Friday, February 27, 2015

Bonefish Grill Towson

We'd heard good things about Bonefish Grill; their Bel Air outpost has been an oasis for locals in a town that's practically a culinary wasteland. So when we heard that a Bonefish Grill was opening in the new Towson Square project across from the mall, we were pleased that northern Baltimore County would be getting another upscale restaurant, albeit part of a chain.

The restaurant opened on February 16th, but we were invited in for some pre-opening festivities on the 12th, a late lunch/early dinner that included a few of the restaurant chain's hierarchy as well as county executive Kevin Kamenetz.

We started our tour of the restaurant at the bar. This area takes up at least a third of the restaurant's space and includes both family-style high-top seating and some private booths in addition to the bar itself. The whole restaurant is done up in pale, warm, neutrals, with minimalist decoration that includes an abstract representation of the restaurant's fishbone logo on one wall, and a couple of curved wooden structures that resemble a fish's ribcage.

We tried two non-alcoholic beverages, a blackberry smash and a lemonade. As we sipped our libations, we enjoyed a few passed apps in the form of the restaurant's famous Bang-Bang Shrimp (crispy shrimp tossed in a creamy spicy sauce reminiscent of the sweet sriracha mayo used by sushi restaurants) and delicate roasted mushroom flatbreads with caramelized garlic and a hint of truffle oil.

After a time, we were seated and brought the first of four dinner courses. First was an ahi tuna taco served in a crisp wonton shell. (This dish, from the specials menu, would ordinarily include three tacos.) The tuna was very fresh, and we liked that it came with some pickled ginger and wasabi-infused guac.

Next up was a sample of the restaurants cilantro lime shrimp salad, consisting of greens tossed with corn, black beans, and feta, topped with two large shrimp. The shellfish-allergic can have the dish with grilled chicken, instead. In fact, Bonefish Grill is happy to accommodate diners with all sort of food allergies and even has a separate gluten free menu.

For our entree, we tried ahi tuna topped with "pan-Asian sauce," Chilean seabass with mango salsa, and a chunk of tenderloin with truffle butter. I'm not a tenderloin fan, but I did enjoy the aggressively-seasoned steak, which overshadowed its two more delicately-flavored companions.

The best course was dessert. We each received a veritable tub of chocolate creme brulee that would ordinarily be a generous portion for two diners. The creme, which was touched with Grand Marnier, had a more milky pudding-like consistency than the creamy richness of the usual creme brulee, and I was more than ok with that. Alongside, we had a not-too-sweet espresso martini with a tasty sugar-and-chocolate-shavings-encrusted rim.

Overall, the meal was a good representation of the restaurant's offerings - a little fish, a little meat, pretty good beverages and desserts. Bonefish Grill's ambiance is upscale, but the prices are reasonable. We think it will be a popular addition to the Towson restaurant scene, and will definitely be giving stiff competition to Bahama Breeze across the street.

Bar Menu Special Offer

From now through March 15, you can get a complimentary taste of one of the IN + ON bar bites (which start at an affordable $4) Bonefish Grill. Download the coupon at this link:

Bonefish Grill on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pretzel Rolls

While I'm a pretty adventurous cook, baking still scares me a little. I'm not a scientist by any means, and baking is a pretty science-y thing. If one doesn't follow directions exactly, chances are, things might not turn out the way they should.

I bake bread now, but only with the almost fool-proof technique found in Artisan Baking in Five Minutes a Day. My first attempt at bread, 20 years ago, was so bad, I haven't tried any other recipe. Until I decided to put on my big-girl apron and tackle soft pretzels. The dough required very little handling, so maybe I couldn't mess it up too badly. And I thought it might be nice to eat sandwiches on homemade pretzel rolls while we watched the commercials during the Super Bowl.

The recipe, which I found in an old Better Homes and Garden special baking magazine, called for twisting the dough. That part didn't turn out so well. When I lowered the twists into a pot of hot water with baking soda, they untwisted. The end result was a bit uneven-looking, as you can see from the photos. And, they fell apart once we crammed a sausage into them. But...they tasted pretty damn good.

We ate them with smoked kielbasa topped with a honey pickled mustard seed mayo, fennel slaw, caramelized onions, and tomato jam.

I'd make them again, but wouldn't bother with the twist part. I'd just shape the dough into 6 long rolls before the 30 minute rise and leave them that way for the dunk in soda water.

Pretzel Rolls (adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Fall Baking 2013)

3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/3 to 2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups hot water
1/2 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
Coarse salt

Heat milk, water, and sugar until just warm (110°F). I used a microwave, but you can use a saucepan over low heat. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook. Sprinkle with the yeast and let stand for a few minutes until foamy. Add 2 1/3 cups of flour, the butter, and salt and beat on low speed until combined, 2-3 minutes. Turn speed to medium-low and beat an additional 8-10 minutes, until a soft dough forms. Scrape bowl as necessary. If the dough seems too sticky, add the additional flour. When the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a dry surface.

Knead dough a few times, shape into a ball, and place into a bowl that has a bit of olive oil in it. Turn the dough to coat with oil, cover bowl, and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Punch risen dough down and divide into six portions. Roll and stretch each portion into a 12" rope. (OR, just make fat 6" - 8" long rolls.) Place each on prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Fold each piece of dough in half, then twist twice. (OR, just skip the twist if you made the fat rolls.)

In a deep dish or pot, add the water and the baking soda, stirring to dissolve soda. Using a slotted spoon, lower dough twists into water for 10 seconds, then drain on paper towels. Arrange drained twists on prepared baking sheet.

Beat egg and water together in a small bowl. Brush over dough twists and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes until deeply browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 6 rolls.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Korean Baby Back Ribs

Believe it or not, I think baby back ribs are one of the easiest and tastiest things to prepare for a weekend dinner. Note that I did not use the words "fastest" or "quickest"--the process is rather time-consuming. However, the actual work is pretty simple. Normally I'll put together a dry rub (or get Mr Minx to do it) and apply it to the ribs the night before. The next day, the ribs get a dose of moisture in the form of juice or even soda and spend several hours lounging in a slow oven. Once the meat is fork tender, it gets slathered in sauce for a trip under the broiler.

I find slightly charred barbecue sauce to be a delightful scent. Someone needs to make a candle. But not Yankee Candle.

Oven braised bbq ribs are a perfect lazy weekend dish. As long as I don't make a lot of sides, it affords me free time to catch up on my reading or knitting or whatever. (Napping, too.) And two giant racks of ribs for two people means a week's worth of leftovers. Or two dinners for us plus enough left over to bribe my brother into watching the dog while we head off to a media event in Frederick.

I was feeling in a Korean food mood (as often happens) so I designed the dry rub and sauce with that in mind. To my palate, Korean food is all about sweet, garlic, and heat. The dry rub includes all three elements in the form of brown sugar, garlic powder, and kochukaru, or Korean red pepper flakes. The sauce also incorporates those flavors, plus the tang of rice vinegar and the toasty mustiness of sesame oil.

I put some jarred kimchi into the sauce because we had it. (It's available in the refrigerated produce section of Giant and other supermarkets, believe it or not.) If you don't want to invest in a jar, then just add another garlic clove and some chopped scallions to the sauce.

I make ribs fairly often, and I think this is my favorite version to date.

Oven-Baked Baby Backs with Korean Flavors

For rub:
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons kochukaru (Korean pepper flakes)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

For sauce:
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 cup kimchi, chopped (or 1 clove of garlic and 3 whole scallions)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon grated fresh ginger
6 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
2 heaping tablespoons gochujang
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For ribs:
2 racks baby back ribs, 6-7 lbs total weight
1/2 cup apple juice

To make the rub: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Reserve three tablespoons for glaze.

Remove the thin membrane that covers the concave side of each rack of ribs. You can do this by grasping one end with a paper towel and pulling. If you're lucky, it'll come off in one sheet. (Like this.)

Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a large rimmed baking sheet and set close by.

Tear two large sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, each large enough to hold one of the racks, with several inches of overhang on all four sides. Place the foil sheets, one on top of the other, on the counter in front of you, horizontally. Place one rack of ribs on the top sheet; coat the top and bottom of the ribs with half of the rub, pressing it into the meat. Take the top and bottom edges of the foil and bring them together over the ribs like a tent. Fold the edges together and roll them down towards the meat to make a package. Roll the open sides of the package up toward the center to seal all sides. Your package should look like this. Repeat with other rack of ribs. Place both wrapped packages on the prepared baking sheet.

Refrigerate ribs for 6 hours or overnight.

To make the sauce: Cook the onion over medium heat in a bit of oil and pinch of salt for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add the kimchi, garlic, and ginger. Stir to combine and let cook for an additional couple of minutes. Add the brown sugar, gochujang, soy, and rice vinegar. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Let sauce thicken a bit, then remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Use an immersion blender to make a mostly smooth sauce. Place sauce into a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

To cook the ribs: Preheat oven to 250°F.

Remove ribs from the fridge. Gently unroll one short end on each foil package. Pour a quarter cup of apple juice into each, and re-roll the ends. Keeping the packets on the rimmed baking sheet, put the whole thing into the oven.

Cook 1 1/2 - 2 hours, until meat is fork tender.

Remove tray from oven and turn on the broiler. Gently unroll one end of each package and pour out the liquid. (Carefully - it will be very hot!) Place the ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet and brush the top side liberally with the glaze. Broil for 5-8 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and charred in spots. Remove meat from broiler, brush with more glaze, and repeat broiling.

Serves 6-8

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Chocolate Lava Muffins

Back in the day, I was a big fan of Alton Brown's Good Eats, and watched it religiously regularly. And then I got tired of the schtick. I know! I'm probably angering a whole bunch of people by saying that, but hey - I get bored. (Yet I still watch CSI after umpty-nine years.) In any case, Mr Brown's legacy left me with at least two good recipes: his method for baby-back ribs has become my go-to; and I love his lava muffins.

Molten chocolate cake on a restaurant menu is often a sign there's no pastry chef in house. That, along with cheesecake, creme brulee, and key lime pie--they're all no brainers that even the most savory of chefs can throw together. And there's nothing wrong with any of them, of course, if they're made well. And all of them can be made fairly easily at home. The molten chocolate cake doesn't even take much time to make, and it uses ingredients that are probably already in every pantry: sugar, chocolate chips, eggs, and butter. And the portion controlled size makes for just the right hit of after-dinner chocolate.

Chocolate Lava Muffins (adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown)

4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Butter, to coat muffin tin
Cocoa powder

Place chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 seconds, remove from microwave and stir. If chocolate isn't sufficiently melted, heat it again for 15 seconds. Repeat if necessary until chocolate and butter and completely melted. Stir in the vanilla.

Combine sugar, flour, and salt. Blend into chocolate mixture. Add eggs one at a time, beating each until fully incorporated. Beat batter until creamy and light in color, about four minutes. Chill until ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter six wells in a muffin tin. Dust with cocoa and shake out excess. Divide batter evenly among the wells. Bake for 10-11 minutes. The centers should still be quite moist.

Allow muffins to cool for a minute or two before unmolding. Loosen each with the blade of a knife run around the edges of the cake. Ease a tablespoon under each cake and gently lift out.

Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Serves 6.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Frederick Restaurant Week

To kick off Frederick Restaurant Week, which runs March 2nd through the 8th, a special media event was held to preview some of the dishes diners can expect from participating restaurants. The festivities began at the Frederick Visitor Center where we were introduced to a sampling of hard ciders produced by Distillery Cider Works. First we tried the sparkling Celebration Cider, a blend of modern and vintage apple varieties which produces a mildly sweet hard cider akin in flavor to champagne. Woodberry is made specially for Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore using a blend of heritage apples and aronia berry juice. The combination of tart and sweet complements many savory dishes served at the restaurant. Finally, we tried the Winterfest which is produced in a similar style to ice wine to create a more full-bodied hard cider.

After the libations, we were ready for our walking (and eating) tour of Frederick. To stay on schedule, we were divided into groups of three. The Minx and I split off into separate groups so we could cover as many restaurants as possible. With so many restaurants and so many dishes on the tour, I'll limit my comments to a few favorites, but there is a slideshow below to give you a visual tour of the items we tried.

The cream of crab soup at the Cellar Door was a welcome surprise. Most cream of crab soups taste like wallpaper paste with some crab thrown in, but Chef Richard Belles's soup is a true crab soup slightly thickened with cream. Pleasantly spicy with ample pieces of crab throughout, I would like all cream of crab soups to taste like this. The Cellar Door also offered the lone dessert I had on the tour: a strawberry banana cheesecake fritter. Not too sweet, the flavors were nicely balanced and, of course, anything tastes better when it's fried.

Over at Firestone's Culinary Tavern, the Nordic Cod was a nice balance of flavors and textures. The mild fish sat atop slices of fried fingerling potatoes and a light soup of mint oil, ginger root, and nasturtium leaves. The combination was light and savory all at once. The entire menu at Firestone's will be available for Restaurant Week, so you can build a three-course meal to your liking. Up-charges may apply for some of the more expensive dishes.

The Minx sampled the Irish Nachos at Bushwaller's, an Irish pub. Sidewinder potatoes replaced the traditional tortilla chips, which were covered with jalapenos, red onion, cheddar cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, and Irish bacon. Bushwaller's is also offering the entire menu for Restaurant Week.

Brewer's Alley served crispy Brussels sprouts that were roasted with kielbasa, dried cranberries, and spiced pecans and covered with a roasted poblano-honey vinaigrette. The grilled vegetable stack featured eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash layered atop a crispy goat cheese fritter and balsamic onions, with red pepper coulis and basil pesto. The whole creation was served with an arugula salad. The Minx was torn as to which of these was her favorite dish of the day but is leaning toward the vegetable stack.

We all met back at JoJo's Restaurant and Tap House where we were treated to a Session IPA. a deconstructed yellowfin tuna taco, and a chicken and spinach burger. The taco was adorned with "Dorito dust," tomato tempura, avocado, and cilantro lime sour cream. The spinach added color to the ground chicken burger, which was served on a slider bun with crispy fries.

We had a pleasant afternoon taking in the welcoming hometown vibe of Frederick and sampling food from some of its finest restaurants. For those who are not familiar with Frederick or who do not go there frequently, Frederick Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity to take a drive and check out the growing culinary scene there without hurting your pocketbook.

Brewer's Alley on Urbanspoon

Bushwaller's on Urbanspoon

The Cellar Door Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Firestone's on Urbanspoon

JoJo's Restaurant & Tap House on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Calling All Chefs for the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament 2015

If you're a Baltimore- or DC-area chef, think about signing up for the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament. Now in it's fifth year, the tournament is a great way to network with other chefs, stretch your culinary muscle, and maybe be a big winner. For more information, go to, and be sure to watch the video below.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Slainte on Wheels

Everybody's favorite Irish pub, Slainte, now has a food truck. Makes sense, as sister restaurant Kooper's has had one (Chowhound Burger Wagon) for years now, and as far as I can tell, it's very popular. Slainte on Wheels offers a completely different selection of foodstuffs from the burger wagon.

There's Slainte's famous gumbo, for one thing. Yes, gumbo on an Irish food truck is weird, but I promise you that it's very very good. It's the same gumbo served at Slainte and all three Kooper's Tavern locations, a spicy, hearty, and very warming combination of seafood and vegetables. I think it's the best gumbo in town.

There's also the Irish bibimbap, which wowed Guy Fieri on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Clearly the country has run out of all three, so Guy is going to non-diners, non-drive-ins, and non-dives now.) Rice, stir fried veg, cubes of corned beef, pickled cabbage, and a fried egg drizzled in sriracha make up a decidedly non-Korean version of this tasty Korean rice dish. A sweet element and a bit of sesame oil might take Slainte's version closer to Asia, but it's tasty nonetheless, with a generous amount of protein.

There's more of that good corned beef in a spicy version of a classic Reuben sandwich. And what Irish restaurant worth its salt doesn't feature potatoes? Wedge-shaped "chips" play a role in two dishes billed as "munchies," one topped with curry sauce and another with cottage pie filling and cheddar cheese. They also come as a side to Natty Boh-battered cod, and to Irish bangers (sausages) with onion gravy. An arugula salad and black bean falafel wrap round out the menu so the vegetarians have some choices, too.

It's always good to have another food truck on the street, and one that serves a couple of more unusual items. Like that mighty fine gumbo. Makes me wish it were Friday (the day Slainte on Wheels is in my 'hood) so I can have some of that for lunch today....

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Asian BBQ Chicken

It doesn't seem (to me) that I cook chicken very often. I'm not sure why, since its probably my favorite meat. Maybe it's just boring, I don't know. But I got it in my head that not only did I need to make chicken, but it needed to be basted in a thick bbq-style sauce with Asian flavors. I had this picture in my head of a beautiful brown chicken leg, glistening with sauce. Just like in that photo above. Isn't it gorgeous?

Most chicken recipes direct cooks to make sure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. While that's fine for chicken breasts, I really prefer dark meat to be cooked to closer to 180°F. Dark meat is more moist, and at the lower temperature it still seems vaguely raw to me. It's fairly hard to overcook (unless you burn it), so I tend to leave the chicken on the heat for a bit longer than usual. Your mileage may vary, of course. If you like your dark meat less-cooked than I do, then by all means, cook it to 165°F.

If you're a regular Minxeats reader, you might have noticed that Mr Minx and I are absolutely in love with the rich, slightly-burnt, caramelly flavor and aroma of Chinese black vinegar. It's one ingredient that needs to be purchased in an Asian grocery, so if you don't want to make the trip, then use balsamic vinegar instead. It won't be exactly the same, but it will still taste good.

Asian BBQ Chicken

For sauce:
1 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon black vinegar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek or sriracha
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

For chicken:
2 tablespoons black vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken leg quarters, or 4 legs and 4 thighs
1 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 green onions, chopped

To make sauce: Saute onion in a bit of oil until translucent. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute or so. Add the soy, hoisin, brown sugar, vinegars, ginger, and sambal. Bring to a boil. Once boiled, remove from heat and puree mixture with a stick blender. Stir in toasted sesame oil.

To make chicken: Combine black vinegar, soy, and garlic in a large zip-top plastic bag. Prick the chicken all over with the tip of a knife and add to the bag. Press out the air, seal the bag, and shake to coat the chicken. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Add the oil to a large oven-safe skillet or casserole and heat over high heat. Add the butter, and once melted, add the chicken, skin side-down, and any juices from the marinade bag. Cook 3-4 minutes, until chicken is browned on skin side, then turn the chicken pieces skin side-up. Place pan in preheated oven and cook for 8 minutes. Remove pan from oven and brush tops of chicken with some of the bbq sauce. Return to oven for another 8 minutes. At that time, reapply the bbq sauce and return to oven. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F (or 180°F, if you're like me and want slightly drier meat). Apply another coating of sauce and sprinkle with green onions before serving.

Serves 4.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sweet Potato Spaetzle

I recently bought a potato ricer that was highly rated by America's Test Kitchen. It came with two plates with differently sized holes; the larger one seemed perfect for spaetzle. I had never made them before, so why not try? The first time we went to Birroteca, almost exactly two years ago, we tried a dish of Parmesan spaetzle with snails. It was unusual and delicious and the memory of it stuck with me. We had a can of snails in the cupboard, so that was that.

We also had a plethora of veg hanging around from a recent CSA delivery: fennel, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, a lone sweet potato, cherry tomatoes. I couldn't quite imagine a spaetzle dish that used all of those veg AND snails, but I thought maybe I could mash the potato and add it to the batter. The cauliflower was the most neutral of the ingredients left, so I figured I could work that in somehow, too.

I looked up spaetzle recipes on the 'net. It seemed simple enough: eggs, flour, milk. One of my favorite bloggers, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, determined that an egg-rich batter made the lightest noodles. I hoped that adding a cup of mashed sweet potato would contribute enough moisture that I wouldn't have to add as many eggs to my batter as she did (seven!). I put in three eggs as a compromise, as many recipes I found called for just two.

Now that I had the dish figured out (after a run to the store for parsley and smoked Gouda), I was ready to commence cooking. Little did I know that I'd be using three pots, a colander, a potato masher, a baking pan, and multiple bowls for this project. I think I washed more dishes (without a dish washer) than I cooked actual food! The batter is sticky and made a mess, and the spaetzle never dried out completely so they had to spend quite a bit of time in the saute pan to get even a little crusty, but in the end, it was all worth it. So worth it. The noodles were tender, the cauliflower added a bit of crisp texture, and all of the flavors went together wonderfully.

Mr Minx said it was restaurant quality. I thought so to. Would definitely do it again, especially now that I have a batch of already cooked spaetzle in the freezer.

Sweet Potato Spaetzle
Read the whole recipe before proceeding, please!

For the spaetzle:
1 cup mashed sweet potato
3 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour

To finish the dish:
1 onion, sliced thinly
Olive oil
1 cup shredded cauliflower
1 7-oz can escargots
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 ounces smoked Gouda, shredded

To make the spaetzle: Combine the sweet potato, eggs, milk, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the flour. Cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate for one hour or overnight.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set near the stove.

Place the large hole blade into your potato ricer. Fill ricer half full with batter and squeeze gently into the boiling water, shaking the noodles loose as you squeeze. Use a spoon to cut the noodles that refuse to break off on their own, then stir the pot vigorously to keep noodles separate. I got three squeezes of noodles out of one half-full ricer, but your mileage may vary, depending on the size of your ricer. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to remove noodles to the ice bath. Repeat with remaining batter until it's all gone.

Remove spaetzle from ice bath and place in a colander over a bowl to catch any drainage. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil. Store in the fridge in a tightly covered container until ready to use. This recipe makes quite a bit of spaetzle, so you may want to freeze some. I put about half of it in a zip top bag and spread it out flat so the noodles weren't clumped together and put it in the freezer that way. If you are lucky enough to have a big empty freezer, spread the noodles onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze them individually. When frozen, dump them into a zip top bag and put back in the freezer. This way they stay separate and won't turn into a big lump.

To finish the dish: While the spaetzle batter is resting in the fridge, you can do some of the prep. Cook the onion over medium heat in a mixture of olive oil and butter with a pinch of salt until very soft, brown, and caramelized, about 30 minutes.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet. When it is screaming hot, add the cauliflower and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender and browned in areas, about 10 minutes. Remove cauliflower to a bowl and set aside.

Drain the escargots and place in a bowl. Cover with cold water and let them soak for 10 minutes or so. Drain again and cut the escargots into thirds or quarters, depending on size (the ones I had were mammoth). Put a bit of olive oil in a skillet and cook the mushrooms until they give up their juices. Add the escargots and a pat of butter. Turn the heat to low and add the garlic. Cook about 5 minutes until everything is warm and garlic is no longer raw. Remove from heat and set aside.

Once your spaetzle has been cooked and drained thoroughly, heat up a large skillet. Add a bit of olive oil and about half the spaetzle (the rest you can freeze or refrigerate to eat later). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spaetzle is lightly browned in spots and vaguely crispy, about 15-20 minutes. (If you managed to get them really dry, it might take less time.) Stir in the cooked cauliflower, the cooked mushrooms and escargots, and about half the parsley. Once everything is warmed through, spoon into serving bowls. Garnish with a big spoonful of caramelized onions, the remaining parsley and shredded Gouda.

Serves 4.

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Monday, February 09, 2015

The Local Fry

Elizabeth Irish is Korean-American. Her husband, Kevin, is from Ireland. Together, they have come up with a pretty swell global food concept in the Local Fry. Who doesn't love french fries? (Or, as Kevin might call them, chips.) Especially when they're properly made, thrice cooked beauties, freshly cut and cooked. At the Local Fry, the potato part of the equation is delicious enough to eat on its own, maybe with a bit of Old Bay or malt vinegar. And you can certainly get them that way. But if you're looking for a more international experience, go for one of the several specialty varieties.

I was part of a group of local media folks who were invited to sample all and sundry of the Local Fry's food. In addition to french fries, there are multiple flavors of chicken wings. We got to taste those, too. While our group wasn't particularly adventurous in the wing department, ordering only the honey garlic, lemon garlic, and Jamaican jerk flavors, I can report that all of them were uniformly tasty. The wings themselves are flash fried, leaving them crisp and relatively greaseless. But lets move on to the fries, shall we?

We sampled several flavors of specialty fries: banh mi, kimchi pork, Hawaiian, Greek, poutine, fish and chips, and the house fries. All of the toppings are made in house, from scratch, and some of the combinations are fairly elaborate. Take the Greek version, for example. A nice portion of fries is topped with housemade Greek seasoning, shredded romaine, tomato, gyro meat, shallots, feta cheese, and homemade tzatziki. It's like a delicious gyro that one eats with a fork, with fries instead of pita. The kimchi pork fries have got some authentic kimchi garlic funk going on, really delicious. The banh mi has all of the pickled veg, cucumber, and cilantro that one expects on that Vietnamese sandwich specialty. And the house fries, the "Local Fry" fries, are topped with ground beef seasoned up like a taco and doused in a special spicy sauce. I think they were my favorite of the night. My only complaint, and it's not a huge one, is that the cheese curds on the poutine weren't squeaky. The tasty gravy made up for it though.

Eventually, Elizabeth and Kevin hope to add some other items to their menu, like sliders, but for right now they are concentrating on the fries. And that's quite a lot, really, when you consider the care they put into all of the myriad toppings they have to prepare every day. I think it's worth the effort and can't wait to get back to the Local Fry to try the handful of flavors I haven't yet tried (Tonkotsu pork cutlet and Japanese curry-topped fries, and another version with Buffalo chicken tenders and blue cheese.) You should go, too.

Local Fry on Urbanspoon

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Friday, February 06, 2015

Bananascotch Pudding

At last month's Family Meal media dinner, we ate the most delicious dessert: a twist on banana pudding made with butterscotch pudding. Just a few days later, I found an easy-sounding butterscotch pudding recipe on the Food 52 site. Entirely by accident--I wasn't looking for it. So it seemed that I was fated to make my own variation of banana scotch pudding.

I didn't want to do anything too elaborate; I am no pastry chef. My favorite nanner pudding recipe requires only pastry cream, shortbread cookies, bananas, and whipped cream. My banana scotch version is much the same, I just swapped out the pastry cream for butterscotch pudding. I think a really delish and over-the-top version might include both the pastry cream and pudding, maybe with a layer of whipped cream somewhere in the middle there, too. I didn't want to go crazy though--this is just a simple weeknight dessert.

There's booze in the pudding, folks, so you might want to keep it away from the kiddies.

Bananascotch Pudding 

8 Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon or Irish whisky
3 bananas
Whipped cream
Flaky sea salt

Put the cookies in a plastic bag and crush them into crumbs. I used a meat tenderizer, but the bottom of a heavy glass will do. Divide half of the crumbs between four lowball glasses. Set the remaining crumbs aside. Peel and cut the bananas into 1/4" slices.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauce pan until it stops crackling and starts to brown, 2 minutes or so. Stir in the brown sugar and pinch of salt, then whisk in the heavy cream. Turn the heat to low.

In a bowl, whisk the milk into the cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. Pour this into the saucepan. Turn up the heat and allow the pudding to simmer, stirring constantly. Once pudding has thickened considerably, a minute or two, turn off the heat and add the additional tablespoon of butter, the vanilla, and the bourbon or whisky.

Spoon some of the hot pudding over the crumbs in each glass. Arrange a layer of banana slices around the edge of the glass, pushing them into the pudding so they stand upright. Put a slice or two, cut side up, in the middle as well. Add the remainder of the cookie crumbs. Repeat the pudding and banana layer, finishing with pudding. (If there's any pudding left, use a spoon to shovel it directly into your mouth.)

Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the puddings and refrigerate several hours until cold. Garnish with whipped cream and a pinch of flaky sea salt.

Serves 4.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Nickel Taphouse

When the Nickel Taphouse opened in 2013, I must admit that I wasn't all that excited. At this point, I don't quite remember why. Perhaps the menu was more limited than it is now and the options didn't thrill me. In any case, I wasn't in any hurry to go, even though the Taphouse is one of Robbin Haas' restaurants, and I do love me some Birroteca. We did get an invite to a media tasting there, but weren't able to attend. When I wrote back, asking for a rain check, my response was...crickets. I received no response.

In any case, we finally paid the place a visit. We wanted to eat somewhere close to home, on a Monday, at a place that served oysters and burgers and brussels sprouts. The Nickel Taphouse fit all of those bills.

The Nickel Taphouse is a warm, comfortable sort of place, with dim lighting, and lots of wood. We settled into one of the booths along the inside wall and perused the beverage list for a while. There were 30+ craft brews on tap, plus another 20 or so in cans, so we were in hops heaven. Dad and I went for the Rogue chipotle ale, a smooth and malty beer with a smoky finish. Mr Minx had a tasty Evolution Lot 3 IPA, and my brother chose another IPA, the name of which I don't recall, and because I'm a dolt, I didn't write down.

Once beers were ordered, we took another few minutes to decide what all we wanted to try. I was adamant we go for the Buffalo brussels sprouts, which turned out to be an excellent idea. The sprouts, some halved, some just loose leaves, were roasted, even charred in spots, tossed with hot sauce and topped with cheese sauce. The four of us attacked the ample serving and didn't look up until it was all gone. They were that good.

We also tried both the roasted oysters (done a la clams casino, with bacon, peppers, scallions, and mustard) and a selection of raw ones. The roasted bivalves had a pronounced mustard flavor, and while the taste was good, I felt the crust was soggy. The oysters were still nearly raw though, which is a good thing. I suppose it is a fine line between overcooked (if the topping was crisp) and perfect (soggy crust).

We ordered one each of the six varieties of local and otherwise raw oysters available. They were fresh and briny. A bit too many broken shell pieces for my taste, but their freshness can't be faulted.

Dad is a sucker for chili and ordered the beef and bacon-enriched version of the day, which contained chunks of beef in addition to ground beef and kidney beans. The chili had an unusual tangy aftertaste which I associate with smoked brisket. The serving was huge, and at $8, a pretty good deal.

Despite being a casual tavern, there are some dishes prepared tableside, like salads and a steak tartare entree. The chili was served as if it were a fancy soup: poured tableside over a bowl of rice. Gotta say, despite the overall tastiness of the chili, the plop plop plop presentation was less than appetizing. Save that for bisques, please.

Dad doggie-bagged much of the chili, for he had also ordered a burger. Burgers at the Nickel Taphouse come in 5-ounce "nickel" and 10-ounce "dime" sizes, with either minimal toppings (the "purist") or with extra sharp cheddar, house-cured bacon, mushrooms, a fried egg, and Nickel sauce (the "works"). Both Dad and my brother kept it simple. The Roseda beef burgers were plump and tasty. The brioche bun stood up better under the weight of only one patty but started disintegrating (as they always do) in the two-patty dime version.

In contrast, the roll on Mr Minxes beef on weck stayed intact and crunchy from start to finish. This western New York state specialty is simply thinly sliced rare roast beef on a kummelweck, or caraway and salt-topped roll. A bit of horseradish on the side added just enough oomph to the massive pile of tender, juicy, meat. The roll, which seemed mostly crust, was light and crisp, almost crackling. Personally, I think kummelweck rolls need to become a thing in Baltimore.

A bowl of good house slaw and pickles came with all three sandwiches.

I opted out of the meatfest and instead went for a bowl of mussels. They come in a few different flavors at Nickel Taphouse; I chose the Thai curry version. While not tasting particularly of red curry at all to me (it needed a bit of kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil), the creamy sauce was otherwise fragrant and not overly rich. I hate that mussels are so tiny these days, but these tasted terrific, and not a closed one in the bunch.

A gigantic order of fries with a tarragon aioli worked both with the sandwiches and my mussels. The fries were ultra slender and very crisp.

So maybe we waited a bit long to try the Nickel Taphouse. Now that we have, we will consider putting it into our regular rotation. I could eat those brussels sprouts regularly.

The Nickel Taphouse on Urbanspoon

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Monday, February 02, 2015

Freekeh with Grape Leaves and Feta

Browsing the very excellent food site Food 52 the other day, I found an intriguing recipe for something the recipe writer called a grape leaf pilaf. It wasn't actually a pilaf, as she directs the rice should be cooked "as instructed on package," which means boiled or steamed. I thought I might like to make it as an actual pilaf, browning the rice with onions then simmering it in a seasoned broth. We already had a jar of grape leaves in the cupboard, which I had purchased for an abandoned project. All we needed was the feta and herbs, and some sort of protein to go with it. Lamb seemed to make sense, and we had that, too.

Once I had everything together, I realized that rice would make a better accompaniment for the chicken dish I planned to make the following day. I found a bag of freekeh, a roasted green wheat product, in the cupboard (lord, there's so many weird things in there) and thought I could give that a spin. I had never worked with the stuff before, hadn't even tasted it, so rather than make pilaf, I cooked it in the rice cooker. The package indicated that it should be cooked like rice, with twice as much water as grain. I still wasn't going to have a pilaf, so I'm not calling it that.

The freekeh smelled wonderful as it was cooking, and tasted rich and nutty. The texture is a little crunchy, like brown rice or bulgur. It really was the perfect grain to use with tangy grape leaves and feta cheese and made the dish into something far more interesting than boring old steamed rice could have done.

For the meaty aspect of the dish, I made meatballs out of a mixture similar to this one, only without the nuts or spices other than salt, pepper, and garlic. I also roasted some grape tomatoes to add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise tangy meal. It was riiiillly good. Hearty, yet light, full of flavors and textures. Definitely a keeper. The freekeh would go well with chicken or shrimp, too.

Freekeh with Grape Leaves and Feta

1 cup freekeh
1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
1 cup chopped grape leaves from a jar
1/4 cup chopped dill leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper
Crumbled feta cheese

Cook freekeh as you would rice (or according to package directions).

While freekeh is cooking, saute onion in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add chopped grape leaves, herbs (reserving some for garnish), and lemon juice. When freekeh is done cooking, add it to the pan of onions and grape leaves. Stir well to combine. Taste for seasoning and add freshly ground pepper and a bit of salt, if needed. (The grape leaves are quite salty, so you might not need to add any additional.)

Before serving, drizzle freekeh with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle on the feta and reserved herbs. Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature.

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