Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Rice Salad with Chinese Sausage and Roasted Broccoli

Have you ever read a food magazine and felt the urge to cook one of the recipes RIGHT NOW? As in, drop the magazine and run to the kitchen immediately? I had that feeling when I spotted the recipe for savory granola in the April 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. I had just turned the oven off 10 minutes earlier after removing a tray of roasted broccoli and knew I wouldn't have to wait for the thing to pre-heat (it takes forever, which can be a real buzz-kill during a cooking frenzy). We had most of the ingredients--old fashioned oats, walnuts, sesame seeds, fennel, seeds--and I substituted for a couple others (pumpkin seeds in place of sunflower seeds, skipped the pistachios entirely). I mixed up the ingredients pronto and banged them into the hot oven.

Now you must recall that I had just roasted broccoli. At 450°F. So the oven was a wee bit hotter than it needed to be, hence the charred appearance of my salad topping (some of the black bits are black sesame seeds though). No matter, even slightly burnt, the granola was AMAZING. It took all of my willpower not to shove handfuls of it into my face hole. The combination of nuts + fennel seeds is delicious and I wish I had thought of it myself.

Rather than eating all of it right then and there (it makes about 3 cups), I decided to use it as a component in the dinner I was preparing--cold rice salad with Chinese sausage and a peanut butter vinaigrette. Oh, and roasted broccoli.

I wanted the salad to have a peanut sauce flavor, but not a standard sweet peanut sauce. Instead, I made it ultra vinegary, using both rice wine and Chinese black vinegar (also called Chinkiang vinegar). Chinese black vinegar is, as Isaac Mizrahi is fond of saying, EVERYTHING, Darlings. It's mellow, malty, and woodsy, with a burnt caramel aspect. If you're a vinegar fan (and I know not everyone is...weirdos), then you have to try it. I then added a bit of agave syrup, soy, and sambal oelek for heat. (We use Huy Fong brand, the company that makes the ever popular "rooster sauce" sriracha. Oelek is different in that it's just crushed chiles in vinegar and salt, no garlic or sugar.) It was perfect on plain steamed rice garnished with Chinese sausage and scallions.

I tossed the broccoli into the salad after the sauce was added, because I didn't want the broccoli to have soggy florets. And then I sprinkled a bit of the granola on each serving.

So. Good. I need to make this again very soon.

Rice Salad with Roasted Broccoli

Roasted broccoli:
3 broccoli crowns
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt

Peanut sauce:
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
5 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sambal oelek
1/4 teaspoon salt

To assemble salad:
3 cups cooked, room-temperature rice (Jasmine is nice, or basmati)
3 Chinese pork sausages, sliced into coins, lightly fried, and drained on paper towels
1/2 cup julienned carrots
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

Savory granola (optional, but delicious)

To make broccoli: Preheat oven to 450°F.

Remove thick stem from each broccoli crown. Break the floret into small pieces. Cut the stem into lengthwise slices. Toss both florets and stems with olive oil and salt and arrange in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Roast for about 20 minutes, turning broccoli halfway, until tender and browning in spots. Remove from heat and set aside.

To make peanut sauce: In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well. Taste for seasoning--it should be vinegary, lightly salty, and lightly spicy. Add more salt and sambal if you wish.

To assemble salad: Using a fork, stir rice into prepared peanut sauce until well-coated. Add the sausages, carrots, and scallions and toss to combine.

Serve at room temperature with a helping of broccoli and a sprinkle of the savory granola.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Maple Bacon Baked Donuts

A few months back, I received a cookbook to review. It was full of gluten-free donut recipes, and I wanted to try at least one before I said anything about the book. But each recipe called for several ingredients that we didn't normally have on hand, and it took a while to compile them all. Eventually, everything was in the larder and we were eager to eat some delicious, home-made donuts.

I whipped up a batch for breakfast one day. They looked really pretty, but they were horrible. Dry and flavorless, despite the insane amount of vanilla in them. What a disappointment. (Celiacs, you have my sincere sympathy.)

So now we had these special donut pans that were taking up precious room in the one small cabinet that we use for baking sheets and muffin and cake pans. I had to use them again (and again), but this time, we were going to skip the gluten-free business and going straight for the good stuff: wheat flour. Real sugar. Butter. Forget the applesauce (every damn recipe in that book had a minuscule amount of applesauce in it). An Internet search revealed a recipe for relatively plain baked donuts flavored with nutmeg and I decided to use it as my base. The nutmeg is key in this recipe--it's what makes the donuts taste like donuts. And since we had a few slices of bacon left over from dinner the night before, I sprinkled them on top, with a layer of maple syrup-flavored glaze in between.

Oh so good!

Ok, so while baked donuts aren't exactly like the fried kind, they are pretty damn delicious. The texture is somewhere between a honey dip and a madeleine. Spongy, but not spongecake. Not at all like a cupcake. I'd love to find a recipe for a denser, cake-donut-type baked donut, but I'm pretty happy to eat these until I find one.

Maple Bacon Baked Donuts (adapted from Joy the Baker)

For donuts:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla

For frosting:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
Splash vanilla
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 slices bacon, chopped

To make donuts: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two 6-well doughnut pans and set aside. (I use this one by Wilton.)

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sugar. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk egg, buttermilk, and vanilla together. Add melted butter and whisk again. Pour wet ingredients over dry and stir together just until everything is combined and no flour bits remain.

Spoon batter into a small zip-top bag, Squeeze out as much air as possible without squeezing the bag too much and seal. Use scissors to cut off one of the bottom corners of the bag. Pipe batter into as many donut wells as you can fill halfway. If you're using the Wilton pan linked above, you should be able to fill all twelve. Don't overfill, otherwise the donuts will rise too much and the holes will close.

Place pans in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pans to a rack and allow to cool completely before unmolding donuts.

While the doughnuts cool, make the glaze.

To make the glaze, in a medium bowl whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, and cream until smooth.

Once the doughnuts are cool, dip top-side-down into the glaze. Return to the wire rack and sprinkle with bacon. Eat immediately, or, if you want to put a couple away, wait until the glaze has set and wrap each donut separately in plastic wrap. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.









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Friday, April 25, 2014

Swiss Chard

Mr Minx and I had been eating a ton of meaty protein over a period of a few short days, what with Korean bbq, Peking duck, and pulled pork being on the dinner agenda. Time for something vegetarian!

We'd recently taken a tour of the gourmet supermarkets in our area and popped in to MOM's Organic Market to see what it was all about. There, we found some beautiful organic red chard and popped it into our shopping basket. I wasn't sure what to do with it, but found a Martha Stewart recipe for chard and barley "risotto." She used regular barley, which, if cooked and stirred long enough, gets sorta creamy like arborio rice. All we had was some of Trader Joe's "10 Minute Barley," so I had to change the recipe a bit. Instead of the original 5 cups of stock called for, I reduced it to 2 and added some half and half to get a creamy texture. Martha also called for one whole preserved lemon, which seemed a bit extreme, so I reduced the amount quite a bit. I wanted a lemony bite, not lemon overload. (If you don't have preserved lemons, the zest of one lemon should do nicely.)

This was actually our first time buying and preparing chard, and we thought it was delish. Martha tossed her chard stems, but I put them in for texture and color. They added a juicy crunch, which was a nice counterpoint to the chewy barley and silky greens. It was really good and I'd do it again.

Chard and Barley Risotto

1 bunch Swiss chard
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup quick barley (Quaker or Trader Joe's)
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon
3 tablespoons half and half or cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Shaved Parmesan for garnish

Wash chard well. Remove stems and chop. Tear leaves into pieces.

Bring chicken broth to a simmer. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add barley and toast for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add scallions and chard stems and cook an additional minute. Pour in one cup of broth and cook, stirring frequently, until broth is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth a few tablespoons at a time, cooking until barley is tender. (You may not need all of the broth.) Stir in the preserved lemon.

Pile the chard leaves on top of the barley and cover the pan. When chard has wilted, about 3-4 minutes, stir it into the barley. Add the cream and butter and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Shave some fresh Parm on top and serve.

Serves 2-4, depending on if you're using it as a main or a side.








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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Roasted Pork Loin

When I was young, my mother made a roasted pork loin fairly often. Back in those days, it was recommended that pork be cooked to 160°F, which rendered it dry and flavorless. And pork had more fat then! So we'd eat tons of applesauce on the side to make the arid meat more palatable. Sometimes it worked.

The 70s are long gone, but the taste of dry pork stays with me. Hence, before now, I have never cooked a pork loin myself. Granted, they don't seem to be easy to find anymore. Supermarkets have plenty of pork chops and pork tenderloins, but I seldom see larger cuts of meat. (The meat selection in most supermarkets sucks, period.) Fortunately, our local Weis market had several big pre-rolled and tied roasts, on sale yet. We bought the biggest one they had--4.77 lb--along with some garlic and fresh sage with which to flavor it.

Making a pork roast is really a super-simple deal. You only need a handful of ingredients and a couple hours in the oven to produce something that's both flavorful and juicy. Forget that archaic 160°F internal temperature requirement! 145°F is all you need. And while most chefs/foodies/know-it-alls will recommend brining the roast before cooking, who really has enough room in the fridge for a container large enough to contain a 5-lb roast AND a gallon or two of brine? Certainly not me. Our roast was plenty juicy when cooked to the proper temperature and allowed to rest for 15 minutes before carving. And it was delicious, subtly perfumed with garlic and sage.

I dare say I'll be making pork roast often now. At least when I can find it on sale. (The pre-sale price was nearly $4 per pound!)

Roasted Pork Loin

1 5-lb boneless pork loin with fat cap, rolled and tied.
7-8 small cloves or 3-4 large cloves garlic
8-10 fresh sage leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Using a long thin knife (like a boning knife), poke holes into both ends of the roast, making some deeper than others. If your garlic cloves are on the large side, cut them into halves or thirds. Wrap each with a sage leaf and, using your finger, poke garlic into the holes. You want the cloves to end up in different parts of the roast, so the flavor of garlic and sage permeates the meat at different points.

Put the roast into a baking pan. Generously salt and pepper the outside of the roast. Place in preheated oven for twenty minutes. After 20 minutes, turn heat down to 350°F. Cook roast for 20-25 minutes per pound total, or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads 145°F.

Remove roast from the oven and tent with foil. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with applesauce. We also served roasted asparagus (put in the oven about 15 minutes before pork was done) and pierogi with tons of sauteed onion. So good.


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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Be AMAZING!

Here's an upcoming event for a very worthy group. The $50 per ticket will not only get you some yummy food from places like Clementine and Bosphorous Bistro, you'll also assisting I Am O'Kah with empowering youth toward economic independence.

I Am O’Kah!’s Be AMAZING! Awards Gala May 17 To Support Youth 
Entrepreneurship in Baltimore

Baltimore children and their families who are fighting against socio-economic barriers to success will be beneficiaries of I Am O’Kah! Inc.’s Be AMAZING! Awards Gala and Silent Auction. This Creative Black-Tie preferred celebration will take place Saturday, May 17, from 7:00 to 11:00 PM, at the Maryland Historical Society (201 W Monument St., 21201).

This year’s theme is “Unlock Your Inner Art,” in honor of local champions who have shown their commitment to creativity in their service to the community. With over 300 guests expected, the event will feature live interactive art, music by Marc Avon Evans and VOR Music Group, cocktails and food tastings by Clementine, Tapas Adela, Plates, Diablo Doughnuts, Pho Towson, Bosphorous Bistro, Land of Kush, and Dessert Fantasies as well as a silent auction and guided tours of Maryland Historical Society exhibits.

Hosted by Brandi Proctor of Baltimore's FOX 45 & Walter Maxfield Jones of the Sweet Spot, an awards
presentation will recognize the following honorees for their innovative approach to serving the community:

▪Outstanding Community Leader of the Year - Joseph Manko of Liberty Elementary School
▪Outstanding Woman of the Year - Kate Williams of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance
▪Outstanding Man of the Year - Teddy Coates of Black Professional Men
▪Outstanding Educator of the Year - Deana Frank of Elijah Cummings Youth Program
▪Outstanding Organization of the Year - Sarah Hemminger of Incentive Mentoring Program
▪Outstanding Artist of the Year - Brian Kirhagis of Brik Art
▪Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year - Taharka Brothers Ice Cream Co.
▪Outstanding Student of the Year – Lindsay Bottos, MICA

Tickets at $50/person and event sponsorships can be purchased online at www.iamokah.eventbrite.com. All event proceeds will benefit I Am O'Kah'!'s Financial Rockstar Academy and the Kahdine Ann DaCosta Scholarship for Excellence in Leadership.

For more information about the Be AMAZING! Awards Gala or I Am O’Kah! Inc., contact the foundation’s executive director, Aisha DaCosta, at 443-468-6402 or aisha@iamokah.org, or visit www.iamokah.org.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring Has Sprung at B&O American Brasserie

There's a new chef at B&O American Brasserie: Matthew Kane, who has been at B&O since its 2010 opening. A native Marylander, Kane plans on taking the restaurant back to its brasserie roots. His first menu in that direction features hearty, comforting fare like bone marrow and pork tenderloin combined with seasonal ingredients like ramps and fiddleheads, making a perfect transition from snowy winter into the welcome spring.

I was invited to a media sampling of some of Chef Kane's dishes, presented with a selection of master mixologist Brendan Dorr's cocktail wizardry. Standouts on the menu include Kane's brussels sprouts with a mustard crème fraîche (inspired by a version at Geoffrey Zakarian's now-closed South Beach restaurant, Tudor House), the lovely duck and pork terrine found on that night's house charcuterie platter, and a duo of rabbit that included speck-wrapped loin and rabbit-filled agnolotti. (I don't even like rabbit, but wanted more of this dish!)

We tried five of Dorr's drinks, from a near-classic daiquiri (E.M.H. Daquiri) and lighter version of a Manhattan (Perfect Age) to a lovely tart gin-and-cucumber cooler (Morning Dew), a smoky Mezcal-based bevvie (Burro Mexicano) and a dessert-like Brandy Alexander. I am hard-pressed to name a favorite, although the Perfect Age was really quite nice. Heck, they all were.

So...get thineselves to B&O and taste some of the new stuff.

Forgive my blurry photos...but enjoy the slideshow nonetheless.


B&O American Brasserie
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
443.692.6172
http://www.bandorestaurant.com/

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Bosphorus Bistro

Several months back, the Minx purchased a Groupon for Bosphorus Bistro. I was curious to check the place out since I had never had Turkish food before and we had been happy with the pizza and sandwiches from their sister restaurant Toss. Also, Bosphorus Bistro is located only about 10 minutes from our home. Bad weather and other commitments prevented us from going for quite a while, but one sunny Saturday, we decided we had to head down York Road and try their wares.

The restaurant is quite dark with strings of lights along the walls to provide a soft glow. We were seated in one of the wood booths along the wall and settled in with the menu. Since our goal at any restaurant is to experience as many different items as possible, we decided to try the mixed mezze platter which allows you to choose four items from the appetizers list. We went with the pink sultan (mainly because the name intrigued us), baba ganoush, kisir, and dolma.

Mixed mezze platter with pink sultan, baba ganoush, kisir, and dolma
The pink sultan was a dip consisting of beets and garlic mixed in labne (yogurt-based cheese). I've never been a fan of beets, but the earthy flavor that normally turns me off seemed mitigated by the garlic and the creamy, tangy labne. I actually found myself enjoying it, especially when scooped onto the fresh pita bread. I'm also not crazy about eggplant, but I'm quite content to devour a well-prepared baba ganoush and the one served at Bosphorus was lemony and slightly smoky. Kisir was new to me: a blend of bulgar wheat, mint, onion, tomato, and pepper. The bulgar wheat gave the dip a hearty, nutty flavor while the other ingredients brought the familiar flavors of the Mediterranean. The tomato especially provided a refreshing brightness. The dolma were dense little packages of rice wrapped in grape leaves. I always love the soft texture of grape leaves.

Lamb Chops
For entrees, I order the lamb chops and Minx ordered the cizbiz kofta. My lamb chops were tender with just the right amount of sear and a fine grilled flavor. Minx's kofta were four savory lamb patties that also had a nice taste of the grill. My chops were herbacious and salty in a good way, while the Minx's cizbiz were well seasoned. Both dishes were served on a bed of buttery rice with mushrooms and a large amount of red and green chopped bell pepper scattered around the edge of the plate.

Cizbiz kofta
For someone who loves rice, I was happy to nom away on the generous portion of slightly sticky rice. However, the large quantity of bell pepper was unnecessary. Both the mushrooms and the peppers were undercooked, existing in that odd textural limbo between not quite crunchy and raw tasting, but not quite soft and sweet either. Minx and I felt that a smaller quantity of vegetables would be fine, especially if they were first finely chopped and/or roasted.

The owner greeted us at the door when we came in and he stopped by during our meal to see how we liked everything. We had a pleasant conversation and he seemed genuinely interested in our feedback about the food and the restaurant. Based on the number of customers who greeted him as they entered the restaurant, it's clear that he is building a clientele of diners who enjoy visiting the restaurant on a regular basis. We are also eager to go back and try some of their other Middle Eastern dishes.

Bosphorus Bistro
5716 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21212
(410) 323-0300

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company

Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company is a 100% wind-powered coffee company located right here in Maryland! Based in Crofton, in Anne Arundel County, CBRC offers high-quality, organic, fair trade coffee for your daily brew.

If you want to try one of their blends, CBRC coffee is offered in their online store and at Bread & Circuses Bistro in Towson. But they're also offering Minxeats readers a sweet gift basket containing coffee, mugs, scoops, and other coffee-drinking necessities. Just click on this link to enter the drawing: http://woobox.com/qyknec.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Matcha Sesame Blondies

We did a lot of baking over the past few months, because turning on the oven was a quick way to warm up the house. We got kinda stuck on making bar cookies though. They're fast and tasty and can be made in myriad variations. Both brownies and blondies are versatile, but there are some flavors that don't go as well with chocolate as they do without. Take green tea, for example; its delicate flavor and aroma can easily be muffled by chocolate. (Though I must confess, the warm chocolate bundt cake at Yokozuna in Ocean City, MD, tastes swell with a side order of green tea ice cream.) The same goes for sesame. And since we had both in the cupboard (courtesy of regular orders from Nuts.com), we combined them in a blondie-style bar cookie.

We modified the Toll House cookie recipe by cutting it in half. (Hence the odd 3/8 cup sugar measurement. Just use a cup that has a 1/8 mark on it and measure out either three 1/8 cups or one 1/4 cup and one 1/8 cup and you're golden.)  The matcha powder we used is actually a drink mix that already contains some sugar and milk powder. If you'd prefer to use the actual additive-free tea, you'll need much less than 1/4 cup. Up the brown sugar content to 3/8 cup and add a couple tablespoons of the tea at a time until it tastes the way you like. You want to taste the tea, but you don't want it to be too green or vegetal. (Or maybe you do, if you're into that sort of thing.) The sesame seeds add a subtle nutty crunch reminiscent of poppy seeds.

Matcha Sesame Blondies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/8 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons matcha green tea powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1/3 cup black sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in small bowl and set aside.

Cream together butter, sugars, matcha tea powder, and vanilla  in large mixer bowl. Add egg, beating well. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in sesame seeds.

Grease 8" or 9" square pan. Spread dough evenly into pan (it will be stiff). Bake for 25-30 minutes until no longer wet and middle has sunken somewhat. Cool on wire rack before cutting into 12 or 16 bars.




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Monday, April 14, 2014

Honey Pig

After hearing about the greatness of Honey Pig's Korean bbq, we finally made a pilgrimage on a cloudy Friday afternoon. As soon as we were seated, someone rushed over with dishes of banchan, the little plates of pickles and such one normally gets in a Korean restaurant. Unlike some other places, Honey Pig's selection isn't particularly large, but it hits all the necessary garlick-y/tart/fishy/sweet notes.

As soon as we placed our order for bulgogi and pork belly, another server brought the raw goods to the table. Yet another person dumped the pork belly onto the grill and came back occasionally to turn the meat and rearrange it to optimize cooking. 


Soon everything was cooked, including a side dish of kimchi and beansprouts, and we were able to dig in. 

Both meats were tender and flavorful, possibly the best I've tasted (not that I have that much experience with Korean bbq, but I've eaten it here and there). The seafood pancake, or haemul pajeon, that we ordered as an appetizer came to the table during the Cooking of the Meat. We dug into the pancake's piping hot crispiness immediately. It was full of chewy bits of squid and scallions, and we devoured it.

Everything at Honey Pig was seriously delicious, except maybe the neon yellow lemonade, which was super sweet and artificial tasting. Next time, we'll stick to water. And we'll try other meats, the dumplings, and perhaps one of the soups or a bibimbap.

Honey Pig
10045 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042
(410) 696-2426

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Sausage and Peppers Lasagna

Have you ever gone to the grocery store, seen a random ingredient, and then come up with a completely weird dish in which to put it? For instance, have you picked up a bulb of fennel and thought, "I'm going to make lasagna?"

I have. Yeah, it didn't make sense to me either. Fennel isn't exactly a typical lasagna filling. And of course fennel alone might be a bit strange, so I decided it needed to be combined with sweet Italian sausage (which is flavored with fennel) and roasted red peppers. Why not? Why does lasagna have to be made with the same traditional ingredients every time? Ok, because it is delicious that way, but it can be delicious with other ingredients, too. Like sausage and peppers and fennel. (Oh my!)

I picked up a package of Giovanni Rana brand fresh pasta sheets on that same grocery store excursion. The fresh stuff cuts out the whole messy step of precooking dry pasta and carefully separating out the individual noodles so they won't stick together when they cool. I won't use the no-boil kind; they require far too much sauce and make for a lasagna that seems drowned. And while a besciamella (béchamel sauce) may be more traditional, I like to use ricotta cheese mixed with a bit of Parmesan to make my lasagna nice and creamy.

Really, I think anything goes in a lasagna, as long as there's plenty of cheese.

The result of my madness was actually pretty great. The fennel married nicely with the sausage, and even though the ingredients were non-traditional, it still tasted like lasagna.

This recipe makes a ton. Enough for 10 normal people.

Sausage, Pepper, and Fennel Lasagna

1 lb mild Italian sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium bulb fennel, sliced thinly
1 12-oz jar roasted red peppers, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, depending on their size and how much you like garlic, crushed
24 ounces of your favorite marinara, homemade or jarred, 1 cup reserved
generous pinch red pepper flakes
generous pinch of fennel seeds, crushed lightly
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 ounces fresh lasagna noodles (NOT the dry "oven-ready" noodles)
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Put a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage meat from its casings and add to the pan, breaking it up into smaller pieces with the end of a spatula. When the sausage starts to let off some of its fat, add the onion. Stir occasionally, continuing to break up the sausage into smaller pieces, until the onion is translucent and sausage is mostly cooked through and browned. Add the fennel, roasted peppers, and garlic, stirring to combine. Pour in the sauce (except the reserved cupful) and add the red pepper flakes and fennel seeds. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to low. Cover pan. Cook until meat is tender and sauce is somewhat reduced, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.

Combine ricotta and Parmesan in a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Put a few spoonfuls of the reserved sauce on the bottom of the pan, then cover with a layer of pasta. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the pasta. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out chunky bits of sausage and vegetables from the sauce and layer these on top of the ricotta. Lightly sprinkle with some of the mozzarella cheese. Top with another layer of pasta, the remaining ricotta cheese, more chunky bits, and a bit more mozzarella. Add the final layer of pasta, a layer of sauce, and the rest of the mozzarella.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes until bubbling and browned.

While the lasagna is baking, reheat the rest of the reserved sauce (combined with any leftover sausage/fennel sauce) to use at the table if the lasagna seems dry.

Allow the lasagna to rest about 10 minutes before cutting into servings.



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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Bahama Breeze

Sometimes the best antidote for a completely crappy day is a good, stiff drink. So we were incredibly happy that after a particularly bad afternoon, Bahama Breeze invited us to celebrate International Pineapple Day (April 2) at their Towson location, complete with complimentary cocktails and a sampling of happy hour appetizers.

Mr Minx and I had eaten at Bahama Breeze not long after they opened, and I must admit, we were not impressed. The atmosphere seemed chaotic, and the food was not memorable. But ten or so years can change things.

The restaurant, though tropically themed, was cozy and dark, particularly where we were seated in the bar area. And the place was hopping, yet everything seemed under control. Not long after we reached our table, we were brought the first of two pineapple-based cocktails we would receive that evening, the Painkiller. Made with Pusser's Dark Rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juices, and a fragrant grating of fresh nutmeg, the drink was big and strong (like I like my...drinks). Often tropical drinks are uber sweet, but this one was just right.

Our second drink, which came about halfway through the meal, was a Goombay Smash, comprising Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum and Myers's Original Dark Rum mixed with fresh orange and pineapple juices. Again, not overly sweet and nice and strong. The orange was a bit more prominent in this drink.

With our drinks, we enjoyed a plate of Bahama Breeze's fried coconut shrimp (because fried foods are as essential to lifting one's mood as alcohol) with a spicy citrus mustard sauce. They were pretty good, but maybe a bit bread-y.

We also received a plate of their Jamaican chicken wings. Culinary manager Kevin Morton says they are marinated in authentic spices, then baked with additional seasoning, and finally served with a dip that has more of that jerk flavor. We thought these were dynamite. The wings were large and meaty, perfectly cooked, and super crispy. And while jerk seasoning can be intensely hot with the fire of scotch bonnet peppers, the wings at Bahama Breeze were tailored to fit a palate more accustomed to milder foods.

Kevin then suggested we order whatever else we wanted off the menu. He had just finished talking up their burger, so we decided to split one. To keep with the International Pineapple Day theme, we ordered our Wood-grilled Cheddar Burger with some pineapple chutney on the side.

The burger was a thin patty, which we prefer, cooked to just a shade past medium. The bun was somewhere between a typical squishy fast food bun and a brioche bun in that it was nice and soft, but had a pretty glazed appearance. The chutney added a bit of sweetness, a la ketchup, but wasn't quite as sweet. Overall, we enjoyed the burger for its simplicity. Bahama Breeze might not be the first place one would think of to order a burger, but if nothing else on the menu tempts, the burger can satisfy.

We also opted to try the conch fritters, which came with more of the citrus mustard dipping sauce. They were nicely meaty, crisp, and piping hot.

Bahama Breeze was really a nice surprise. We don't eat at chain restaurants often, not because we are snobs, but because there are so many other options these days. Bahama Breeze is owned by Darden, which also operates Red Lobster and Olive Garden. They also own The Capital Grille, which routinely makes "best of" lists in Baltimore, so don't judge. Bahama Breeze only has 30 or so outlets, so they don't have as much of the corporate control as some of Darden's other restaurants. Kevin Morton says that while some menu elements come from corporate (the onion rings, for example, which Kevin said were breaded in-house until recently), he can cater other menu items to the tastes of his patrons. He seemed to have real passion for his job, and runs the restaurant as if it were his own. That attitude, coupled with the sunny dispositions of the staff we came in contact with, makes a big difference in a customer's dining experience. I can think of some locally owned-and-operated, non-chain restaurants that could use that approach.

Bahama Breeze
100 E Joppa Rd
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 821-7090
http://www.bahamabreeze.com/

Bahama Breeze on Urbanspoon



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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The 7th Annual National Harbor Wine & Food Festival

A great summer tradition will return to the National Harbor Waterfront on the Potomac with the much anticipated 7th Annual National Harbor Wine & Food Festival on Saturday, May 3rd and Sunday, May 4th from 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm each day.

The event is totally tent-covered in a beautiful outdoor setting on the banks of the Potomac River and surrounded by the National Harbor hotels, restaurants and shops, and continues to be a true destination event. More than just a tasting, the Festival brings together award winning celebrity chefs, artisanal craftsmen, culinary pioneers, smooth jazz, family fun as well as wine and spirits from around the world.

This year’s festival will include over 150 International wines, spirits and beers featured along with local and regional favorites. Guests will be able to sample all of the varieties as well as purchase them by the glass and the bottle, on-site at special event only low prices. Beyond the drink tastings there are many other highlights which include: a Cinco De Mayo Pavilion, Special craft beer tasting Bier Garten experience, Whiskey and Bourbon Tasting Experience, three stages of live music and smooth jazz, and so much more. It is the largest award winning wine festival of its kind in the Metro DC market.

This year’s organizers have turned up the heat on the Cooking Stage and brought in some award winning super star chef talent. Special appearances on the Cooking Stage include, Saturday: Chef Mike Isabella of Graffiato, Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper winner of Fox Reality television series Hell’s Kitchen, Chef Bryan Voltaggio of Volt/Range Restaurant, and Sunday with Chef Scott Drewno of The Source by Wolfgang Puck, Chef Mike Schlow and Chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo and Taco Bambo. All of these local, regional and nationally recognized chefs will offer meet and greets and cooking demonstrations.

Additional events include a live taping Saturday, May 1 at 1:00 p.m. of radio show Foodie and Beast with hosts Nycci and David Nellis. During the taping, guests will be included in a blind wine tasting with several of the area’s best wine experts. The show will air on Sunday, May 2 at 11:00 a.m. on Federal News Network.

The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center will hold its annual Wine Dinner at the resort’s signature restaurant, Old Hickory Steakhouse, on Friday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. Guests can enjoy a five-course meal paired with local Virginia wines from Barboursville Vineyards. The dinner costs $125 per person.

The resort also will be offering a Wine and Cheese by Sunset event at Pose Rooftop Lounge on Saturday, May 3 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Guests can enjoy New World wines paired with gourmet cheeses, while enjoying views of the Potomac River and surrounding region from the resort’s 18th floor. The event costs $25 per person.

Gaylord National Resort will be one of the many featured culinary participants within the Food and Wine Festival, as well as offer two overnight packages for Saturday, May 3 that include one or two day access to the event.

The VIP Pier will offer wonderful food tastings for foodies to indulge their inner passions such as: Eleven Courses Private Chefs, International Cheeses, Fresh Pasta & Italian Specialties, The All American Slider and Brooklyn Hot Dog, Vegetable Crudités, Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken Wings, Olives, and Nuts, specialties from the District Restaurant Group, and more.

Tickets are on sale now and range from a Grand Cru Two-Day All Access Pass at $199 per person, VIP Saturday $99 or Sunday $79 a General Admission One Day Pass for $39 in advance/$49 onsite. $30 designated driver ticket in advance.

To purchase tickets and view schedule, visit www.wineandfoodnh.com or call (800) 830-3976.

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Monday, April 07, 2014

Fake Reuben

For those people out there who don't like sauerkraut...or corned beef...or Thousand Island dressing, here's a sandwich invention of mine that has none of those elements, yet still manages to taste like a Reuben.

For each sandwich:

4-6 slices Genoa salami
2 slices Swiss cheese
2 gherkin-sized kosher dill pickles, cut lengthwise into slices, or 6 kosher dill chips
honey mustard
2 pieces bread, rye or other favorite
tender lettuce, optional

Schmear both slices of bread with honey mustard. Top one slice with cheese, salami, and pickles. Cover with other slice. Cut in half on the diagonal.

Somehow the sweetness of the mustard and sourness of the pickle manage to convey the same spirit as the Thousand Island and sauerkraut. Salami and corned beef have a spicy aspect. And Swiss cheese is common to both. You could probably grill this sandwich, too, but it's delicious cold.

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Friday, April 04, 2014

Cunningham's Cafe

Recently, Mr Minx and I got to try samples of the delicious goodies available for breakfast and lunch at the new Cunningham's Cafe in Towson. Located under Cunningham's restaurant, this rustic-chic cafe features a menu of breakfast and lunch favorites that are served from 7am - 5pm Monday through Friday, and from 8am to 3pm on weekends.

As with Cunningham's upstairs and the other Bagby Group restaurants, everything at the Cafe is made in-house, and much of it is sourced from their own Cunningham Farms. Like the pork in the Porchetta sandwich, for example, which is served with fontina cheese, sweet peppers, broccoli raab, and aioli on a French roll. We also sampled the tender Roast Beef Boursin with onion, tomato, and horseradish aioli on a French roll and, my favorite, the more simple Tomato Jam with scallions on a cheddar biscuit. The petite oyster po' boys were delicious as well, and I am looking forward to going back and tucking into a full-sized model.

Also sampled were the lusciously creamy mac and cheese, and a plethora of desserts, including moist carrot cake cupcakes and ginormous chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. There's plenty more on offer as far as sweets are concerned, with pound cake, brownies, macarons, and more, all made by pastry chef Angie Lee. Head Baker John Aversa's products are also for sale. An array of his crisp-crusted breads are displayed behind the counter and are a focal point of the room. At least to this bread-lover. (We snagged a loaf of rosemary lemon, one of the regularly featured varieties. So good!)

There are beverages, too, including the Cafe's own cold-brewed iced coffee, made with beans from Annapolis' Ceremony Coffee Roasters, and a specialty cinnamon toast latte that will make you forget all about the seasonal drinks from that multinational coffee company down the street.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, please to enjoy the slideshow of our peek at Cunningham's Cafe, and then mosey on over there when you get a chance.


Cunningham’s Café & Bakery
1 Olympic Place
Towson, Maryland 21204
410-339-7750
info@cunninghamstowson.com

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Cracking the Barrel at Fork & Wrench

Canton’s The Fork & Wrench Restaurant and Bar at 2322 Boston Street is cracking open the barrel-aged Vieux Carré and Negroni cocktails tonight!

Barrel-aged cocktails are where a mixologist pre-mixes cocktails and puts them in individual wooden barrels for a couple of weeks so the flavors become more harmonious and rounded, the strong edges smoothed and softened. It is startling how wood and air can alter the taste of a drink.

Cocktail connoisseurs and novices alike will have the option of enjoying the barrel-aged cocktails: 1) full size; 2) half portion of a Vieux Carré and half of a Negroni; 3) or taste a half of a barrel aged Vieux Carré or Negroni and compare it to a non-barrel aged rendition.

Both drinks have interesting back stories:

The classic New Orleans Vieux Carré (pronounced veeyou care-ay, meaning "old square" and referring to the French Quarter) is said to be the most responsive to barrel aging. A fine balance of rye whiskey, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and Peychaud’s bitters, the drink was created by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone back in the 30’s.

No one knows the Negroni's origins for sure. It is said that in the early 1900’s, a Count Camillo Negroni invented the drink when he requested that his bartender replace the soda water in his then-favorite cocktail, the Americano, with gin. The bartender also added an orange garnish instead of the typical lemon. A simple cocktail with equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth, the Negroni can be thrown off if one ingredient is not exactly in the right proportion.

The Fork & Wrench’s mixologist, Shana Leachman, has timed the aging of both these cocktails for premium taste and robust flavor notes. The Fork & Wrench will serve no barrel-aged cocktail until its time. Notices will go up on their Facebook page and Twitter account @ForkandWrench, but pencil in Thursday, April 3rd and be the first to imbibe!

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Vivo Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar

If you've heard mention of "West County" recently and wasn't sure what it referred to, it's the western part of Anne Arundel County, which includes Hanover, Odenton, and Fort Meade. Not exactly the most glamorous area, unless you consider the fastest growing part of West County, Hanover's Arundel Mills development. In addition to the mall and Maryland Live! casino, Arundel Mills now boasts plenty of new housing and amenities. One of the newest communities in the development is Arundel Preserve. Just off 295 on Arundel Mills Boulevard, the Preserve is home to the swank new Hotel at Arundel Preserve and its two restaurants by New York restaurateur George Martin, Vivo and Grillfire.

Mr Minx and I were invited to taste some of Vivo's offerings at a recent media dinner. We started out with a few appetizers for the table before ordering entrees of our own.

Charcuterie plate with Sopressata, proscuitto, bresaola, gorgonzola, provolone, and taleggio,
with marinated olives, toasted stone oven flatbreads, and fig jam
We started out with a generous charcuterie plate featuring three Italian meats and three Italian cheeses, a nice combination of salty, savory, and creamy, punctuated by a sweet fig jam and olives. With a bottle of wine, it could make a nice meal in itself. And it was served on a gorgeous slab of burl wood that sadly was too large to fit in my purse....

Margherita pizza
We also sampled one of the restaurant's dozen pizzas, made in the Wood Stone oven visible just beyond the window into the open kitchen. In addition to the classic Margherita and white pizzas, Vivo has creative variations like crab imperial with mascarpone and a red pepper aioli, and proscuitto & pear with gorgonzola dolce. Yes, please!

Spinach arancini 
We also received a sampling of Vivo's arancini, which our host, Diane, says is the best she's had since her trip to Italy. The generously-sized balls of risotto and spinach were indeed quite nice, creamy and piping hot inside, with a delicate crust that was just barely able to hold in the molten rice.

Bucatini Carbonara with peas and a soft cooked egg
When Mr Minx, aka Mr Pasta, saw that Vivo offered one of his favorite pasta preparations, pasta Carbonara, he had to order it. The house-made bucatini was coated in a rich and cheesy sauce studded with bits of pancetta and peas and topped with a soft cooked egg. It was decadently delicious.

Pork shank osso buco with rosemary potatoes and tomato pan gravy
I opted to avoid pasta and chose a meat entree that came with potatoes, just to be different. While osso buco is traditionally made with veal shank, pork shank works just as well. The one I received was gargantuan, and the spoon-tender meat was glazed with a sheen of tomato gravy and a sprinkle of herbs. The potatoes were darkly roasted and had a mild rosemary flavor that did not detract from the lusciousness of the meat.

Chicken Parmesan, without the cheese
Other dishes at our table include chicken Parmesan, which our tiny host ordered without cheese because she's afraid of getting fat like me. (I'm happy to eat her cheese for her.) The breast cutlets were thin and crispy, and I liked that the breading wasn't over-seasoned.

Bucatini with lobster and shrimp
Another tablemate had the bucatini in a creamy sauce flavored with Chardonnay and thyme and studded with bits of lobster and shrimp. After tasting it, I almost regretted my decision not to order pasta, because it was delicious, with a nice brininess from the seafood. Vivo makes all of its pasta (except the linguine) in-house, from gnocchi to ravioli to rigatoni, using their fancy imported pasta machine. 

Despite being stuffed, we also sampled a trio of the restaurant's desserts, including a lovely light tiramisu served in a jar and garnished with a crisp biscotto. While cute, the jar lid was heavy and made the container a little tipsy.

...a moist olive oil cake topped with fig jam and vanilla ice cream...

...and crisp miniature cannoli stuffed with Nutella-infused ricotta.

Despite trying several dishes, we really tasted only a small selection of the goodies Vivo has to offer. We can hardly wait to go back and try the crispy Parmesan polenta, lobster risotto, malfadine Bolognese, rockfish and baby clams Livornese, and some of the more non-traditional pizzas. But first, we have to check out Grillfire, the George Martin restaurant across the lobby, which seems to have a pretty rocking happy hour....

Vivo Italian Kitchen & Wine Bar
7793-B Arundel Mills Blvd
Hanover, MD 21076
(410) 799-7440
http://www.vivotrattoria.com/

Vivo Trattoria on Urbanspoon

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