Monday, May 30, 2016

Lamb, Sweet Potatoes, and Yogurt

This meal came on the same weekend as the avocado and shrimp thing I posted a couple weeks back. In addition to the avocados we had in the house, we had a couple of sweet potatoes. Mr Minx isn't particularly fond of sweet elements in an entree course (with exceptions) but I thought if I spiced up the potatoes with some harissa and added a little smoked paprika, he might not notice the sweetness so much.

I also wanted to use up the Greek yogurt I bought for the avocado dish. A fairly recent issue of Martha Stewart Living (whatever one was on our coffee table) just so happened to have a recipe for lamb meatballs with yogurt sauce. I was going to make lamb meatballs anyway, and didn't use her recipe, but I did adapt the yogurt sauce. It's rather plain, but is a nice tangy foil to the spicy meat and potatoes. Adding a bit of pomegranate molasses to sauteed onions (which I added to the dish because we had a ton of onions taking up precious room in our tiny kitchen) added still more tang, and another layer of somewhat exotic flavors.

A quarter cup of cilantro and 4 tablespoons of mint might seem excessive, but don't skimp! Lamb has a powerful flavor and fewer herbs means that you won't be able to taste them. Plus, they're green, and green is good for you. :)

Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Sweet Potato Puree and Yogurt Sauce

For the meatballs:
1 lb ground lamb
1/4 cup minced cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons minced mint
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
Pinch cinnamon

For potatoes:
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon dry harissa spices
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

For onions:
1 medium onion, sliced
3 teaspoons oil
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

For sauce:
1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper

To serve:
Crushed pistachios
Chives and chive blossoms, if you can get them

To make meatballs: Mix ingredients well. Refrigerate meat for an hour or so to allow flavors to meld. Form golfball-sized meatballs. Heat a non-stick skillet and add the meatballs. Cook, turning regularly, until crusty and brown on all sides, about 12-15 minutes. Ground lamb gives off a lot of fat while cooking, so you might want to cover the pan to prevent splatters. Drain on paper towel-lined plates.

To make potatoes: Peel sweet potatoes and cut into rough 1" chunks. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are very soft, about 12 minutes. Drain water from pan and mash potatoes, adding olive oil and spices. Add salt to taste and keep warm until ready to use.

To make onions: Cook the onions in the oil with a pinch of salt over medium heat until very soft, about 20 minutes. Stir in molasses and set aside.

To make sauce: Whisk together egg yolk and yogurt. In a microwave safe bowl (I used a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup), whisk cornstarch into chicken stock. Microwave on high for 1 minute, whisk again, then heat for an additional minute, or until thickened. Slowly dribble in the yogurt mixture while continuing to mix. Once fully combined, return to the microwave and cook for another 2 minutes, in 30 second bursts, whisking well between each. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve: Mound some of the sweet potato mash on a plate. Top with a portion of the onions and a few of the meatballs. Sprinkle with pistachios, cilantro, and chives, and garnish with a chive blossom.

Serves 2-4.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Flashback Friday - Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

Here's an easy main dish salad recipe inspired by one of my favorite restaurant dishes of the 90s.


This post was originally published on September 4, 2013.
Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

The other day, I found that I hadn't made adequate plans for dinner so had to whip something up from ingredients on hand. There were two fried chicken thighs and some baby spinach in the fridge, but that's not enough for two people for dinner. At least, not these two people.

I poked around in the cupboard and found a bag of pearl couscous, which made me think of the chicken salad with pistachios and couscous at Donna's. Only we didn't have pistachios. No worries - any nuts will do, really. The combination of chicken, greens, pasta, and nuts is earthy and satisfying.

Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

2 leftover fried chicken thighs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
pinch crab spice (or salt and pepper)
1 cup pearl couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 cups mixed baby greens per person
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Remove the coating and skin from the chicken thighs and place it, skin side down, into a large skillet. Cover pan and cook over medium-high heat, turning skin pieces once or twice, until dark brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.

While the skin is crisping, remove the chicken meat from the bones and tear into shreds. Mix the mayo, mustard, honey, lemon zest, and crab spice in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pearl couscous and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and stir to coat the grains with oil. Set pan aside and allow couscous to cool.

Blend together the three tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon and maple syrup to make a vinaigrette. Toss the baby greens with the vinaigrette until the leaves are lightly coated.

For each serving: Place a bed of baby greens on a serving plate. Top with a mound of the couscous (you might have to stir it with a fork, first, to break up any clumps) and a mound of the chicken salad. Arranged sliced avocado around edge of salad. Garnish with the pecans and some of the crisp chicken skin.

Serves 2-4

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Cookbooks from Harper Collins

Lose Weight by Eating 
Audrey Johns

Blogger Audrey Johns has come up with what sounds like a novel concept but is really just common sense: cut out the crap. She found that by eating clean, real, non-processed food and cutting out that evil diet soda, she lost weight. Her book, Lose Weight by Eating, tells her story and provides 130 recipes for favorites like fudge brownies and fried chicken. Those brownies are real brownies, with butter, eggs, sugar, white flour--all the things you expect to find in brownies. No black beans, artificial sweeteners, or other weirdness. In other words, no feelings of despair or deprivation will come from using this book, despite everything coming in at 500 calories or less per serving.

There's nothing fancy or overwhelming in Lose Weight by Eating, no weird science or funky ingredients. Anyone interested in cooking nutritious and tasty food, even someone without a lot of cooking experience, should be able to work from this straightforward book. There's even a weekly menu plan listing all of the dishes (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) that are especially good for new cooks. (Other menu plans list dishes that are kid-friendly, vegetarian, or quick to prepare.)

Overall, a good basic cookbook that makes sense, even if you're not trying to lose weight.

The Quick Six Fix: 100 No-Fuss, Full-Flavor Recipes - Six Ingredients, Six Minutes Prep, Six Minutes Cleanup

It's ok if you've never heard of Stuart O'Keeffe--before I got this book, I hadn't either. This Irish-born chef was featured on the Food Network's Private Chefs of Beverly Hills and even had his own show, Stuart's Kitchen, that was broadcast in Ireland and New Zealand. He was a brand ambassador and chef for Tupperware, too. But putting "celebrity chef" in front of his name doesn't make it so, nor does it have any actual bearing on the contents of this book.

The conceit of The Quick Six Fix is that all recipes include six ingredients, take only six minutes to prep, and six minutes to clean up. I wouldn't get a stopwatch out to check if that's all correct; everyone works at his own pace so it might take 10 minutes to prep and 15 minutes to clean up if you're a slowpoke. The numbers don't matter. The point is--these recipes are fast to put together, particularly if you've already stocked your pantry with the list of "must haves" he includes in the first section (Marylanders take note: Old Bay Seasoning is on the list!). However, the pantry staples are not included in the "6 ingredients" mentioned on the cover. In fact, some recipes have far more than six ingredients (and one of the dessert recipes includes nothing from the pantry). So that first in the trio of sixes that make up the "quick six fix" is more accurately described as "six ingredients that you need to put on your grocery list because you probably won't have them in the pantry already." (I guess that was a little long to put on the cover.)

Now that I've blown that whole 666 thing out of the water, let's examine the book without the conceit.

O'Keeffe's book has some rules to follow that will help users stick to creating a meal that is relatively quick to prep and tidy up. For one thing, one should read the recipes thoroughly before beginning--some he recommends reading three times. That way, there are no surprises and one can manage time more efficiently. It also familiarizes the user with the ingredient list so they can shop in advance for the things they need (whether it's one of the 6, or a pantry ingredient they don't already have on hand). Another useful rule is one he calls the "reverse traffic light theory." Basically, if there's a break in the action (say, waiting for something to come to a boil), the cook should take that time to clean up any messes they have created to that point (like washing knives and cutting board). I have always called it "clean as you go," and it is something that everyone who works in a kitchen, from professional chefs on down, should practice. Why leave everything for after dinner when you're too logy from those three glasses of wine to do anything but lie down and belch? All prep clean-up should be done before you sit down to eat, so you only have plates and the pots you cooked in to clean up after you eat. (This is a big pet peeve of mine, so pardon the lecture. It's definitely something O'Keeffe has right.)

The recipes themselves are pretty basic. Without laundry lists of ingredients, they have to be. But they all sound pretty tasty. Cider-braised chicken, which involves chicken thighs and a lot of cider vinegar to produce something that is "the perfect blend of tart, savory, and sour," seems like it would be great, and looks really easy. There are only three non-pantry ingredients in this recipe, but if you're like me, you have packs of chicken thighs in the freezer already, cutting the shopping list items down to two. There's also a recipe for Sticky Ribs, which uses hoisin, garlic, soy, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar from the pantry, plus baby backs, ginger, and five spice powder from the grocery store. (I'm sure the dish would still be pretty delicious without the ginger or five spice). There are also recipes for breakfast and lunch items, pasta and soup, burgers, sauces, veg, and desserts.

While there are no guarantees that the recipes in this book will take a non-professional chef six minutes to prep and six minutes to clean up, someone who is looking for a book that contains recipes to fit every occasion and aren't particularly complex might get some use out of The Quick Six Fix.

* 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, May 23, 2016

Sausage and White Bean Stew

A recipe for a hearty stew might seem a bit out of place in May, but with the weird chilly and rainy weather we've been having here in Baltimore, it's really quite apropos. And actually, despite containing Italian sausage and white beans, this stew is really not all that heavy. It's tomato-rich, which brings a nice hit of bright acidity, perfect to chase away some rainy-May blues.

Normally, a soup like this might have some dark leafy greens in it, like kale. We didn't have kale, but we did have a head of organic bok choy from the farm box we received earlier in the week (from Washington's Green Grocer). It was green, and like kale, a member of the Brassica genus. But unlike kale, bok choy is crisper and juicier and cooks faster. And isn't kale. Come on, I know you are all as sick of kale as I am. Yes, it's green, yes it's good for you. But hell, there are plenty of other Brassica that are tastier and more fun to eat (gai lan, rapini, romanesco, heck, even plain old broccoli). Anyway, so I added bok choy. If you are a kale-ie, and have some hanging around, then by all means add it to the pot, remembering to remove the tough stem, and cook it for a bit longer to lessen the chew.

Serve with crusty bread, or by itself (as we did).

Sausage and White Bean Stew

1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (divided use)
2 (15-oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausages
2 (15-oz cans) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Cayenne pepper
1 head bok choy

In a large pot, cook pepper and onion in a few teaspoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until softened. Stir in garlic, fennel seeds, and half the tarragon. Stir for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes and their juices and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for one hour. (You could cook it for less, if you're in some kind of hurry, but the longer you cook it, the better it will taste, and the more mellow the tomatoes will be.)

About 45 minutes into the tomato + veg + stock cooking time, place the sausages in a saute pan with a half cup of water. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until water has evaporated and sausages start to sizzle. Turning sausages occasionally, cook for about 8-10 minutes, until they are cooked through. Remove the sausages from the pan, cut each into 5 or six slices, and add them to the pot along with the cans of beans. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add cayenne, a big pinch of sugar if the tomatoes still seem a bit acidy, more salt, and the rest of the tarragon.

Wash the bok choy thoroughly. Cut off the stem end, slice the bok choy crosswise into 3/4" pieces, and add to the pot. Cook an additional 10 minutes, until bok choy is tender.

Serves 6.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Flashback Friday - Everybody Goes to Ginos....

Our first visit to the new Gino's really pissed me off. Thankfully, they have improved a great deal, both service- and food-wise, and we eat there regularly. Well, not regularly, because there's more to life than hamburgers, but once every couple months. That's regular for us.


This post was originally published on September 8, 2011.
Everybody Goes to Gino's...

...and I think they were all there on the same evening we decided to try out the brand-spankin' new Gino's in Towson. Not only were they all there, but they all got their food before we did.

We thought we were smart, getting to the restaurant at 4:30pm. There was no line, and there seemed to be open tables both inside and outside, so we figured we were golden. Wrong-o. After placing our order for two Gino's Giants, one with fries and one with onion rings, plus two fountain drinks, we were given two plastic cups, a plastic card with the number "1" on it, and a receipt noting the time of 4:35pm.

4:36pm: We fill our cups with fountain beverages and grab two seats at a short counter near the side entrance. The plastic "1" went into the metal ring atop the condiment caddy to alert a server to our presence when he or she brings out our food. The restaurant is pretty full and includes almost as many people waiting for carry-out as sitting at tables. Most of the seated people already have food, so I'm pretty confident that we'll have a short wait. I'm expecting 20 minutes.

4:42pm: My chair is jostled by some fatass with a balance issue. There's definitely enough room to move past me.

4:50pm: Food seems to be coming out at a decent clip, so I'm sure that we'll get our food soon.

4:55pm: It's been 20 minutes, but we're still not eating.

5:01pm: At this point, I start to wonder if offering an amuse bouche might not be a good idea, just a little something to appease those of us waiting for a while. At a fine dining establishment, we would have been done with the appetizers and waiting for our main courses by now. (Of course, were we at Alchemy, our main courses would be on the table already, too.)

5:05pm: Hey! That couple came in after we did, and they just got their food! Grr.

5:08pm: My chair is jostled again, by a server taking food to another table. Grrr.

5:10pm: That trio definitely came in after we did - and they're eating! Grrrr.

5:12pm: I notice that the line for ordering food is out the door. There should be a sign out front like the ones posted near roller coasters, "one hour wait from this point." Better yet, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

5:13pm: A lone woman diner, sitting at a table behind us, manages to get the attention of a staff member to complain that she had been waiting since 4:29pm and still has not received her food. She also kindly points us out as coming in right after her and being in the same boat.

5:15pm: A server offers us a coupon for a free shake on a future visit. I think, "fat chance of that."

5:16pm: Another server comes over to check our receipt. Apparently our order disappeared and they need to know what food we paid for.

5:20pm: My chair is jostled for what must be the fifth time by a vertically-challenged busser who can't seem to be able to lift the plastic bucket of soiled napkins and food baskets high enough to avoid whacking me with it. At this point, I'm almost annoyed enough to whack her back.

5:26pm: Our food arrives. At this point, both parties that arrived after us but who were served 15 minutes earlier have finished eating and left the building.

After fifty minutes of sitting in a restaurant redolent of beef and fried potatoes, we are ravenous. After a couple of bites of both fries and burger, Mr Minx turns to me and asks, "Salty?" Yes, I have to agree - both items had been aggressively seasoned. The onion rings, on the other hand, were perfect, and just the way I like them: cut into extremely thin slices and fried to a deep golden brown. They come with a little tub of sauce that tastes a bit like a Sriracha mayonnaise, but not as interesting. It was a little too spicy for the rings, but it works with the fries. The fries are merely ok, a little hard, and of course, salty. Our sandwiches - two well-done patties topped with American cheese, dill pickle slices, lettuce, and Gino's "secret sauce," on a squishy sesame seed bun - sadly arouse no feelings of nostalgia in either of us. Not that they aren't good - apart from the surfeit of salt and pepper, they are tasty, with a good ratio of toppings to burger, and just enough sauce to drip out onto our fries but not cause the bun to disintegrate or the meat to slide out - they just taste like fast-casual burgers. Not like Gino's burgers.

Granted, it's been at least 30 years since I've had a Gino's Giant. There was a Gino's down the road from Catholic High, on Edison Highway, and occasionally a few of us would hike down there after school to grab a burger before heading home. I remember liking Gino's much more than McDonald's. The burgers seemed tastier - possibly because of the Baltimore Colts connection - and they sold Kentucky Fried Chicken back then, too.

Today's Gino's is more like a Five Guys, except with a crappy system. In my experience, at Five Guys, one places an order at a counter at one end of the store, then goes to wait at a separate counter on the other side, or at a table. Folks who are ordering and those who are waiting do not mingle. At Gino's, the restaurant is set up like a more traditional fast food joint, with ordering and pickups done at a long counter at the back of the restaurant. Unlike a fast food restaurant, however, a customer does not immediately receive a pre-made burger and fries slapped onto a tray or placed in a paper bag, quick-and-dirty service allowing the customer to get out of the way of the next patron in line. Instead, like at Five Guys, Gino's patrons have to wait for their food to be cooked to order. Those who choose to eat in can take a table, but those waiting for carry-out orders sit and stand near the counter, some getting in the way of customers who attempt to avail themselves of self-serve fountain beverages.

While getting a piping hot burger that spent no time languishing under a heat lamp is a good thing, having to wait nearly an hour (in our case) is not. The problem seems to be the order numbering system. At other restaurants, one gets a receipt with a number printed on it. The receipts come out of the computer in numerical order, so it's pretty easy for someone making food to know the sequence in which the orders were placed, and thus, the order in which they should be filled. At Gino's the numbers are completely random. Our number was "1." The number of the couple in front of us was "31." The woman who came in at 4:29pm had the number "54." The trio who were in line behind us received "100." And "100" received their food before both "54" and "1."

All I have to say is, "WTF?"

6:30pm: Editing post which has become a rant about more service not equalling better service. (Ok, so I didn't edit out too much.) All I'm gonna say is...table service is a dumb idea. Patrons are perfectly capable of listening for when their number is called, getting their fat asses up from a chair, and retrieving their meal at the counter. Instead, servers who do not know exactly where their particular customer is sitting are often forced to circumnavigate the entire dining room AND check outside before finding their quarry. The high backs on some of the booths getting in the way of a server's line of sight don't help things one bit.

Initially, I was quite happy to see that Gino's was making a comeback. That quickly turned to disappointment when I realized the only thing that the new restaurant had in common with the original was the font used in the logo.

My recommendation to folks who are still eager to try Gino's, even after reading this, is to wait a couple of months so the crowds die down a bit. Maybe the table service doesn't seem like such a dumb idea when the restaurant isn't lousy with patrons. I think I'll schedule my next visit for sometime in 2012. By that time, the new Perry Hall location should be open, and they'll get the crowds, leaving Towson a quieter place.

6:45pm: Find a giant chunk of black pepper stuck in back molar.

8600 LeSalle Road
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 583-0000
Gino's on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Gunther & Co Sneak Peek

Mr Minx and I were invited to a sneak peek of the new Gunther & Co. restaurant in Brewer's Hill the other night. We left quite excited about the restaurant's potential and feel it will become a sure-fire hit for owner Nancy Hart and chef Jerry Trice.

A glance at the outside of what was once the boiler room of Gunther Brewing Company doesn't even begin to hint at how cavernous and attractive the restaurant is on the inside. Brick everywhere, a huge open kitchen with bar seating, and a living wall of plants--which functions both as decoration and an air-cleansing device--are main features. A rustically lovely private dining room on the mezzanine level, with views of the dining room below, would be a fab place for a birthday party or rehearsal dinner, or a simple gathering of friends. The front bar area, too, with its large windows and creative cocktail menu, should be a popular spot for both neighborhood folks and visitors like us who hail from the far reaches of Towson and beyond.

While we didn't get to have a sit-down meal this time around, we were treated to selections from various of Gunther & Co.'s menus. They'll be offering weekend brunch, weekday lunch, dinner Monday through Saturday, and a special Sunday supper. There's also a selection of items available from open to close that includes more snacky things like oysters and cheese, plus salads and a burger.

We started off with two kinds of oysters, giant Pemaquids from Maine, and more petite Wild Ass Ponies from Assateague Island. "Meet the Beet-Alls," featuring beet liquor, rhubarb bitters, and the artichoke liquor called Cynar, was just one of bartender Shaun Stewart's inventive cocktails on offer. We went on to sample the dumplings, delicious pockets of shrimp and lemongrass with a finely cut kaffir lime garnish and a ponzu soy dipper, and crunchy garlic toasts topped with a flavorful beef tartare garnished with egg yolk and radish. While it won't be served in exactly the same way we received it, the tartare will be on the apps menu (and is well worth trying!) There were also crisp-crusted little biscuits filled with pork and mango chutney and fabulous tea-smoked duck breast served with grilled oyster mushrooms and an orange-ginger sauce. A flatbread cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven and topped with smoked salmon, capers, chopped hard boiled egg, and arugula was an example of Gunther & Co.'s flatbread of the day.

For dessert, we tasted pastry chef Aja Cage's light buttermilk panna cotta with citrus and granola, and an ultra rich chocolate pavé with scoops of smooth butter pecan ice cream on the side. I'm slightly disappointed we didn't get to taste the vegan carrot cake with matcha glaze, but we'll just have to go back and get a full-sized serving of that goodness.

Gunther & Co., shortly to become Baltimore's favorite restaurant, opens this Friday, May 20th. The bar opens at 4pm, and dinner service starts at 5.

Gunther & Co.
3650 Toone Street
Baltimore, MD 21224

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Maiwand Grill

Maiwand Grill, which bills itself as a restaurant serving authentic Afghan cuisine, opened on West Baltimore Street in 2015. It's just down the street from work, so I've popped in a couple of times to try various menu items.

The first time, I decided to sample three of the appetizers. The kaddo borawni, or sweet baby pumpkin topped with a garlicky yogurt sauce (with or without ground beef sauce) seemed sweeter than the same dish served at the Helmand (the restaurant that introduced the cuisine of Afghanistan to Baltimore), but it was tasty nonetheless. I also tried the aushak, ravioli filled with scallions, topped with more of that garlicky yogurt sauce, plus ground beef and mint. It was a little sloppy to eat out of a pound-sized plastic tub but it was also pretty good. Finally, the eggplant with tomatoes and peppers (and more garlic yogurt sauce) had too many green peppers for my taste (but that is my particular prejudice). All three apps felt slightly oily, which may not be the case if they are served on a plate.

Left: kaddo borawni. Top: eggplant. Bottom: aushak with meat.

And perhaps it was a bit of yogurt sauce overload for one meal (however, I ended up eating the leftovers for two additional days), but all three dishes worked nicely with the supplied flatbreads, which mopped up all of the sauce and juices quite nicely.

The next time I went, I tried one of the kabob dishes. Maiwand Grill has a couple styles of chicken kabobs, like the tikka kabobs (marinated with tandoori flavoring) and the malai kabobs (with a sour cream butter sauce--the one I tried), plus lamb, beef, kofta, and salmon kabobs. All come with salad, cilantro yogurt sauce, a naan-style bread, and a pile of cinnamon- and cardamom-scented rice. The chunks of white meat chicken in my dish were tender and moist, and everything else was well-seasoned.
Chicken malai kabob.
It was also a large portion, so I was able to enjoy it for two lunches. Not bad for $10.

Maiwand Grill's entree selection also includes lamb chops, shrimp, and a beef or chicken burger seasoned with Afghan spices. Baklava, rice pudding, and Afghan ice cream serve as desserts.

I would imagine they get the most business at lunchtime from the University and hospital down the street, but Maiwand Grill is a place to consider for lunch or dinner before or after an Orioles game--Camden Yards is just a few blocks away.

Maiwand Grill
324 W Baltimore St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 685-0208

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Flashback Friday - Pho Dat Than

We don't eat Vietnamese food nearly as often as we should.


This post was originally published on June 24, 2011.
Pho Dat Than

With the recent demise of one of the few Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Saigon Remembered, I decided we need patronize the other Viet joint in town to make sure that one stays around for a while. Pho Dat Than, an offshoot of a Columbia restaurant of the same name, is located just below the annoying traffic circle at the crossroads of York, Joppa, Dulaney Valley, etc., in Towson. Luckily, the circle can be avoided by parking in the lot behind the Recher Theatre, accessible via either Joppa Road or Towsontown Boulevard.

Pho Dat Than's decor is pleasant enough - it's simple and tidy, with mint green walls, high-backed booths, and tables arranged in neat rows. On the early Friday night we were there, the restaurant had a decent number of diners, and I could see carry-out orders lining up on what used to be a sushi bar in the back. That boded well for weekend traffic.

I had already perused the somewhat messy online menu and knew what I wanted us to try. But first, we ordered some iced coffee. The Vietnamese version differs from the more familiar Thai in that rather than receiving a glass of ready-made coffee, a cup of sweetened condensed milk topped with a metal brewing device full of coffee grounds and water, along with a glass of ice, is brought to the table. I was afraid that I'd spill the coffee all over the place while transferring it from cup to glass, but with judicious use of the saucer (and assistance from our waiter), it was easier than it appeared. The coffee was rich and dark and sweet - everything a good iced coffee should be, except cold, since the ice melted on contact with the hot coffee.

We started our dinner with an order of Bò Lá Nho (grilled beef in grape leaves). I recalled having this dish at Saigon Remembered and liking it very much. Pho Dat Than's is different in that the grape leaf rolls are larger, with less of a smoky flavor than those at SR. However, the juicy chopped beef (rather like a succulent meatball) and slightly charred bits of grape leaf were a lovely combination of flavors and textures, and much more to my liking than the usual rice-stuffed Middle Eastern/Greek version.

Next came an order of Muc Rang Muoi (crispy spicy squid). The only dish that didn't come with a small bowl of nước chấm, the ubiquitous fish-sauced based accompaniment for many Vietnamese dishes, it still benefited from a drizzle. The calamari was not as crispy as I'd have liked, possibly because it was served on a bed of roughly-torn iceberg lettuce, nor was it spicy, but it was pleasantly chewy and otherwise tasted fine.

Bún Thit Nuóng Cha Giò (grilled pork & cha gio vermicelli) was a huge bowl of slender rice noodles topped with thinly sliced grilled pork, beansprouts, carrots, shredded lettuce, cilantro, plus crushed peanuts and scallions. It was very similar to the other noodle dish we tried, the Bánh Uot Cha Lua Thit Nuóng (plain rice crepe with Vietnamese ham and grilled pork), which only differed in that the noodles were thin and sticky sheets - similar to the wrapper of the Chinese dim sum dish cheong fun - and the inclusion of steamed pork roll, which I suppose was the "Vietnamese ham."

The combination of smoky pork and bland noodles, sparked with additions of nước chấm and cilantro, was delicious. I preferred the vermicelli over the crepes, which were too gelatinous even for me. The pork roll (which I initially took for chicken or turkey) provided nothing but texture to the dish, as the flavor was nearly nonexistent. I could detect a vague peanut aura and maybe nuances of wet newspaper, but that's about it. Stick to the grilled pork.

Overall, the meal was pleasant and the quantity of leftovers made for a tasty supper a couple days later. I'm looking forward to going again, to experiment with different meats and definitely try the pho, which seemed to be on quite a few tables while we were there.

Pho Dat Thanh
510 York Road
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 296-9118

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Monday, May 09, 2016

Spring Chugs into B&O American Brasserie

We've been singing the praises of B&O American Brasserie since it opened some years ago. Although several chefs have worked in the kitchen during that time, each has brought his own unique stamp to the restaurant's menu, and the bar offers some of the most inventive cocktails in town. The current executive chef, Michael Ransom, and his sous chef, Scott Hines, are working some especially exciting magic in the kitchen these days, so we were thrilled to get a chance to try out some of their new spring menu items.

Before our meal, we ordered cocktails from the Paris in Springtime section of the drinks menu. Mixologist Brendan Dorr and his team have come up with some exotic libations this season. I chose The Bay of Bengal which contains Lustau Fino Sherry, Dolin dry vermouth, and chamomille grappa liqueur. The concoction is light and slightly sweet while retaining the body of sherry. Although the drink was put on the menu weeks before the untimely passing of Prince, the Minx thought it appropriate to try the Purple Rain. With lavender-infused Novo Coco Cachaca, lemon, and honey apple shrub, this tasty drink packs quite a wallop. It was probably best that we had appetizers coming to absorb the alcohol.

One thing about Chef Ransom's menus is that his descriptions sound rather straightforward, but the dishes actually turn out to be quite nuanced and complex. Case in point is the Spring Mixed Greens salad. Shaved new carrot, fresh English peas, frisée, and soft herbs (like tarragon) seems pretty Spring-like but almost...ordinary. But consider that the buttermilk dressing is flavored with cumin, and a smattering of roasted hazelnuts add a nutty buttery-ness as well as an extra textural component, and you have something much more special.

The luxurious Wagyu beef ribeye carpaccio is sliced super thin. It's so meltingly tender, that someone not completely into the idea of eating raw meat could be swayed into trying it (and liking it). The meat is paired with parchment-thin crackly-textured house crackers that are formed by running the dough through a pasta maker. The dish's other accompaniments include shaved egg yolk and kewpie mayonnaise to add still more richness, which one can cut with bites of crisp and lightly sweet apple pear. Horseradish, watercress, and harissa add bits of pungency and spice to the dish. As you work your way around the plate, the flavors and textures provide a perfect balance.

The third appetizer we tried was grilled calamari with Castelvetrano olives, capers, and roasted tomato. We're so happy that chefs are taking to cooking calamari in ways other than the usual favorite deep fry method. Chef Ransom's squid is meltingly tender, with tiny hints of char here and there that add both flavor and texture. Still more flavor comes from a drizzle of fat from Spanish chorizo oi, some frizzled finocchiona (a fennel salami) and a celery-forward herb salad on top.

Lighter eaters could make a very nice meal with the calamari and a salad.

English peas and tarragon, favorite ingredients of mine and also of the Minx, also made appearances in the Spring version of the market fish dish. We were served fluke (a mild white flatfish, like flounder), served with a warm potato salad dotted with the bright green of fresh English peas and flavored with tarragon, garnished with the intensely corn-flavored shoots from young corn plants. The fish was perfectly golden and lightly crisp and the potato salad and peas had a bright flavor. Well suited for those looking for an entree that's filling yet not too heavy.

The center-cut New York strip is one of the heartier entrees available. You might think, "a steak is a steak," but at the B&O, it's not your typical slab of meat with a side of sweet steak sauce and a baked potato. Instead, the steak comes pre-sliced, a gorgeous, well-rested medium-rare, and accompanied by asparagus, roasted maitake mushrooms, and baby potatoes cooked in duck fat. Instead of steak sauce, a rich Bordelaise sauce (imagine the best beefy gravy you can think of, steeped with the rich flavor of porcini mushrooms) is drizzled over the dish table-side. Just as everything is better with bacon, everything savory is better when it's cooked in duck fat, and the potatoes proved that rule. The Minx loved the earthy maitake mushrooms.

Lamb shoulder is not a protein you would normally associate with a chile relleno, but in this preparation, it works perfectly. The meat is smoked and braised, then shredded and placed on a bed of dirty rice that is nestled in a roasted poblano pepper. The whole thing floats on a pond of ancho chili barbecue sauce, which is everything you want a good barbecue sauce to be: acidic, spicy, and lightly sweet. So delicious that you could slather it on the chair and make it taste good. And if that's not enough flavor for you, a sprinkling of fresh cilantro and French feta (instead of queso fresco), plus a garnish of pickled red onion puts it over the top.

Lamb haters should just shaddup and try it. While we think the carpaccio dish could be a great gateway for those who are squeamish about raw beef. this relleno could be a terrific way to introduce non-lamb eaters to the tasty qualities of this meat. It's as tender as the best pot roast, and not at all gamy.

The Minx and I usually do not order dessert, but we are also open to persuasion and Chef Ransom made a compelling argument (as in "We have dessert!"). The Minx chose the banana pudding which came with a non-traditional gooey marshmallow topping and salted caramel on the bottom. The caramel had that slightly burnt quality that I like and the marshmallow reminded me of the topping at snowball stands. The accompanying cookies were meant to mimic Nilla wafers, but they were much better.

I opted for the Pina Colada Sundae with a toasted coconut ice cream, pound cake, and a dehydrated pineapple slice. The ice cream was light, closer to an ice milk, and the toasted coconut had a nice crispness. The pineapple slice had all the flavor of pineapple compressed into a light, crisp wafer. Even the pound cake seemed light. Overall, it was a refreshing end to the meal without weighing me down.

I always look forward to going to B&O American Brasserie and I've never been disappointed. All I can do is paraphrase an old saying, "Just go and God bless America(n Brasserie)!"

B&O American Brasserie
2 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21201

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Friday, May 06, 2016

Flashback Friday - Chicken in Peanut Sauce with Fennel Slaw

I really need to make this peanut sauce again.


This post was originally published on May 4, 2011.
Chicken in Peanut Sauce with Fennel Slaw

I was sick with a nasty stomach flu a couple of weeks ago and missed out on the weekly trip to the grocery store. By Tuesday, I usually have some vague idea in mind of what I'm cooking on the weekend, but that particular week I had no desire to think of food at all, apart from bananas, crackers, and ginger ale. By Friday though, I was feeling much better and was actually hungry, so I thought I'd mosey on over to the Giant on Saturday to pick up some ingredients for dinner.

Nature had other plans, opening up the heavens and flooding us with rain. I scratched the idea of walking to the grocery store and instead looked in the freezer to see what fell out on my foot.

We were going to eat some cholesterol on Sunday, so I wanted to make something that was at least somewhat light. And after several days of bland food (including un-buttered toast and un-sauced pasta), I wanted to eat something that had bright, vibrant flavors. Asian flavors. All we had in the freezer that wasn't lamb or beef was a packet of chicken thighs, which was going to have to do the trick. There was a lone fennel bulb in the fridge, and a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter left in the jar. These seemingly disparate ingredients, when matched with coconut milk and sundry Asian condiments, made for a delicious and somewhat exotic dinner.

The peanut sauce recipe makes quite a lot. Store leftover sauce in a lidded container in the fridge and use as a pasta sauce or as a spread for a BLT.

For some reason, my camera recorded the pale green shade of both
fennel and cucumber as a pale fuchsia, which I corrected in Photoshop.
Look closely at the fennel on top and you'll see some pink remains.
Peanut Sauce:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 15 oz can coconut milk minus 1/2 cup, well shaken (use half cup in banana bread recipe)
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a medium pan. Add onion and cook on medium heat until lightly browned, about 12-15 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Set aside. Reserve pan.

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together coconut milk, peanut butter, soy, ginger, Hoisin, honey, and red pepper flakes. When mixture starts to bubble, turn heat to low and add lime juice and reserved onion and garlic. Stir to combine and cook for about 15 minutes, until flavors have melded. Season with sesame oil, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste.

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1.5 cups chicken stock

In pan reserved from cooking onions, add chicken thighs and stock. Bring stock to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer chicken, covered, for about 45 minutes, until quite tender. At the end of the cooking time, turn up the heat to high in order to evaporate the remaining stock (if there appears to be a lot, pour it out) and to brown the chicken a bit (there should be enough residual oil/chicken grease to do so).

Fennel Slaw
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Chilli paste with Sweet Basil
1 tablespoon olive oil
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sugar or honey
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Allow to marinate for an hour or so before serving.

To serve:

Place chicken thigh on a bed of rice or some other nice starchy thing. Top with a generous dollop of peanut sauce and a handful of fennel slaw. If you'd like, garnish with some chopped scallion and carrot slivers.

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Not Quite Nashville Hot Chicken in a Biscuit

There's this thing called Hot Chicken that is popping up here and there, even in Baltimore (at least at KFC). This specialty of Nashville, Tennessee is typically marinated in spices, breaded, fried, and then coated in a cayenne-rich paste or oil. It's red in color and definitely hot.

Spicy hot food releases endorphins, feel-good chemicals that make us want more. At least, those who can tolerate heat. Some people are just crazy with the amount of capsaicin they are willing to ingest. Us, not so much. While we enjoy hot foods, we're not "chileheads" by any stretch of the imagination. So while I did spice up this fried chicken a bit, it's still quite enjoyable by all and sundry. If you are a chilehead, feel free to add more cayenne to the chicken coating and to the sauce. Hell, add it to the biscuit, if you want.

Really, though, this post is more about making dinner with what we had on hand rather than going along with a food fad. I've been really lazy recently, not thinking ahead about what we're going to eat when it's my turn to cook (the weekend). And when Saturday comes, I'm digging through the freezer, hoping we have some good raw materials to work with. Thankfully, we usually do. This time, we had packages of boneless skinless chicken thighs. We also had three sweet potatoes hanging around (Mr Minx doesn't like them particularly) and a bulb of fennel that I had purchased on impulse the week before. I've made hash before with those same ingredients (and it was pretty good) but I hate repeating myself. I thought I could hide one of the sweet potatoes in a batch of biscuits, and fried chicken seemed like a good thing to put in one of those biscuits. With slaw on top, using fennel rather than the typical cabbage.

I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make: I was a fried chicken virgin until the middle of last year. Oh, I've eaten my fair share over the years, but I'd never cooked it before. I was afraid of making a greasy mess while stinking up the house and ending up with either burnt or raw chicken. Last year, we wrote a book about Maryland cuisine and including a version of Maryland fried chicken was a must. At long last, it was time to get over my fear of frying. I purchased a cast iron skillet.

Maryland fried chicken is shallow-fried, then steamed. It's just as crispy-coated and moistly delicious as deep-fried chicken, only it's not nearly as messy. Or smelly. Once I figured out the proper cooking times (a lot of published recipes don't allow nearly enough time for the coating to brown) and got the technique down, I felt like a chicken frying pro. It was easy, and results were delicious.

If you're a novice, try my recipe. If you don't want spicy chicken, just put some salt and pepper in the flour. Don't worry about buttermilk soaks or egg washes or anything else. Just seasoned flour, chicken, and hot oil. And a cast iron skillet.

Spicy Chicken Biscuit Sandwich with Fennel Slaw
BTW, I used to love those crackers, Chicken in a Biskit, even though they don't taste like chicken nor particularly like biscuits.

For the biscuits:
1 large sweet potato
1/3 cup half and half, plus more
1 3/4 cups AP flour, plus more
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons of cold salted butter, cut into small pieces
Melted butter for brushing tops

For the fennel slaw:
1 large bulb fennel
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives (can use whatever onion you prefer)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons agave syrup or superfine sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

For the chicken:
6 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut in half
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cayenne
Fat for frying (lard or vegetable oil, or a combo of the two)

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 or more tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch salt

To make the biscuits: Peel the potato and cut into 1" chunks. Place in a pan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Drain pot and mash potatoes. Pack mashed potato into a measuring cup. You should have one cup of sweet potato. If you have more, eat the rest. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Once sweet potatoes are cool, add the 1/3 cup of half and half to them and stir to combine. Combine the 1 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, stirring well with a fork. Add the butter and combine with your fingers, a pastry blender, or two knives, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gently fold in the sweet potato, adding a dribble more half and half if the dough seems too stiff, a pinch more flour if it seems too wet.

Flour your hands well and grab small handfuls of the dough. Gently roll into a ball, then flatten into a fat disc. Place discs on a parchment-lined baking sheet--touching if you want soft sides, not touching if you like crispier biscuits. You should be able to get between 9 and 12 biscuits, depending on how big you make them. Brush tops with a little melted butter. Place in preheated oven and bake for 12-18 minutes (depending on how many you made; bigger biscuits need more time), until light golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove biscuits to a wire rack until ready to serve.

To make slaw: You can do this while the sweet potato is boiling. Cut stalks off of bulb, retaining some of the fronds. Rinse well and cut off any discolored bits on the outermost layer. Cut the bulb in half and make a triangular cut at the bottom to cut away the core. Grate the fennel with a hand grater or a food processor. Remove fennel to a large bowl; chop the fronds and add to the rest of the fennel. Add the chives.

In another bowl, combine the mayo, rice wine, and agave syrup or sugar (more or less depending on how sweet you like your slaw). Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make chicken: Combine flour with salt and peppers in a plastic zip-top bag. Place the chicken pieces in the bag, one at a time, and shake to coat with flour. Place coated chicken on a plate to rest.

Heat 1/4-inch of fat in a large, heavy-bottomed, frying pan (a cast iron skillet is ideal) over medium-high heat. Put the chicken pieces in the hot fat and cook for about five minutes without disturbing them, until crusty and browned on the bottoms; turn each piece and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over again, cover the pan partway, turn the heat down to medium, and allow the chicken to steam for 8-10 minutes. A meat thermometer stuck into the meatiest part of the chicken should read no less than 165°F. Remove the cover and cook an additional couple minutes on both sides if it hasn’t browned to your liking.

Drain chicken on paper towel-lined plates. Salt and pepper pieces as soon as they come out of the pan.

To make sauce: combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: Split biscuits with a fork. Top with a piece of chicken, a dollop of sauce, then a big spoonful of the slaw. Close biscuit and eat. Repeat.

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