Monday, February 29, 2016

The Food Market's Private Kitchen

The Food Market used to have a pretty sweet employee lounge in the basement of their Hampden location, complete with a couch and big screen TV, but when the demands of their catering business required a prep kitchen, the lounge was the logical place to use. Once transformed into a place to cook, this new kitchen was sometimes idle between catering gigs. Chef Chad Gauss decided to add some decorative elements to turn the utilitarian cooking space into something resembling a Hampden basement and opened it up to special group dinners known as the Private Kitchen.

Seating up to 12 people, the Private Kitchen can be reserved for special events such as business meetings or sports viewing parties. There are three options for your dining pleasure: a monthly five-course chef's dinner; a-la-carte, with selections from the regular menu; and a "slay the menu" option where the guests leave their dining experience to the chef's discretion. The Minx and I were invited, along with other members of the media, to experience the five course chef's dinner option.

Pretzels with beer sauce
We started off with some familiar Food Market snacks: soft pretzels with beer sauce, and fried pickles. Those pretzels provide all the flavor you would expect from a soft pretzel, but are lighter and more buttery tasting. They're so good, they don't even really need the beer cheese dip, but eat it anyway. And somehow that combination of juicy dill pickle and crispy fried batter works so well, especially when combined with bleu cheese and hot sauce, flavors reminiscent of buffalo wings.

Fried Pickles
The first official course of the evening was modestly called Chicken Broth. The broth was indeed a clean and intensely chickeny-tasting chicken stock with a faint whiff of truffle oil. The broth became soup when poured over a bowl of items including roasted, finely diced mirepoix, freshly made farfalle, both raw and fried prosciutto, and an asiago cream. The combination of flavors and textures are incredibly fun to play around with.

Chicken Broth
The next course featured a pear poached in red wine and stuffed with goat cheese. The red wine was enhanced with clove, shallot, thyme, and other elements to further flavor the pear, which sat atop a raspberry emulsion, arugula, and spiced pecans. Again, the balance of flavors and textures was spot on, with crisp and spicy pear and pecan, creamy goat cheese, and fruity emulsion.

Poached Pear Stuffed with Goat Cheese
The seafood course featured a thick chunk of seared wild rockfish decorated with lemony lump crab meat and micro greens. The skin of the fish was perfectly crisp and the two types of aquatic protein provided an interesting juxtaposition of flavors and textures.

Rockfish with Lump Crab Meat
Our entree was charred lamb with salt-roasted baby potatoes, porcini cream, horseradish mustard, and strips of shaved portobello mushroom. The mustard provided a burst of sinus-clearing heat, balancing the hearty cream and potatoes. The medium rare lamb was succulent and tender, and I was not ashamed to grab both chops by the bone to wrestle them for every morsel of meat.

Charred Lamb
Dessert was a deconstructed s'more. A house-made graham cracker was decorated with swirls of rich chocolate pot de creme (sans pot) and toasted marshmallow. A hickory foam served to recreate the illusion of a s'more cooked over a wood fire. It's advisable to not taste the hickory foam on its own as the flavor was a bit harsh, but taken with the rest of the elements, there is a vague smokiness that completes the effect of the campfire treat. The Minx and I are not fans of traditional s'mores, but when each element is made from scratch with this level of care, the effect is quite satisfying.

Along with some incredible food, the cozy atmosphere of the basement kitchen and the ability to watch your meal being prepared in front of you creates an enjoyable dining experience. It's rare when you get to watch chefs of this caliber at work in such close quarters. The whole evening is a bit like having a terrific dinner party--if your host happens to be an award-winning chef.

You can have this same meal (or one like it) at the Food Market Private Kitchen on March 26th, 2016. Tickets are $80 per person, and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis. For more details and to buy tickets, go to and click the "Private Kitchen" link at the top of the page, then scroll down.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

Flashback Friday - Ma Po Tofu

We love, love, love Fuchsia Dunlop's books on Chinese cuisine. We own all three, and use them pretty regularly. If you want to try cooking Chinese food at home (it's not difficult if you have the right ingredients), then get yourself one or more of her books.


This post was originally published on November 9, 2012.
Ma Po Tofu

Mr. Minx here. It's been awhile since I've reported on one of my weekday dinner adventures, so Ms. Minx thought this would be a good time for me to attempt a recipe she found in Fucshia Dunlop's book, Land of Plenty. It's a Sichuan dish called ma po dou fu, or ma po tofu for us uncultured sorts. A spicy concoction using tofu and ground beef, the dish looked like it would fulfill our desires to have something healthy and flavorful. To add to the healthy nature of the dish, we replaced the ground beef with ground chicken.

At this point, I think it is important to bring up an issue that has daunted me since I started preparing our evening meals Monday through Friday. That issue is timing. Minxy takes the bus home from work, and the bus system is notoriously unreliable. Just when I get used to my beloved walking through the door at a certain time for several days in a row, she will unexpectedly be 15 minutes late. Although not necessarily a big deal in the vast scheme of things, it can be lethal for the taste and quality of a stir-fry or pasta dish. Therefore, I've taken to getting as much prep work done as possible before she arrives home, and then starting the final assembly after I've kissed her hello.

When I looked at the recipe for ma po tofu, it was clear there was a lot of quick sauteeing with the overall cooking time amounting to a scant 10 minutes or so. I decided to be clever and do all my chopping and measuring of ingredients first, and then wait to do the actual cooking. Setting about the prep work about a half hour before the expected cooking time, I ran into my first snag. The recipe called for leeks and, as anyone who's cooked leeks knows, they have to be thoroughly washed because they can often be filled with sand. Sometimes I get lucky and the leeks are pretty clean. This was not one of those times. I chopped the leeks into rings and soaked them in a bowl of cold water. Once the sand settled to the bottom of the bowl, I drained the water and washed them again. And again. And again. I had just started, and I was already falling behind.

I started assembling the other ingredients. The recipe called for fermented black beans. After scouring the pantry, I came up empty. Then I remembered that I had purchased a container of Korean fermented black bean paste a while back which I was going to use for some undetermined experimentation at a later date. This seemed like as good a time as any, so I guesstimated how much paste might equal the required quantity of black beans. Another crisis averted.

Next step was to cook the ground chicken. This is when I realized that I hadn't thoroughly defrosted the meat, which had lingered in the freezer waiting for some good use. I decided to start cooking the meat right away and hope for the best. The meat is supposed to be crisped up over a high flame, but a chicken popsicle doesn't exactly crisp up; it stews in its own moisture and becomes a crumbly soup. I tried not to panic. I figured I still had just enough time to cook it. Then I hear the Minx walk through the front door 15 minutes early.

Seeing that I was clearly in the weeds, she jumped in to help, but I could sense her disappointment in my lack of planning. Anyway, we forged ahead. Although the recipe is not exactly complicated, there are several steps, adding each ingredient separately and allowing them to cook for short, but specific amounts of time. Chili bean paste, black bean paste, ground chiles, tofu, and leeks are all added to the meat and cooked for short intervals. Fine if you know what you're doing, but a little crazy for me as I ran back and forth to the cookbook, fumbling with my reading glasses, trying to make sure each step was properly executed.

In the end, the ma po tofu turned out to be a wonderful dinner choice. The tofu, ground meat, and black beans provided sufficient heartiness, while the clean spiciness so prevalent in Sichuan cooking made it seem somehow light. I'm sure the use of ground beef would've given it a more savory flavor, but the ground chicken worked just fine for my palate, and I could feel better that is was less fatty. It's a dish I would like to attempt again when I have more time and properly thawed ground meat.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mielbio Organic Italian Honey Lavender Loaf Cake

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners; about the only thing I won't use it in is tea. I know, tea + honey (especially with lemon) is a classic combination, but it's not a favorite. When I was a kid, I was sick a lot, and among my mother's favorite remedies was big pots of Lipton tea with tons of honey and lemon. So it reminds me of having a bad cold. (She also loved Ben Gay, therefore, I have also developed a deep-rooted dislike for wintergreen in any form. Even root beer can be an iffy proposition.) But I do like honey on its own. And it's great for adding a bit of sweetness to a savory dish, or spread on a piece of buttered toast or a biscuit. And as an ingredient in baking.

When we received a jar of MielBio organic honey in their limited edition Mandarin flavor from Rigoni di Asiago, I knew I had to use it as a flavoring element for a cake. The cloudy raw honey syrup, from Calabria, is made by bees who sip the sweet nectar from clementine trees and has a distinct orange-y flavor. I didn't want to add more orange to the cake, thinking it would detract from the honey flavor, so instead I added a small bit of lavender flowers. They lend a herbal touch to the cake that marries perfectly with the sweet citrussy honey.

The cake gets a nice brown crust while baking; the crumb is light and airy with a delicate orange flavor. It's terrific toasted, with butter (and honey!) or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Honey Lavender Loaf Cake

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup MielBio mandarin honey (or other light, flavored honey)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon food-grade lavender buds (We get ours from the Spice House)
2 cups AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the honey, and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla and sour cream.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a separate bowl. Beat it into the butter mixture just until combined.

Scrape into a greased 8" or 9" loaf pan. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before unmolding cake. Cool on rack until at least room temperature before slicing.

* 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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Monday, February 22, 2016

On the Hunt for Good Chinese Food in Baltimore County

When we were growing up, there was a Chinatown of sorts in downtown Baltimore. A good handful of restaurants dotted the area around Park Avenue and Mulberry Street, including Mee Jun Lo, which was a family favorite. In the 80s, we had some pretty terrific "Szechuan" restaurants in the City, including Szechuan in Federal Hill, Bamboo House at Harborplace, and Uncle Lee's on Greenmount Avenue. Theminx's family frequented all three on a pretty regular basis.

Today, we live in the county. There seems to be a tiny Chinese carry-out in every shopping center, but are any of them good? Szechuan House, up in Lutherville, used to be pretty good. There are still folks who dine there regularly, but it's been a while since we've had a good meal there. Normally, we order delivery, and food arrives impressively fast and somehow the spring rolls are always crisp. But, dishes like orange chicken and General Tso's are gloppy and uninspired. And they cannot do a good kung pao chicken or moo shu pork to save their lives. We've tried several times, and been disappointed each time. The moo shu, in particular, offends. For some unknown reason, the smell of it reminds me of the elephant cage at the Zoo. But kung pao and moo shu pork are among our favorite American-Chinese dishes, so we needed to find someplace that made them well. Well enough to suit us, that is.

We started our search at Lucky Inn, in the North Plaza Shopping Center. We weren't sure if the stereotypical lantern-bedecked decor was a good or bad thing, but we persevered and ordered.

We tried their won ton soup and the eggrolls to start. The soup was tasty, but there was something very commercial, from-a-can-ish, about it. The eggrolls were inedible, at best. They smelled funky and tasted worse. Not quite freezer-burned, just horrible.

I had the General Tso's. The all white meat chicken was moist, with a light tempura-like batter, but there was far too much sauce, which was sweet and not spicy. I prefer dark meat, and some spice, but it wasn't horrible.

The kung pao chicken had big chunks of green pepper (ugh), and was somewhat spicy, but I didn't think it had any other flavor.

The fried rice, which accompanied both dishes, was pretty good. Decently greasy, as it should be.

Not a complete failure, but probably not worth a return trip.

Lucky Inn
8924 Waltham Woods Rd
Baltimore, MD 21234
(410) 665-8383

We then tried OrderUp for the first time. We'd eaten food from Towson Best in the past, and remembered that it had been decent.

Their won ton soup wasn't bad. The broth was nicely gingery, and the won tons were plump, but there was a dearth of roast pork pieces and scallions.

The Mandarin-style spring rolls were a joke. They were tiny and flat, as if whomever made them forgot to add any filling. Oddly enough, they did taste pretty good.

The kung pao was all chicken and peanuts, with a mild spiciness. Overall, pretty darn good (no green pepper was a huge plus).

My moo shu pork had a generous amount of pork and tasted good. The pancakes were a little thick though, almost tortilla-like.

Portions, apart from the spring rolls, were generous. We'd definitely order from Towson Best again.

Towson Best
527 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21204
(410) 825-3770

Our next OrderUp order came from China Wok. There are myriad China Woks in the area; this one was on York Road in Towson.

The won ton soup was really nice. The broth was well-seasoned with a light body and nice flavors. The won tons themselves were not only stuffed with the typical gingery ground pork mixture, but also small pieces of pork.

The egg roll was meh, neither good nor bad. We added on an order of shrimp toast, which was an expensive disaster. It was burnt and lacking seasoning.

The kung po chicken
was a little atypical in that it contained tons of veggies like baby corn, carrots, green pepper, and celery. The sauce was a bit spicy, and a little salty. The chicken breast meat was sliced rather than diced, and it was extremely tender.

The moo shu pork was also a little salty, but otherwise quite good, with a generous amount of pork. The five pancakes were thinner than those from Towson Best. They were generous with the plum sauce, giving us two containers of that, but only one small container of rice.

As a bonus, we got dessert: four small pieces of sponge cakes in four flavors--coffee; chocolate; vanilla with strawberry frosting; vanilla with coconut frosting. Unexpected and pretty good.

China Wok
714 York Rd
Towson, MD 21204

Three down, many others to go... Stay tuned for more posts in the future.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Flashback Friday - Where There's Smoke

Smoked food is tasty stuff, and easy enough to do at home with a stovetop smoker.


This post was originally published on August 6, 2012.
Where There's Smoke

Some time ago, my brother bought us a stovetop smoker. This one, to be exact. We used it exactly once, to smoke some pork tenderloins. We neither burned the house down nor filled it with smoke, so I suppose the first experiment was largely successful. Except that the meat didn't taste particularly smoky. Recently, I got it in my head that I should put the smoker to use again, this time smoking some vegetables. The Fourth of July was coming up, and on that day we'd be eating beef burgers flavored with the smoke from the grill. Portobello mushrooms make pretty good burger substitutes and I wondered if they'd be even better when smoked.

Mushrooms, buns, and poblano peppers were purchased during our usual weekly trip to the grocery store and hung around in the fridge awaiting the weekend. And then Mother Nature struck, knocking out our power for four days. The mushrooms got packed up with the rest of the contents of fridge and freezer and were transported to Dad's place, where we lived until BGE got the electricity up and running (I think they saved our neighborhood for last). Rather than let the mushrooms dry out and go to waste, I chopped them up and used them to stretch a bit of frozen pasta sauce from our freezer (a bonus - doing so made for two fewer things to carry home later).

Once we were back in our own digs, I was determined to make the smoked mushrooms, come hell or high water. (The temperatures around here sure did feel like hell.) I also smoked some thickly sliced onion that became a sweet and tangy jam for topping the mushroom burgers. I was pretty pleased with the results. While the smoked mushrooms would never fool a carnivore, they made for a fine meatless supper.

Smoked Portobello Burgers with Smoked Onion Jam

4 large or 8 small portobello mushroom caps
1/2 onion, sliced thickly

Place mushrooms and onion in a stovetop smoker and smoke according to manufacturer's directions for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool inside smoker. When cool, remove mushrooms and set aside. Place onions in a saucepan to make the jam.

Onion Jam

smoked onion
olive oil
pinch salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)

Add a teaspoon or so of olive oil and a pinch of salt to the saucepan of smoked onions. Cook on medium heat, stirring often, until the onions start to wilt and become translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and vinegar, turn heat to low, cover, and simmer an additional 20-30 minutes, until onions are very soft and have caramelized. If there's too much liquid left in the pot, raise the temperature and cook, uncovered, until the juices thicken. If the onions aren't smoky enough, stir in the smoked paprika.

To serve:

olive oil
sliced cheese (optional)
Hamburger buns
roasted poblano or red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
avocado slices

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet and add mushrooms. Cook on both sides for a couple of minutes to heat through. Top with cheese in the last minute or so of cooking, if desired, and cover pan.

Spread a bit of mayo on each side of a hamburger bun and add a few strips of pepper. Place one large or two small portobello caps onto the peppers. Top with avocado (tomato is nice, too) and a spoonful of onions.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Quinoa, Brussels Sprouts, Meyer Lemon

It sometimes takes me a while to read all of my food magazines. In 2015, I received four per month, which was kinda ridiculous. I'm still working on them, but I did manage to get through the December 2015 issue of Martha Stewart Living. In it was a recipe, in a section titled "Eat Clean," for a salad made with brussels sprouts, Meyer lemon, and quinoa. It sounded tasty enough, and we had all three of those things on hand. We didn't have two of the supporting players, scallions and walnuts, but I figured I could make do with sweet onions and pecans.

I never realized that "clean" was synonymous for "flavorless." Quinoa is bland and raw brussels sprouts are pretty mild. Meyer lemon has a lot of flavor, but not quite enough to tackle the plainness of the grain. And lemon + salt + red pepper is just kinda meh, even when combined with some fancy extra virgin Greek olive oil. I felt the salad needed some sweetness, for balance. I added a chopped apple, and then, because I have a sweet tooth, a little maple syrup to echo that maple-y quality that pecans have. It was better, but as we were eating it, I thought it could use some creaminess, in the form of diced avocado. And maybe some chopped parsley and even more lemon zest.

Clean, shmean. I'm all about flavor.

Shaved Brussels Sprout, Meyer Lemon, and Quinoa Salad (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

1 cup red quinoa
8 ounces brussels sprouts
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions or sweet onion
1 apple
1 Meyer lemon
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup, to taste (optional)
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Place quinoa in a pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, until water has been absorbed, 15 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Trim the stem end of the brussels sprouts and pull off the outermost leaves. Cut sprouts in half, then make a v-shaped cut in the core end to remove as much of the core as possible. Slice the sprout halves thinly (the magazine suggests using a mandoline, but nobody wants human blood and skin in a vegan dish, not even a carnivore) and place in a large bowl. Peel and core the apple. Chop the fruit fairly finely and toss with the apple.

Zest the lemon; add zest to sprouts and apple. Juice the lemon to produce 2 tablespoons. Whisk in the olive oil, maple syrup if using, and pepper.

Add the cooled quinoa to the bowl of sprouts. Season with 3/4 teaspoon of salt and drizzle on the dressing. Toss well to combine. Stir in pecans before serving. Eat immediately, or refrigerate up to three days.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Flashback Friday - Khoresht-e Fesenjan

My version of the Persian dish, fesenjan, is inauthentic, perhaps, but still utterly delicious.


This post was originally published on November 5, 2008.
Khoresht-e Fesenjan

We bought a pomegranate at the Superfresh the other day.  When I was a kid, my Uncle Frankie bought a pom every fall for my mother and me. He had done this since she was young, and after so many years of wrestling with the fruit, she let me mangle and eat most of it.  When Frankie died, in 1983, so did the annual tradition of red hands and stained kitchen table.  Nowadays, I slice open the fruit and rip it apart in a big bowl of cold water.  The arils sink to the bottom and the tissue-like membrane floats to the top, making the fruit a breeze to dismantle. Plus the water keeps my hands from getting stained.

The pomegranate sat on our kitchen counter for a few days when I was struck with the idea of making fesenjan, a Persian preparation featuring pomegranate and walnuts.  I had eaten a version with made with duck at the Orchard Market and Café many years ago and remembered enjoying it. We had a small half leg of lamb in the freezer, and I decided that would be the perfect protein to match with the tangy fruit and nut sauce.

I got Mr Minx to whip up some of his delicious pilaf (sautéed onions, broken capellini pasta, and leftover rice, flavored with saffron) as a go-with, and cooked some okra pods with various spices: mustard and cumin seeds, charnushka, coriander, salt and pepper.

The meat was deliciously tender.  I had cut off most of the fat but left all of the annoying silver skin and other connective tissue, which melted away during the long slow cooking.  The sauce was tangy and rich, with just enough spice flavor to keep it far away from the realm of ordinary lamb stew.  In short, it was delicious, and I would definitely make this dish again.  Perhaps I'll try chicken next time....

Lamb Fesenjan
Serves 6

1 large onion, chopped
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tblsp oil
2 lbs lamb, cut into cubes
1 tblsp flour
8oz walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
5 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tblsp honey (optional)
salt to taste

Sauté onion with turmeric and pepper in the oil until browned.  Remove from pot.  Add meat and brown on all sides.  Sprinkle meat with the flour and the chopped walnuts and sauté for a few minutes.  Add water, pomegranate juice, cardamom, and cinnamon and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer 2 hours or so until meat is very tender and the juices have thickened.  Add salt to taste and honey, if the pomegranate is too tart for you.  Conversely, if you want the dish to have more tart flavor, add lemon juice.

Serve with rice or pilaf.
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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Blue Chair Bay Rum

Country singer Kenny Chesney has a brand spankin' new line of rums inspired by his island life. Yeah, the man's got it hard! Barbados-made Blue Chair Bay Rum comes in five flavors, including coconut spiced rum, which is the one we've tried so far. It's gooood. Mr Minx isn't even a fan of rum and he finds it to be a quite tasty sipping spirit. Me, I'm a sucker for coconut rum, so this was right up my alley.

Chesney will be at Merriweather Post Pavilion on May 27th for his Big Revival tour, so in honor of his visit to Maryland, we've concocted a special drink in his honor.

Presenting the Blue Chair Bay Coconut Chai.

Blue Chair Bay coconut spice rum has the flavors of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg in addition to coconut, and it put us in mind of a cup of chai tea. So we blended it with some strong black tea and a wee bit of creamy horchata-flavored rum and a dash of cardamom to make this easy-drinking creamy beverage.

Blue Chair Bay Coconut Chai

2 parts Blue Chair Coconut Spiced Rum
1 part horchata-flavored rum
3 parts cold strong black tea
1/2 part agave nectar
Dash ground cardamom

Combine both rums, black tea, and agave nectar in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a low-ball glass, then spoon over some of the foam from the shaker. Dust with ground cardamom.

Now I want to make a rhum baba with the stuff. Or maybe with the banana rum, which also has a whiff of coconut to it.

* 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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Monday, February 08, 2016

Calbee USA

Just in time for Super Bowl snacking, we received not one but two boxes full of goodies from Calbee, a Japanese snack manufacturer that has been around since 1949. Perhaps best known for their shrimp-flavored crackers, they also make potato chips, potato sicks, and snow pea crisps, among other things. Available in Asian grocery stores (of which there are several on the west side of Baltimore County), Calbee snacks offer flavors that are a bit more unusual than the norm.

We immediately dug into the wasabi ranch Snow Pea Crisps and found them to have quite a nice punch of heat. The seaweed and salt chips were the next to be sampled, and we enjoyed their light "of the sea" flavor. Then I thought, as I was binge eating handfuls of the salty treats, we should do something with the snacks, you know, other than, um, binge eat them. Like cook with them.

Our first experiment was to use the hot garlic shrimp chips as a coating for tofu. (We have other ideas that we'll share in later posts.)

Not too hot, but pretty garlick-y, they're my favorite of the shrimp chip flavors, which also includes yuzu and black pepper, wasabi, and plain. All the flavors are definitely shrimpy, but I like that.

I crushed a couple ounces of the shrimp chips and combined them with a pinch of salt and some corn starch, using the resulting mixture to coat cubes of drained firm tofu. While the flavor of the chips was somewhat muted by the process, they lent a super crunch, almost as if the tofu had been deep fried rather than pan fried. With a little mayo-based dipping sauce, the tofu made a tasty dinner when paired with steamed rice and a vegetable. They'd make a great app, too.

Shrimp Chip-Crusted Tofu

(1) 14-to-16-ounce block of firm tofu
Calbee Shrimp Chips
Corn starch
Pinch salt
Oil for frying
2 tablespoons Thai chili paste with basil leaves (Por Kwan or Maesri brand, available at Asian supermarkets)
2 tablespoons mayo, preferably Kewpie
Couple splashes fish sauce

Remove the tofu from its container and blot dry. Wrap in paper towels, put on a plate, and weigh down with an empty saucepan or another plate. After an hour, remove the wet towels and repeat. Refrigerate drained tofu until ready to use.

Crush enough of the shrimp chips into a chunky dust equaling about 1/2 cup. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and the salt and put on a plate.

Cut the tofu into 1" cubes. Dredge each in the shrimp chip/cornstarch mixture, gently but firmly pressing the shrimp chip bits into the tofu. Put 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the tofu cubes and fry, turning pieces with tongs, until all sides are browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Drain tofu on paper towels.

Stir together the chili paste, mayo, and fish sauce. Serve tofu with sauce for dipping.

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Friday, February 05, 2016

Valentine's Round-Up

We're staying in for Valentine's Day, but for those of you who want to spend the evening out on the town, consider one of these restaurants for your romantical feast. Open Table links take you directly to the restaurant's page on that site.

The French Kitchen
@ the Lord Baltimore Hotel
20 W Baltimore St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 539-8400

Enjoy a special V-day menu on the 12th and 13th as well as the 14th (or all three days!) For $55 pp, diners can enjoy three courses, including such tasty morsels as shrimp bisque with citrus creme fraiche and brioche croutons, lobster imperial, duck Chesapeake, and pot de creme au chocolate for two (pour deux). You can add a glass of wine for $10, two glasses for $15. Reserve your spot via Open Table.

The hotel is also offering a romance package they're calling "A Royal Affair, Truly!" for $179 per night (Feb 12-15). It includes complimentary valet parking, champagne with keepsake flutes, and a $50 restaurant credit, as well as a room for two. Hotel reservations can be made online at

B&O American Brasserie
@ the Kimpton Hotel
2 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(443) 692-6172

One can also have three delectable courses at the B&O. For $69 pp, choose from droolworthy dishes like oxtail agnolotti, Wagyu ribeye, and a pina colada sundae, flambeed tableside. $30 more will get you a wine pairing. Menu available from 2/12 - 2/14
Reservations via Open Table.

Prime Rib
@ Maryland Live! Casino
7002 Arundel Mills Circle #7777
Hanover, MD 21076

Their "Lover's Feast" includes an 8-oz Angus beef filet topped with blackened tuna, foie gras, and Beluga caviar, served with an 8-oz lobster tail. $150 pp, $250 per couple. Offered from 5:30pm - 10:30pm on Feb 14. Champagne (including Dom Perignon) and sparkling wines are half price. Reservations via Open Table.

Waterfront Kitchen
1417 Thames Street
Baltimore, MD 21231

Executive chef Chris Amendola has created a three-course prix fixe menu for $65 pp, (wine pairing + $45) that includes winners like oysters on the half-shell with pickle mignonette (which we can attest to being very delicious), pan roasted rock fish (ditto), and decadent chocolate truffle cake. The special menu is available 2/12 - 2/14.
Reservations via Open Table.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Craft Beer Pop-Up at ACC Show

Artist: Ping Wu
The American Craft Council show is one of my favorite annual events. I don't know how many years they've been in Baltimore, but I started going back in the mid-90s, when I was working for a retail jeweler. Not only is there a ton of great stuff to purchase (furniture, fashion, glass, pottery, jewelry, more), but it's also a great inspiration for the artists among us.

This year's show will be at the Baltimore Convention Center from February 19th - 21st. On-site admission is $16 for a one-day pass, $36 for all three days. If you buy tickets in advance online at, you save $2 on each.

Artist: Alex & Mona Szabados
If you can't get away from work to attend the show during the day on Friday, pop in after 5 for a sweet $5 admission. Think of it as an artsy Happy Hour. And yes, there will be alcohol! For the first time at the Baltimore show, the ACC will host special craft beer pop-ups on Friday, Feb 19 and Saturday, Feb 20. Attendees can meet with local brewers to learn about the process and taste a selection of microbrews. Presented by Bond Distributing Company, featured breweries include Union Craft, the Brewer's Art, Charm City Meadworks, Monument City, and Flying Dog. Woodberry Pantry will also be on hand to provide samples of their jams and jellies. The Balvenie, maker of Mr Minx's favorite Scotch, will be on-site too, hosting tastings of their handcrafted single malt.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Cowboy Meatloaf

The Classic Catering People, based in Owings Mills, Maryland, have been in business for a lot of years. They are the Ravens official training facility caterer, and they own Miss Shirley's. And they have a lot of recipes in their files, some of which they shared with us.

We had to test 'em out first, of course. Snowpocalypse/Snowmageddon/Snowzilla 2016 Edition seemed a good time to try the meatloaf recipe, supplied by chef John Walsh. With chorizo sausage in addition to the usual pork and beef, the dish was spectacular, tender and moist with lots of meaty flavor, a nice hit of herbaceousness, and a mild sweetness. Mr Minx said it was better than his (and his is fan-freaking-tastic). I'm not willing to go that far, but I will say that I would definitely make this recipe again.

As with most recipes, they're a guideline, not a law. Me being me, I made some adjustments, based on personal taste and on what I had in my pantry. (The recipe below includes the proportions exactly as given to me by TCCP.) I felt 1/2 cup soy and 2 teaspoons salt would be too much, so I cut the amounts of both ingredients by half. We don't have pre-ground pepper and rather than take 15 minutes turning the peppermill to produce 1 1/2 teaspoons (especially with sore arms from spending at least six hours of shoveling snow), I just put in a couple of cranks. Also, I'm not a huge thyme fan, so used only about 1 1/2 tablespoons rather than 1/4 cup (and that still seemed a bit much to my palate. YMMV). Finally, rather than open a whole package of bacon just for four slices, I smeared on a couple tablespoons of bacon jam before adding the bay leaves. Of course, if you don't have bacon jam on hand, you'll just have to use bacon strips.

Cowboy Meatloaf with Chorizo Sausage
By Chef John Walsh of The Classic Catering People
Serves 8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 pound raw chorizo sausage (loose, removed from casings if in link form)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1 1/2 pound ground pork  
3 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh thyme
1/3 cup finely chopped basil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup (divided use)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup Panko crumbs
3 bay leaves
4 slices of bacon
1/8 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Meanwhile, heat butter in a large heavy skillet and cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low; cook until carrot is tender, another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in soy sauce, allspice, salt, and pepper.

Place chorizo in a large bowl with the ground beef and pork. Add cooked vegetable mixture, eggs, thyme, basil, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, heavy cream, and panko, and mix well to combine.

Form mixture into an oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish. Lay bay leaves on top and shingle bacon strips over loaf. Mix 1/4 cup ketchup and brown sugar together and coat the top of the meatloaf.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Remove bay leaves before serving.

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