Friday, October 30, 2015

Flashback Friday - Bacon Cook-off Results

This is the first and only live cook-off in which I participated. Possibly the last.


This post was originally published on June 15, 2010.
Bacon Cook-off Results

So maybe I didn't win the Bacon Cook-off with my dish. It's a good thing I am a born pessimist because I didn't expect to win. But I didn't expect to come in dead last, either. It was an ego blow, but that's ok. Live and learn. And other good things have already come of the experience, so I win anyway.

Thank you to the judges who came up to me afterwards to commend my sandwich, and especially to the audience member who called me over to whisper that my dish was the best. That made me feel really good.

So you probably want to know what I created. Well, it's like this: because entering recipe contests has taught me that simple recipes work best, I aimed to make the most simple yet most tasty bacon dish possible. I chose a riff on the ever-popular BLT, but done as a Banh Mi. In addition to bacon, lettuce, and tomato, I made a spicy lemongrass mayo, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber spears, and a garnish of cilantro to bring in the traditional flavors of Vietnam.

Mr Minx and I made a few versions of this sandwich on different kinds of bread. Vietnamese Banh Mi bread is traditionally a baguette made with some rice flour, which adds a certain crispness. But this is Baltimore and that kind of product is nowhere to be found. After auditioning breads from Atwater's and Panera, we found the crust on those versions were just too crunchy for this usage. In the end, we settled on a cheap French baguette from Giant. It's crisp without being too hard, and bland enough to let the rest of the ingredients sing.

BLT Banh Mi

1/2 lb pancetta, cooked crisp
1 lb good quality thick cut bacon (I used uncured applewood smoked pepper bacon), cooked to your liking
2 medium tomatoes, cut into thin slices
1 Romaine lettuce heart, separated into leaves, tough center rib removed
1 recipe Asian Mayonnaise (recipe below)
1 recipe picked vegetables (recipe below)
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded and cut into 4" long x 1/4" wide spears
2 baguettes, cut into 8" segments and sliced horizontally (but not all the way through)
cilantro sprigs

Asian Mayonnaise

4 T mayonnaise
2 T lemongrass paste
2 t finely chopped scallion
2 scant T fish sauce
1 t Sriracha
2 shakes of garlic powder

Combine all ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes so the flavors can meld.

Marinated Vegetables

Daikon radish,  about a 4" long segment, cut into 1/8" wide strips
2 medium carrots, cut into 4" long by 1/8" wide strips
pinch salt
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 T agave nectar

Combine all ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for half an hour.

To assemble sandwiches:
Spread baguette with mayonnaise. Top with, in this order: 2 or three tomato slices, 2 pieces each of pancetta and bacon, several strips of daikon and carrot, 2 cucumber spears, and a small handful of cilantro.


Makes 4 or more sandwiches, depending on the size of your bread and the number of slices of bacon per package.

(Top photo totally stolen from competitor and victor Kit Pollard's friend Lyndsay's Facebook account. The second photo was taken at home and is one of the early iterations of the sandwich.)

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Happy Hour Events at Horseshoe Casino

The Horseshoe Baltimore casino in downtown Baltimore has been opened for about a year now and, while many are filling up the place every night for gambling thrills, not everyone is aware of the dining opportunities available under the same roof. That's why the three anchor restaurants: Johnny Sanchez, Jack Binion's Steak, and Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar are offering special happy hour events to give diners a chance to check out their fine food and wide selection of libations at prices that won't pinch the pocketbook.

Empanadas with roasted corn, queso oxacana, rajas, and black beans at Johnny Sanchez  
Johnny Sanchez offers new happy hour specials Wednesday through Friday, 5 to 7 pm. Cinco De Wednesday has $5 appetizers and house margaritas. Thirsty Thursday features $3 select draft beers and $3 nachos, and Viva La Friday has $3 tacos and select draft beers along with $4 domestic bottled beers. You might also want to check out their "Chips and Salsa Nights" where you can learn salsa dancing while enjoying Mexican cuisine and cocktails.

Jack Binion's Steak has happy hour specials five days a week. Lucky 7s Monday features $7 martinis, appetizers, and specialty cocktails. Tuesday is Scotch and Steak Night with a glass of 18-year-old Glenfiddich and a Chef's select steak for 40 bucks. Prime and Wine Wednesdays offers a slow-roasted prime rib and half-price bottles of wine while on Thursday, you can get a half-priced crab cake with the purchase of any steak. Friday's happy hour is a little bit happier with $4 domestic bottled beers and $5 specialty cocktails, house wines, and appetizers. There's also a piano bar on the weekends where you can sample a beverage or three around the large table specifically built over their grand piano.

Guy's Cheesecake Challenge and S'mores Tart at Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar
Over at Guy Fieri's Baltimore Kitchen + Bar, diners can enjoy $6 wings and French Fry Dippers Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 pm. To wash down those appetizers, there's $3 select draft beers, $4 domestic bottle beers, $5 house cocktails, and $5 house wines. Don't forget to check out their entrees and delicious selection of desserts, like Guy's Cheesecake Challenge topped with potato chips, pretzels, and hot fudge. The S'mores Tart is also a decadent delight with rich chocolate in a tart shell and topped with marshmallow fluff.

If you haven't had a chance to check out the Horseshoe Baltimore, or haven't been for awhile, these happy hour specials are a great incentive to venture over for an evening nosh. Plus, there's free parking in their spacious parking garage, which is a rare bonus in the downtown area.

Horseshoe Baltimore
1525 Russell Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
Tel: (844) 777-SHOE

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spicy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

I have always been a fan of cauliflower. Even as a kid, I could eat an entire head of it for dinner. Just slather it with butter and add some salt and I'd be happy. But I was never a picky eater. My brother, on the other hand, was. The only way he would ingest cauliflower (or broccoli) was if it had been smothered in gloppy cheese sauce. Fortunately (or not), Green Giant produced such a concoction in plastic bags that could be reheated in a pot of boiling water. Mm mm.

So it didn't seem like much of a stretch to put cauliflower in macaroni and cheese. With the veg standing in for some of the pasta, it could even lower the calorie count of the dish a tad. Just a tad, because, you know, cheese sauce. That isn't ever going to be lo-cal and taste good at the same time.

You could omit the onion, garlic, and peppers from this dish to make it plainer for your picky kid who will only eat mac and cheese and chicken fingers. Or, you could make their undiscriminating asses that garbage from a box that you usually feed them and cook this much tastier version for yourself. It might look and smell so good, the rugrats will beg you for a taste.

Spicy Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

1 medium onion, chopped
Olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded or not, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small head cauliflower, separated into small florets
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1 6-oz can evaporated milk
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded mild cheddar
Pinch smoked paprika
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons panko

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook the onion over medium heat in a tablespoon or so of olive oil and a pinch of salt. When the onion is translucent and starting to brown a bit on the edges (about 8-10 minutes) add the jalapeno and the garlic, stirring frequently until pepper has softened. Remove from the heat.

While the onion is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Cook the cauliflower until just tender. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside. Bring the water back to the boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, about five minutes. Drain the water from the pot, leaving the macaroni in it. Add the cauliflower and the sauteed onion mixture to the macaroni and stir to combine. Turn the heat back on under the pot, about to medium, and add the evaporated milk and the pepper jack and cheddar cheeses. Stir until the cheeses have melted. Stir in the smoked paprika and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.

Pour all into a buttered 9" x 13" baking dish. Top with the Parm and panko. Bake for 20 minutes until heated through and bubbly. If not browned on top, put the pan under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get the crumbs nice and toasty.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Masala Mama

One of the many products we were introduced to by this summer's Fancy Food Show was Masala Mama spice mixes. The company puts out a whole line of individual spices, but they also do pre-measured dry mixes to make cooking Indian food at home super easy. They're not stupid simple though - one doesn't merely dump the contents into a pan a la Hamburger Helper. There are explicit instructions included along with multiple seasoning packets that get introduced at different points during cooking. So you learn a bit of technique while being mostly lazy.

For instance, the Goa Coconut Curry came with a packet of kokum (related to mangosteen and nothing that the average American home cook will find in the supermarket) that needed to be added to a can of coconut milk and heated. The dried pink fruit was then left to soak in the warm milk in order to impart flavor and color. While that was going on, a second package of spices was fried with onions to make the base for the dish.

Goa fish curry doesn't normally have a ton of vegetables in it, as pictured, but we had carrots and tomatoes and peas and not a whole lot of fish, so I tossed them in for both bulk and nutrition. The dish turned out really well, tasting a lot more like something that came from a restaurant than from my kitchen. We haven't had an opportunity to try the Vindaloo spices yet, as the first ingredient is "chiles" and I have no idea how hot it's going to be. Not that we dislike spicy food--on the contrary, we enjoy it--but I've heard stories about the heat levels that dishes like vindaloo can reach. It's for the American market though, so I suppose it can't be that mind-blowing.

Masala Mama, founded by chef Nidhi Jalan, is based in Brooklyn, NY. Their products are certified USDA Organic and come from artisanal farms in India. They also offer three gourmet simmer sauces (Goa curry, Tikka Masala, and Vindaloo), 10 spice kits in addition to the two above, three spice blends (Garam Masala, Tandoori Masala, and Magic Curry Powder) and over 30 organic individual spices. If you can't find them in your local Whole Foods, you can buy the spice kits online at

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Flashback Friday - Restaurant Web Sites

This post is almost five years old at this point, so almost none of the examples are as good or as ugly as I stated here. Click the images for better examples of what I'm going on about. It's nice to see that most restaurants did update their sites in the past few years, not that I had anything to do with it.


This post was originally published on February 18, 2011.
Restaurant Web Sites

They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but as someone who is more than a little bit obsessed with good design, I have the tendency to judge restaurants by their Web sites. For me, the most important things to feature on a site are a) hours; b) location; c) menus, preferably with prices and not in PDF format. Oh, and signs that the site has been edited by someone who has a grasp on correct spelling and grammar. Everything else is filler. No need for gushing testimonials from customers - they're misleading because we know the restaurant has cherry-picked only the best comments. Photos of dishes are nice, but only if they're good photos of food actually served at the restaurant, and not stock images. And forget cheesy music and home pages that make visitors wait for completely gratuitous graphics and videos to load - few things will make me hit the "back" button sooner and change my dining plans. It can be a bit like Christina Aguilera singing the National Anthem during the Super Bowl - all Flash, no substance. Maybe even a big fail.

I took a look at several local restaurant Web sites and found few that really struck me as being well-designed, attractive, and to-the-point. On the other hand, annoying and/or ugly ones were a dime a dozen.

Let's start out with the best of the bunch; Bluegrass Tavern's site is a good example. The address and hours of operation are easy to find on the main page, as is a link to their various menus, plus additional tabs for specials, drinks, and reservations via Open Table. While there is a large slideshow-style image graphic on the main page, it changes slowly enough that one has already clicked through to another page before really noticing it.

Another site I like belongs to the James Joyce Pub. It's visually attractive, has no Flash or music, and it has their hours, location, and link to menus on the main page, along with an Open Table reservation feature. Staying in the Irish vein, Tir Na Nog's site is really stunning, with very subtle moving features. And all the important info is not only on the main page, but it's also "above the fold." A shame they didn't spell "shepherd's pie" correctly.

One might think that a vaunted restaurant such as Cindy Wolf's Charleston would have a fantastic Web site. While the site is nice-looking, it's all Flash, and one has to dig around quite a bit to figure out when the restaurant is and is not open for business (click the "contact us" button, then click the tiny "hours of operation" link on that page). Other restaurants in the Charleston Group also have site issues. Pazo not only has a lot of unnecessary
Cinghiale, I presume?
Flash on the main page, but also a bit of auto-play electronica that is reminiscent of cheesy porn music. The site for Petit Louis is fairly plain, but one has to click the "location" button to find the restaurant's hours, which are arranged on a wide black bar that doesn't seem to have much purpose at all on several pages. And the super-cheesy photo of owner Tony Foreman has got to go. Cinghiale has some loading issues; the home page was essentially blank for a good number of seconds before the logo and navigation system popped up. And when I click "menu" I want to see the menu, not another page that lists the menus, with a subsequent page that has some text and yet another link, "view dinner menu." In other words, one has to click three links to see what the restaurant serves, at which point I've given up and gone elsewhere.

One of my biggest pet peeves is the lack of attention to detail by bloggers and Web designers alike when it comes to spelling and grammar use. Most like to chalk it up to "typos" but it's pretty easy to figure out when the writer transposes a couple of letters in a word and when he or she has no clue whatsoever - and doesn't seem to care. Take the site for Louisiana, for example. While not the most attractive site around, it's not bad, except for the writing. On the "restaurant" page, we find this doozy: "We accomadate your every need with the same attention to detail and service that has made Louisianna a destination for many descrimiation diners."

Attention to detail my ass. The restaurant is also referred to as "Louisiana's" on a couple of pages (the URL also adds an "s" to the name). And why is the text on some pages in all caps, and on others in both upper- and lower-case? If I hadn't already eaten there several times (back before they had a Web presence), I doubt I'd bother going now.

Another site that turns me off belongs to the restaurant Tabrizi's. First of all, there's a wait while the site loads. During this time, I think, "time is money, and you're probably not getting any of mine." Once it does load, there's annoying music and every click on every link activates a quick-moving bit of Flash. It's a gimmick that really has no purpose. And the restaurant logo really does not need the ridiculous amount of drop shadow it's sporting. But at least the logo is there.

That is not the case for The Wine Market's site, which does not have a logo or even the restaurant's name on its header. It doesn't have a header at all, really, just some dumb javascript mouse-over silliness. If I didn't accidentally hover over the images that take up the majority of the home page, I wouldn't realize that they activated a link in a non-descript banner above them, which does in fact say, "Welcome to The Wine Market" when one first lands on the page, but changes as soon as the mouse pointer gets anywhere near those photos. There's some vague potential to the site, as the hours and address are on the main page (in a tiny font), and the content is ok, but it's a bit too free Javascript-happy for me.

Then there are the sites that are just butt-ugly, that look like someone's second cousin's mailman's dog put them together for a free lunch. Sullivan's Steakhouse is one of them. It's plain and rather un-corporate-looking for a place that has twenty locations. The worst part is the series of photographs that move underneath the text on the "menus" and "private dining" pages. They're a bit nausea-inducing. And why aren't they on all of the pages? Why is there no consistency? The Brewer's Art has another hopelessly homely site, but at least all of the pertinent information is right there on the home page. Waterstone Bar & Grille also has an ugly site, with too much empty space and links that are entirely too small. A quick check of the source code reveals that it was created with Microsoft FrontPage, a program that in itself is a giant fail.

Honestly, I could comment on just about every site out there - negatively - but I've probably gotten my point across by now. It's a point that The Oatmeal also makes pretty succinctly. And it's not just Baltimore - even glossy Michelin-starred places owned by uber-chefs Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert suffer from cheesy music and graphics. The site for Daniel offers a link with info on the restaurant's interior design, but not for hours of operation (they are on the "reservations" page, however). Le Bernardin is no better, offering the sounds of diners chattering and clinking utensils in addition to music. The pictures are shore purty, but dammit, I've got better things to do than to wait for the links to load! (I can only assume that the people who dine in these palaces of gastronomy have assistants to slog through Web sites for them.)

What do you like to see on a restaurant Web site? Do you want the site to be informative AND attractive? Do you like encountering music, moving images, or other Flash features? I'd love to find out if I'm "normal" or just too picky.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Chocolate Nutter Butter Cookie Butter

The first person to toss cookies in a blender with cream or oil or condensed milk to produce a spread was an evil genius. As if cookies aren't fattening enough on their own, this was a way to infuse them with even more fat and calories and create a product that could possibly rival the pumpkin spice latte for popularity with the Uggs-wearing set.

It also happens to be delicious stuff.

As far as I can tell, cookie butter was originally made with speculoos, a traditional spiced Christmas cookie that is probably best known to Americans as the in-flight snack for Delta airlines. But any cookie will do, actually. Peanut butter lovers will enjoy this version of cookie butter made with Nutter Butter cookies. It's not as smooth as commercial cookie butter, but perhaps if you have a more heavy duty food processor than my Cuisinart, or maybe one of those fancy $700 blenders, you could whip yours to a less-coarse consistency. It's still tasty served on bread or eaten right off a spoon.

Chocolate Nutter Butter Cookie Butter
I think this is one of those recipes that works best by feel. Add as much of the sweetener, oil, and cream as you think you require. The cocoa is absolutely optional, but a nice touch.

1/2 pound of Nutter Butter cookies
Agave syrup
Vegetable oil
Heavy cream
Cocoa powder

Separate the two halves of each cookie and scrape the filling into a small bowl. Place the cookies in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Place the crumbs in a food processor and pulse until the crumbs are fairly fine. Add a tablespoon of the agave and pulse to combine. Add the veg oil a tablespoon or two at a time until the crumbs start to stick together and form a mass; 6-7 tablespoons should do it. Dribble in some heavy cream and pulse again until the mixture seems spreadable. Add a few tablespoons of the cocoa powder and continue pulsing until combined. When you stop blending, the mixture should visibly relax in the bowl.

Scrape into a lidded container and consume within a week. Keep refrigerated.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Mexican Blini

Why is it that buttermilk only seems to come in quarts? Most recipes call for a cup, maybe two, of the stuff, but there are four cups in a quart. What to do with the leftover buttermilk?

I happened to be thumbing through one of my many cookbooks, Vegetarian Planet, and found a recipe for masa cakes that require 1 2/3 cups buttermilk, plus masa, corn kernels, and a few other ingredients we already had on hand.

I don't know why I don't use that book more often. It's terrific.

We also had various other oddments in the fridge. A bit of smoked trout. Some leftover tomatillo salsa. Pomegranate arils. Rather than serve the masa cakes as a straight-up sort of Latino thing, I topped them with smoked trout and sour cream and made them blini-ish. Of course, they were nowhere near as delicate as a properly made blini, but they sure did taste good. And isn't that all that really matters?

Mexican Blini (adapted from Vegetarian Planet)

2 eggs
1 2/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons melted, cooled, unsalted butter (divided use)
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1 cup white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen
Tomatillo salsa (recipe follows)
Sour cream
Smoked trout (optional)
Pomegranate seeds
Chopped parsley or cilantro

Beat the eggs and add the buttermilk and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Gradually stir in the masa, flour, salt, sugar, and baking soda. Stir well until the mixture forms a mass. Stir in the corn.

Add the remaining tablespoon of melted butter to a large skillet over medium heat. Make small patties with the masa dough, about 3" in diameter, and place in the hot pan. (If you have too many patties to fit without crowding, make them in two batches.) Cook until the undersides of the cakes are browned, 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook 4 minutes on the other side.

To serve: puddle some of the tomatillo salsa on a plate. Top with 2-3 masa cakes. On each masa cake, place a dollop of sour cream, a bit of smoked trout, and garnish with the pomegranate seeds and parsley or cilantro.

Tomatillo Salsa

4-5 tomatillos
2 jalapeno peppers
3 scallions
Handful fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
Pinch cumin
Salt, to taste

Remove husks from tomatillos, rinse them and cut into quarters. Stem and deseed the jalapenos (leave some seeds in, if you want more heat). Remove root end from scallions and chop remainder into 1" pieces.

Put tomatillos, jalapenos, scallions, cilantro, and garlic into a blender and puree. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the brown sugar, cumin, and salt. Cook about 5 minutes, until mixture darkens. Taste for seasoning, adding more sugar or salt if you think it needs it. It should mostly be tart, but not sour.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Flashback Friday - I Killed Gourmet

Back when I had more time for blogging, I posted more opinion pieces, like this one. These days, I think about this stuff, but seldom put pen to to keyboard. Maybe I should start again?

This post was originally published on October 17, 2009.
I Killed Gourmet

Christopher Kimball apparently thinks bloggers contributed to the demise of Gourmet Magazine: "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up." That seems to give us far more power than we have. Perhaps it might be more useful to examine whether or not Gourmet was providing content that appealed to its designated demographic. Were the articles interesting enough to attract a sufficiently large audience? Was its editorial approach valid for today's readers? Plenty of long-running magazines have folded because they lost touch with their audience, and this has been going on well before the Internet.

On the other hand, maybe Mr Kimball is giving us our due. Bloggers represent the people, and our opinions matter. We're the ones who buy the products, patronize the restaurants, and read the magazines. Why should we not be allowed to say our piece? Why should it be that an elite group of food professionals has all of the authority?

I didn't stop reading Gourmet because I started blogging, or even because I started reading blogs. I stopped reading Gourmet because I don't have the leisure time to sit on the sofa, feet up, and enjoy a food magazine. I do, however, spend many long hours in front of a computer. As you may have noticed, the Internet is a treasure trove of foodie information. Not only are there food blogs by non-food-professionals such as myself, but there are also plenty of sites that are run by legitimate media outlets. Mr Kimball's own Cook's Illustrated site, for example. I also glean a lot of interesting information on the New York Times site as well as that of New York Magazine, including their...blogs. Foodie information also abounds on television. Not so much on the Food Network anymore, but in the early days of Emeril, Molto Mario, and David Rosengarten, I learned a lot. Now better foodie TV can be found by watching the interesting and creative competitors on Top Chef, and learning good home-cook technique on Christopher Kimball's America's Test Kitchen.

Back to blogs. I will admit that there are lots of them that are poorly-written and have nothing to say, ones that contribute no expertise or even opinion in some cases. The people who are their fans would never read Gourmet in the first place, so while I sneer at them and their lack of quality content, they are not to blame for the demise of the hallowed food magazine. As far as Twitter comments are concerned, many of the people I follow are food professionals. Should they keep their interesting information to themselves or save it up for an article rather than sharing spontaneously?

Media is changing and some venerable publications are losing their audience - this includes magazines and local newspapers. As other media become more popular - and more engaging - we'll continue to see the demise of print publication. It's a form of growing pains. I don't feel it's right to point fingers at things - like blogs - and make them villains.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Artichoke Spinach Dip

I think I remarked some months ago that this was turning into a dip blog because so many of the recipes I put up here seem to be for something to spread on a cracker or carrot stick. But who doesn't need the occasional dip recipe? Especially this time of year, when the approaching holidays can mean entertaining family and friends. I attempt to entertain friends at the end of every month when I host a stitch and bitch. It's not always possible that all of us can make every meeting, but regardless of the number of people I'm expecting, I always provide homemade snacks.

Most recently, I made spinach artichoke dip. I've always enjoyed this classic veg-and-cheese concoction but didn't want to make the traditional cream cheese and instant vegetable soup-based version. Not to disparage that recipe - I certainly ate plenty of it in my youth and much preferred it to that other soup mix dip, French onion (bleurgh!) - but I wanted to do something different, and just as easy.

Rather than seasoning cheese with soup mix, I bought ready-seasoned cheese. A convenient cheat. Mashed up with veg and a few seasonings, it was pretty tasty. As always, I was too lazy to make crudite, so I served it with Keebler Townhouse Flatbread crackers.

Artichoke Spinach Dip

1 (6.5 ounce) container garlic herb cheese (Alouette or Boursin or whatever)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon mayo
1 14-ounce can or jar of artichoke hearts
1 box frozen spinach, thawed
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 scallions, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Stir together the cheese and sour cream. Mix in the mayo. Chop the artichokes finely and add to the cheese mixture.

Squeeze out all of the moisture from the spinach by placing it in a tea towel and wringing it. Chop the spinach and stir into the artichoke cheese mixture. Stir in cheese and scallions, and season with salt, lemon juice, and pepper.

Serve with crackers, flatbreads, crudite, etc.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Bookmakers Cocktail Club

Though I had a cocktail at Bookmakers Cocktail Club earlier in the year, neither Mr Minx nor I had eaten there before recently. Bookmakers was participating in the annual Dining Out for Life campaign to benefit Moveable Feast, so we decided to give the place a try and support one of our favorite local organizations at the same time.

"Cocktail" is in the name, so we had to start off with a couple. I had the Blind Melon, made with St George green chile vodka, ancho reyes, fresh lime, watermelon, and Thai basil. It was fine. Maybe a little weak. Far more savory than I thought it would be. Mr Minx had the Grayson, with Bulleit rye, yuzu, ginger beer, Velvet Falernum, 1821 Japanese chili-lime bitters, and toasted cinnamon. So many ingredients! Much stronger than mine, with a pronounced bourbon flavor.

Our waitress seemed very happy to be there for DOFL and eagerly gave us both food and drink recomendations. We started off with the pork belly and a Caesar salad.

old grand-dad bourbon, cucumber salad
The serving of pork belly was pretty generous, and while the textures were great - soft fat, crispy top, tender meat - it was cold. Well, not cold exactly. Parts were room-temperature. When I asked our waitress about it, she said it was supposed to be that way. A little odd, but it tasted great, so ok. The cucumber salad was actually a mess of really tangy pickles that cut the fat of the pork nicely.

lemon confit, brioche croutons, white anchovies, parmesan crisp
I had a pretty damn classic Caesar. The platonic ideal, IMHO. Lemony, vaguely fishy, with light croutons and a lovely bit of crispy parm on top.

american cheese, smoked tomato & onion, red leaf lettuce, chef's sauce
Making a decision on an entree was difficult. Well, for me anyway. I went with the cheeseburger, intrigued that there are only so many of them available per night. It was impossible to eat as-is, since the rather firm bun had broken on the bottom so everything just sloshed out. I had added a fried egg, which would have made it too messy to pick up and eat anyway as it was too tall to bite. I knife-and-forked it, leaving much of the bun behind. Please, chefs, just use squishy buns for burgers. There's no need for brioche or any other type of bread (unless it's toasted rye, as in a patty melt) to touch a burger. It makes it difficult to eat and, if too big and cottony, muffles the flavors of all the goodies inside. Especially when the flavors of the components are as good as the ones on this sandwich. Loved the smoked tomato and onion, and the chef's sauce.

pappardelle, mint, sorrel, snap peas, green beans, goat cheese
Mr Minx had pasta, because that's his thing. I thought the pappardelle was a little tough, but he snarfled up that dish right quick. Lamb and mint really is a lovely combination in a pasta sauce, reminding me a bit of the famous mint love letters dish we ate at Mario Batali's Babbo (and I also attempted to recreate at home).

We wanted to run up the tab a bit to get the maximum amount of money for Moveable Feast (Bookmaker's was contributing 25% of the proceeds) so we also got a side dish of brussels sprouts, served with sweet and chewy candied bacon and parm. We eat a LOT of brussels sprouts (can't really avoid them these days, can you?) and these were among the best we've had. No pic, as the restaurant was dark and they were dark and the bowl was dark so the photos I took were even worse than the ones included here.

We also ordered a couple more cocktails. Mr Minx had the Thyme Collins. He's not a gin lover, but he wanted to see how much he hated the stuff if it was mixed up with thyme, lemon, and soda. It still tasted like gin, but it wasn't a turn-off. (For me, it's tonic that's the deal-breaker.) And I had what I'm going to declare as my favorite new drink - the Federale, made with Tapatio blanco tequila, Becherovka, cinnamon, fresh lemon, grapefruit, and mint. It was like the most sophisticated non-margarita margarita ever. I could have downed 3 or 4 (they are small) but that would have been dangerous.

We don't normally order dessert (at least not every time we go out) but for the sake of more money to charity, we ordered the baked mini donuts to share. Three each mini chocolate glazed and powdered sugar donuts were served with a little cup of coffee-flavored cream for dipping. I got the concept, but felt the donuts were dry (although the chocolate glaze was boss) and the cream was too liquidy.

In any case, despite minor quibbles, we really enjoyed the meal. Service was terrific, drinks were good, and so was the food. We got in and out just before it started to get really loud (one of the benefits of eating early - we can have a conversation without shouting with the rest of the shouting yahoos) which helped make it a good experience.

Bookmakers Cocktail Club
31 E. Cross Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

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Friday, October 09, 2015

Flashback Friday - Dumplings

This was one of the most popular posts ever published on Minxeats.

This post was originally published on April 19, 2013.

On one of the final episodes of that Food Network classic, "Worst Cooks in America," the worstcooktestants are tasked with making dumplings - Chinese siu mai and wontons and Japanese gyoza. As I was watching, I thought to myself, "if those mostly-incompetent people can make an edible dumpling, a mostly competent person like me can, too!" Honestly, they made it look very easy, right down to the little pleats on the gyoza.

Gyoza, or jaiozi, in Chinese, has been my family's favorite Chinese restaurant appetizer forever. No Chinese meal was complete without them. And they had to be fried. Potstickers, they're called. One can, of course, steam them, but my favorite part of the dumpling is the crisp bottom part of the wrapper. Mmm.

I recall making jaiozi with a friend some years ago, and it seemed like a huge production. She had made the filling in advance, so it was the dumpling-forming and cooking that were intimidating to me at the time. But now that I look back, vaguely remembering that she insisted on boiling them in a large pot of water before frying, I see that we made them incorrectly. Especially since many of them fell apart before they even made it to our mouths.

I think she was mostly paranoid about using raw ground pork in the filling, but she needn't have been.

A quick online search brought up myriad variations on that filling. Some used cabbage, some didn't. Some added shrimp. Bobby Flay's recipe (found in his Throwdown cookbook) called for hoisin, chile paste, 5-spice powder and allspice. No wonder he lost. I decided to go with a more simple combination of ingredients: ginger, garlic, cilantro, and green onions. I did borrow an ingredient from Chef Flay's dipping sauce: black vinegar. The result was interesting, but the slightly molasses-y flavor of the vinegar was a bit overpowering. Much better was a more traditional sauce made with soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and scallions. I've supplied the recipe for both; you may decide you like the vinegar sauce. Flay uses hoisin (and a thousand other ingredients) in his, in place of the sugar and soy, which may work better than my substitutions if you don't mind a thicker sauce.

In any case, dumpling making was much simpler than expected. The round wrappers are pre-made and sold in 12- or 16-oz packages at your neighborhood Asian grocer. If you can only find square won ton wrappers, you can cut them with a large round cookie cutter.


1.5 lb ground pork
1 T chopped scallions
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 t chopped garlic
1 t finely minced cilantro
1 16-oz package round dumpling wrappers
oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, and cilantro, plus a generous pinch of salt. You can taste for seasoning by cooking a bit of the meat in a little hot oil. Remember that the dipping sauces contain soy and will be salty, so don't overdo it.

Prepare your area for dumpling assembly: have a clean cookie sheet or two covered with parchment, a Silpat, or a clean tea towel nearby, plus a small ramekin of water, the bowl of filling, and a teaspoon.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place it into your left palm (right, if you're left-handed). Dip a finger in the water and use it to moisten the edge all the way around. Use the spoon to place a blob of meat into the center of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper into a semi-circle. If there's too much meat, take some out at this point. Pinch the middle edges of the dumpling together and then make a pleat to one side of the middle using only the side of the wrapper facing you. (In other words, the dumpling is pleated only on one face.) Add another pleat or two (if they fit) to that end, then repeat the pleats on the opposite end of center. Gently squeeze the edge of the wrapper to make sure it's closed and that there are no air bubbles, and place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all wrappers and/or meat are gone.

(For a visual aid to pleating dumplings, check out this video of Chef Anita Lo doing just that. Dumpling making starts at about the 2 minute mark. Before that time, she demonstrates making the dumpling wrappers themselves. She's a bit fancy; I found it easier to pinch the wrapper closed in the middle and make 2 or 3 pleats on either side.)

To cook dumplings: Add a tablespoon or so of neutral cooking oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add a layer of dumplings. You can fill the pan, but don't crowd it; the dumplings should not overlap. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are a nice golden brown. If the pan seems to be getting too hot, turn the heat down a bit. Once the dumplings are brown - don't turn them! - add a quarter cup or so of water (more or less, depending on the size of your pan and number of dumplings). Cover the pan and cook until the water has evaporated. At this point, the dumplings should be shiny and somewhat translucent on the top (non-browned) side. If you're concerned about the pork being cooked, cut a dumpling in half and check. If they're not cooked, add a few tablespoons more water, cover the pan, and cook until additional water has evaporated.

Remove cooked dumplings to a plate and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce 1

3 T black vinegar
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T light soy
1 T light brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

Dipping Sauce 2

2 T light soy
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions
1 t toasted sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

If you've made more dumplings than you can eat at one sitting, put the remaining dumplings, still on the cookie sheet, in the freezer for a few hours. When frozen solid, transfer to plastic bags and store in the freezer. When you cook them, you'll need to leave them on the heat for a bit longer.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Thai Chili

I hate football season, I really do. While I enjoy the game, both the skill and brutality, I don't enjoy the tension. It's hard having a favorite team, because the enjoyment of an entire weekend hinges upon the outcome of the game. And the Ravens have been sucking big time this season. BIG time. But I put on my Joe Flacco jersey or at least something else purple and sit in front of the boob tube every week, drinking and biting my cuticles, hoping and praying that they'll not make total asses of themselves.

I am a glutton for punishment.

I especially hate 1pm games. We like to eat dinner early, so when the game ends at 4 or 4:30, I have precious little time to walk the dog and prepare a meal before the hungry beast that is Mr Minx comes upstairs for something to take his mind off the most recent pigskin debacle. That would be dinner. What I normally end up doing is making chili or a similar long-cooked dish that bubbles away on the stove while we stamp our feet and grit our teeth in our basement TV room. I can't count the number of chili variations I've made over the years; it's gotten a little tired. Last week, I made something that was mostly different from chili, yet not. It was a fairly lazy preparation, a little sauteing and then some simmering, but it was good. And it made a ton, so we were able to get away with not thinking about one dinner later in the week.

Thai Green Curry with Pork and Green Veg

1 medium onion, diced
5 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, and diced
2 lbs ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar Thai Kitchen green chili paste
2 cans coconut milk
1 bunch cilantro
2 cups frozen spinach
2 cups frozen peas
Lime juice
Fish sauce
Jasmine rice
Chopped scallions, for garnish

Saute the onion and peppers in a tiny bit of veg oil and a pinch of salt until onions are wilted. Add the pork and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until no longer pink and starting to brown in parts. Stir in the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add the chili paste and stir well to coat all of the meat. Pour in the coconut milk, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.

Finely chop the cilantro, including tender stems. Add half of it to the simmering pot. Cook for one hour, or until pork is very tender. Add the remaining cilantro, the spinach, and the peas. Cook until veg are heated through. Season with lime and fish sauce to taste.

Serve over hot Jasmine rice with a sprinkling of scallions.

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Monday, October 05, 2015

Muffuletta? Or Italian Cold Cut Sub?

A muffuletta is a sandwich named after the bread it is made on. A flattened loaf studded with sesame seeds, muffuletta bread is of Italian origin, but the sandwich itself comes from New Orleans. It's rather like an Italian cold cut sub or hoagie in that it's filled with various Italian-style meats and cheeses, but with one important difference--olive salad.

Olive salad is made with giardiniera (a selection of pickled veg including cauliflower, celery, and carrots) and olives, with spices and garlic. It's likely that some grocery store owner somewhere along the line had a few dribs and drabs of pickled vegetables and olives and tossed them together so they wouldn't go to waste. A fine idea. But I'm not a big fan of olive salad. I love olives, but am picky about giardiniera. Often I find it to be too harsh. In my Polish family, we'd call it ostry. Sometimes the veg are too hard, or the pickling liquid tastes of nothing but distilled vinegar. I kinda wish that olive salad was pretty much just olives. And it is, when I make it myself.

I did just that when I needed to come up with something to take to an Orioles game. The bread used in a muffuletta tends to make it more sturdy and leak-proof than an Italian cold cut sub, but of course it's not exactly easy to find an authentic muffuletta at the local grocery store. So I compromised. Giant sells cheese breads that come in a flattish square shape, with good crust, crisp without being hard, and a sturdy crumb. The cold cut portion of the program--prosciutto, salami, bologna (standing in for mortadella)--was easy to find, as was the cheese. And right next to the deli is an olive bar. I originally was just going to buy random olives, pit and chop them, but luckily they had a pre-mixed selection of pitted olives with chunks of hot pepper in a herbed olive oil. A swift chop and a drizzle of vinegar--voila! olive salad.

Since my bread wasn't authentic, nor my olive salad, I couldn't really call my concoction a muffuletta. What I could call it was delicious. It keeps nicely for several hours after making and is easy to eat on the go. Or sitting in the stands. Or even on your couch.

Big, Easy, Cold Cut Sandwich

1 low-profile round or square loaf of bread about 9" in diameter (ciabatta is good, I used Giant brand cheese bread)
1 cup Easy Olive Salad
1/8 lb provolone cheese, thinly sliced
1/8 lb prosciutto, thinly sliced
1/8 lb Genoa salami, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1/4 lb beef bologna (or mortadella), thinly sliced

Slice the bread in half horizontally. Pull out extra dough from the top part (if it's slightly domed, like my cheese bread was) and discard (or use to make bread crumbs for some other dish later in the week). If you're going to eat the sandwich within an hour or so, then start with the olive salad, spreading it over the bottom half of the bread so it covers from edge to edge. Then layer on the cheese, prosciutto, tomatoes, salami and bologna. Cover with the top of the loaf, press down, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap until ready to eat.

If you're NOT going to eat the sandwich relatively soon, layer the ingredients starting with the cheese, prosciutto, tomatoes, salami, olive salad, and finish with bologna. This way, the wet ingredients aren't touching the bread so the sandwich won't become soggy before you're ready to eat it. (Eventually, the bread will get soggy, but it will take many hours before this happens.)

Cut sandwich in half, then half again. Enjoy.

Serves 4.

Easy Olive Salad

1/4 pound mixed olives and peppers from the grocery store olive bar (the olives should already be pitted)
Splash balsamic
Splash agave
Pinch garlic powder

Chop the olives and peppers and place them in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. If it seems dry, add a tiny bit of olive oil, too, but there should already be enough of that in there. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Serves 4.

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Friday, October 02, 2015

Flashback Friday - Tomato Garlic Parm Soup

I know this isn't a particularly old post, but it's never to early to add another soup dish to your fall/winter repertoire.

This post was originally published on November 17, 2014.
Tomato Garlic Parm Soup

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.

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,

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.

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