maple vinaigrette, and the "pasta of the moment," which at that moment involved spinach, mascarpone, and lemon.

Beef Tenderloin Tartare: With anchovy aioli, sriracha, capers, shallot, cornichons,
quail egg yolk, smoked sea salt and toasted baguette
We were pleased to see sweetbreads on the menu, and even more pleased when we found we didn't have to share a bite with any of the five other offal-averse diners at our table. The delicately-flavored organ meat was smothered in a rich marsala mushroom cream sauce and served with toasted baguette.

There's a nod to vegetarians with a "crab cake" made from shredded zucchini and served with white beans. The pasta of the moment will often be vegetarian, and there are a couple of salads to choose from as well. However, between the several types of shellfish, beef, chicken, venison, salmon, and organ meats, omnivores fare best at c. 1740 Lounge.

The food is uniformly delicious, and the price is right. Courses begin at $12, with a supplement on some dishes with obviously pricier ingredients. Wine pairings are $4 for a 2-ounce pour and $7 for 4 ounces, but if you prefer a cocktail, do try the Port Poached Pear Martini, with gin, vodka, pear liqueur, pineapple juice, port, and sweet and sour. Dinner at the Lounge is available 7 days a week, and one can also enjoy lunch Monday through Friday. Despite the low-key atmosphere, the food and service are still top-notch.

When we thought of the Milton Inn as a special occasion restaurant, the drive up to Sparks seemed like a journey. Now, we realize, it's just a pleasant jaunt up the road.

Milton Inn on Urbanspoon

* 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!

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tomato Garlic Parm Soup

This is turning into a soup and dip blog, isn't it? Seems like every recipe I post is for either a soup or a type of dip (usually involving eggplant). I hate to bore you all yet again, but here's more soup. Hey - I like soup and it's my birthday,

Hey - it's cold. It's fall. Soup is the perfect meal, for lunch or dinner. And in a lot of cases, it's pretty easy to throw together. Like this creamy and rich tomato soup flavored with lots of garlic and enriched with heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. It's inspired by the lovely tomato garlic parm soup that my friend Don makes at Cajun Kate's.

Before I started cooking, I did a little Internet search to see if there was anything similar already out there, and there was. Multiple blogs seem to be posting a variation on the same recipe. Must be a good recipe, huh? But...boring to see the same ingredients posted 10 different places. I decided to wing it. It's not *that* different, but it involves less chopping and fewer ingredients.

If you don't want a creamy soup, feel free to omit the cream, or just add a little bit. And do use fresh basil (available pretty much year-round at grocery stores) or that Gourmet Garden stuff in a tube; dried basil just won't cut it. (Or maybe it will for you. I just don't like dried basil.) And don't skimp on the garlic!

Creamy Tomato Garlic Parmesan Soup

1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2-15oz cans diced tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
Salt and cracked black pepper

In a 2 quart saucepan, cook the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt over medium heat until translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or two, stirring regularly, until very fragrant. Dump the onion and garlic into a blender with the two cans of tomatoes and about 3/4 of the basil and blend to a puree. Pour the tomato/onion mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and cover pot. Simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Add most of the Parmesan (save some for garnish) and stir well to combine. Add the cream or half and half and stir well. Season with salt and fresh black pepper.

Serve garnished with reserved cheese and basil.

Serves 4.

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Friday, November 14, 2014

B&O Brasserie's New Menu is Both Exotic and Familiar

The menu at B&O Brasserie has seen an evolution over the years as each chef has brought with him a slightly different style of cuisine. The newest addition to the restaurant's kitchen is executive chef Mike Ransom, a native of Michigan who has worked in Chicago and San Francisco before coming to Baltimore.

The Minx and I were invited to a media dinner to sample the latest incarnation of B&O's fare. At first glance, the new menu might make you think the dishes are fairly straight-forward, but Chef Mike Ransom brings a great deal of finesse and creativity to standard favorites. The result is a dining experience that is at once familiar and unlike anything you've ever eaten before.

One of Chef Ransom's goals was to integrate the restaurant with the bar. To that effect, he's created food that pairs well with the extraordinary selection of specialty cocktails on head bartender Brendan Dorr's drink menu. I started with The Galavanter and the Minx chose the Grove Tipple. The Glavanter is an exotic blend of rye, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters, and dry vermouth that the Minx described as tasting like the "men's department at Bergdorf Goodman's." She meant that in a good way. Her Grove Tipple--another mad scientist's concoction of pear brandy, amaro, apple butter, lemon, ginger, and sage--was pleasantly fruity and lightly sweet. We enjoyed our drinks with a selection of olives and spiced nuts.

Chef Ransom was particularly eager for us to try some of the new appetizers, and the first to arrive at our table was sweet potato gnocchi. Talk about Thanksgiving on a plate! I was concerned that the sweet potato would be too sweet, but incorporating it into gnocchi dough mitigated any cloying quality. It was slightly sweet and hearty with the fall-ish quality of sage and a nice crunch thanks to pumpkin seeds.

Next up was pastrami-cured salmon, served with a savory beet pickle, slivers of cured orange rind, a dill raita, and rye crisps. If you pile a little bit of each element onto a rye crisp, the combination is a balanced bite of tangy, spicy, and crunchy, with that bite of orange bringing all of the flavors together. The Minx, who really doesn't appreciate the texture of raw or cured salmon, loved it in this application, which, while not really tasting like pastrami, was probably her favorite dish of the evening.

Calamari is an appetizer staple and many places do not do the poor squids justice. Not so at B&O where theirs is slow cooked until it is meltingly tender and served with confit tomato and preserved lemon. The garlicky chile broth had Asian overtones; what we thought might be coconut milk was, according to chef Ransom, a yuzu compound butter. You definitely need the toasted baguette to soak up all of that delicious sauce.

The red-eye riblets, coffee-brined and coated in a bourbon barbeque sauce, are more refined than the typical sweet-sauced baby backs. A kimchee with Asian pear and honeycrisp apple added the proper amount of tang to cut the richness of the meat and sauce.

After four appetizers, we were ready to move onto our entrees, but Chef Ransom offered a palate cleanser in the form of a beet salad. Nice balance was at play here with the slightly sweet beets and orange peel paired with briny cerignola olives and a light dusting of manchego cheese. A beet puree vinaigrette, mizuna greens, and some crunchy sunflower seeds round out the dish.

Onto the entrees, starting with a short rib pot roast. As you would expect from a pot roast, the meat was delectably fork tender, with a richly flavored jus. The bed of buttermilk mashed potatoes underneath was creamy, yet not without some texture. Baby turnips, beets, and carrots added a pleasant earthiness in keeping with a fall dish.

Equally toothsome was the braised pork shoulder with gigante beans and rapini in an aleppo-mustard jus. The texture of the pork reminded us of the riblets, albeit without the bone. The rapini, which had been charred, offered an unusual bitter element to the rich, slightly sweet, sauce and creamy beans.

The big surprise of the night for me was the Bay cassoulet, featuring fresh flounder, squid, and mussels. In addition to the traditional white beans, there was a bit of fennel, and the broth contained similar elements to those in the braised calamari we ate earlier. Cassoulets can sometimes be heavy, but using seafood as the protein and adding citrus to the broth brought a welcomed lightness to the dish.

Dessert is usually not on our minds after such a large meal, but we couldn't turn away the pear pecan tart. The sweet fruit, presented in a light, crisp crust, was topped with whipped creme fraiche and the surprise of sweet and chewy candied fennel.

We were also served a brioche toast with boozy bourbon-macerated dates and almond praline ice cream. A touch of salt really made the dish.

Many times we have encountered menus that push the boundaries of experimentation while neglecting the fundamental elements that make a meal satisfying. We've also eaten in restaurants that stick to classic cuisine to the point where any sense of specialness is lost. Chef Mike Ransom has found that perfect balance between accessible menu options and those that take you to places outside your normal expectations. We can't wait to see what new surprises Chef Ransom will offer in the future.

B&O American Brasserie on Urbanspoon

* 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!

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Green Bean Casserole

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and those of us who contribute dishes to the annual family feast are probably searching for recipes right about now. I do have some tried and true dishes, but I hate making the exact same thing every time. Even though I only eat turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc., once a year, I like to mix things up a bit.

We do have green bean casserole every year. It isn't one of the things I grew up eating, but any excuse to eat those french fried onions from a can is a good excuse. Especially when one can pretend they're part of a "healthy" veggie dish. Even better than onions are fried shallots, which come in a big plastic container at most Asian supermarkets (I got mine at Great Wall in Catonsville), because they are (I think) more versatile.

I have to admit using canned soup in the green bean casseroles of my past, mostly because I'm too busy with other stuff to make soup from scratch. But while it does dirty another pot, I have discovered that it makes for a much more delicious final dish. In other words, it's worth the effort. It actually doesn't take that long to make a white sauce, and it can be flavored any way you wish. Omit the mushrooms entirely and add fried onions, instead, or a big pinch of chicken bouillon powder (you probably won't need additional salt). Season your sauce with a variety of herbs and spices--curry powder is delicious here--or go as plain as you wish. You can also control the calorie count in the sauce by using 1% or 2% milk. The sauce won't taste as rich, but it'll still be very good.

And for goodness sake, don't save green bean casserole for the it all year 'round! We eat it over steamed basmati rice.

Green Bean Casserole

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and halved
2 large portobello mushrooms
olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups whole milk
pinch thyme
salt and pepper
1 cup fried shallots or French's fried onions

Cook the green beans in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Remove stems from mushrooms, trim cut end, and chop the rest. Scrape the gills out of the mushroom caps with a spoon. Rinse caps to remove any extra gill goop/dirt. Dice the caps. Place diced caps and stems into a 2 quart saucepan with a glug of olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are tender and there is some juice in the pan. Add the butter and stir until melted. Stir in the flour. Cook the resulting paste, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, to remove the raw flour taste. Stir in the garlic and cook an additional minute. Pour in the milk. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, then turn down the heat a bit. Season with thyme, salt and pepper, and cook until thickened.

Remove sauce from heat and add cooked green beans and 1/2 cup of the fried shallots. Stir well to combine. Pour mixture into an 8x8 square baking pan. Top with remaining shallots.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

Serve as a side dish, or eat over rice.

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

When fall hits, pumpkin becomes the most popular flavor. Everywhere you look there's pumpkin bread, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin everything. Let's not forget pumpkin spice lattes, which have their own, not-so-flattering, meme.

As a typical white girl, I love pumpkin and fall (yoga pants not so much), but especially pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake. Recently, I was in a cheesecake mood, but didn't want to fuss with making a whole big thing. Not that making a cheesecake is difficult, but we don't need to have one of those evil things in the fridge, calling our names. A creamy cheesecake flavored with pumpkin and spices sings a siren's song, for sure.

I like making brownies and I love eating them, so figured combining pumpkin cheesecake with a brownie could be a perfect thing. This despite my thinking that I really don't like the combination of pumpkin and chocolate. Years and years ago I made a pumpkin pie that had a layer of chocolate on the bottom. It was awful. The chocolate was too dark and competed with the spices in the pumpkin. I can still taste it, and cringe a little. Can't remember where I found that recipe, but I'm pretty sure this was pre-Internet.

This time, I did consult the Internet for a pumpkin cheesecake brownie recipe, but all of the ones I found involved swirling the cheesecake batter into the chocolate batter. That's not cheesecake-y enough for my taste. Why not simply layer the two elements? The cheesecake batter would be lighter than the brownie batter, and should float nicely on top without sinking down into it. But I wasn't sure if the combination of elements would require two bakings--bake the brownie first, add the cheese, and bake again. Overbaked or burnt brownies would be bad, so it all went into the pan at the same time, for one baking. And it worked! The brownie made a nice crust for the fluffy and light cheesecake element. It wasn't too chocolately (yes, there is such a thing), and the cheesecake wasn't too spicy. It was just right.

So, ladies, I present to you the perfect treat: pumpkin AND chocolate. You're welcome.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Brownies

For brownie layer:
3/4 stick unsalted butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

For cheesecake layer:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line 8" or 9" baking pan with two long sheets of parchment, placed parallel to each other. Let long ends hang over the pan, to use as handles later. Spray with a bit of release spray.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a sauce pan. Stir in the sugar until well combined and remove from the heat. Add the pumpkin and cinnamon and mix well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the flour and salt.

Pour the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing out the top.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, and butter in a mixer until very creamy. Beat in egg, milk, pumpkin, flour, vanilla, and spices. Pour over brownie base.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until cheesecake is puffed and no longer jiggly or wet-looking (the center may be very slightly wobbly). Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Lift brownie from pan with parchment handles and slide onto a serving plate. Cut into bars. Store covered in the fridge.

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on