Friday, July 29, 2016

Sneha Indian Cuisine

The Catonsville/Ellicott City area has become a bastion of Asian cuisine and we're all better for it. The new, elegantly decorated Sneha Indian Cuisine is a welcome addition to the scene. Recently, the Minx and I were invited to try out a selection of their menu items. Our host for the evening, general manager Ravi Kuriseti, hails from Andhra Pradesh in southern India where the cuisine is richly seasoned and often quite hot in the pepper sense, so we looked forward to seeing how different Sneha's spicy fare would be compared to other Indian restaurants we've tried.

Mr Kuriseti strives to make his dishes authentic and has secured for Sneha what he thinks are some of the best recipes from cooks all over India. Though he's from the south, the dishes at Sneha represent several of the various native cuisines of India. This includes many of the Punjabi dishes that come to mind when most Americans think of Indian food, such as items prepared in a tandoor oven.

Sneha doesn't have a liquor license, but if you don't want to BYOB, there are plenty of beverage options, from the yogurt drinks called lassi, to masala tea, to typical Indian soft drinks. The Minx is an avid reader of modern Indian literature, so was eager to try the drinks she had read about again and again - Thums Up and Limca. Thums Up is a cola that's a bit sharper in taste to something like Coke or Pepsi. Limca is a lemon/lime drink which seems to have that similar sharp quality. Not sure what's going on there, but it's definitely different from what we're used to in the U.S.

We started our meal with a simple tomato soup, which was pleasantly creamy with a light black pepper bite. We also sampled the Tandoor Mixed Grill, featuring chicken, shrimp, and both lamb seekh kabobs and lamb chops. Everything had that wonderful smoky flavor and light char that can only be achieved with a tandoor oven.

Something new for me was the chat, typically a savory snack served by Indian street vendors. Sneha serves three varities of chat, the favorite of which is kale, lightly coated in gram flour and butter, then flash fried. Served with red onion and a sweet tamarind yogurt sauce, it's a delightful way to eat your vegetables. We gobbled it up.

It's super crisp when it comes to the table, but gets soggy fast so is best eaten quickly.

Pakoda, or pakora, when made with vegetables, tend to be like fritters. Chicken pakoda, however, are more like chicken nuggets: tender pieces of boneless chicken thigh that are lightly battered and fried. They're crispy, spicy, and juicy - definitely the best chicken pakoda (or pakora) we've ever had.

We also were treated to paneer grilled in the tandoor. Paneer is a firm, fresh cheese that can make for a great meat substitute. Giving it the high-temperature tandoor treatment makes perfect sense, as this cheese doesn't easily melt, and is quite tasty with grilled vegetables and the lovely coriander achaar (Indian pickles) sauce that came with all of the grilled or fried appetizers.

On to entrees. I chose the lamb roganjosh: boneless lamb in a hearty sauce of onion, cumin, and yogurt. I always felt that Indian dishes like this are wonderful comfort food. Hearty sauce, tender meat, complex seasoning, and (often) tongue-numbing heat. Served with basmati rice and naan, this made me very happy.

The Minx opted for the palak Lababdar, paneer nestled in a rich, spicy, sauce of tomato, onion, and chiles. It was also quite hearty and delicious, traits that make Indian vegetarian dishes as satisfying as those with meat.

The spicy shrimp fry enjoyed by others in our party is a hometown favorite of Mr Kuriseti. Tiny shrimp are dry-fried with onion, green chili, curry leaves, and cumin. The dish packs a kick that seems almost mild at first but quickly builds in intensity. The spice is addictive in that good way that entices one to keep eating more.

The chicken dum biryani is a little different than what most Americans might expect from this familiar rice dish. The "dum" part of the name refers the layering of the dish. The spicy chicken is on the bottom of the dish, with the rice on top. If you only take some rice from the top, it will seem mild. You must dig deep with your serving spoon to pull up the chicken in order to get the full impact of the chiles.

We also sampled three kinds of excellent naan--plain, garlic, and chili garlic--that were thinner and crisper than the pillowy stuff we were used to eating.

The desserts were also new to me. Rabri is milk that is cooked with sugar for six hours to create an almost milkshake consistency. Essentially a non-sticky sweetened condensed milk, it reminded us of a sweet, very smooth, rice pudding.

Junnu is a lumpy concoction made from jaggery (concentrated cane sugar) and cow's colostrum milk. (The colostrum is the first milk a cow makes after giving birth, and is high in nutrients. )That might sound a little off-putting, but the end result is a sweet, vaguely yogurt-like, custard with a subtle caramel flavor.

In addition to some old favorites, Sneha Indian Cuisine introduced me to several Indian dishes I had never experienced before. In fact, there is also a whole world of unfamiliar southern Indian foods represented on the menu. I'm looking forward to going back and trying some of the various dosa (thin crepes made from a fermented rice batter) and idli (steamed savory cakes).

While many of the dishes we tried were familiar to us--the roganjosh, and the biryani, for example--they were far from typical. Much of the Indian food we'd eaten in the past was clearly geared toward the American palate, sweet and creamy. While there was no shortage of richness and cream at Sneha, the flavors were far more intense and there was a bit of heat in most of the dishes we sampled. It was an eye-opening experience and a meal that left me feeling quite contented.

Sneha Indian Cuisine
6600 Baltimore National Pike
Catonsville, MD 21228

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rosy Rice Pudding

At the Summer Fancy Food Show last year, I noticed a mini-trend (a teeny tiny-trend, actually) of things flavored with rosewater or roses. Yeah, roses as in the flower. It's a popular flavoring in the Middle East and India, but maybe not so much in the western world. Roses taste the way they smell, so I suppose if you're not a fan of rose aromas, your palate might not appreciate their flavor, either. I like it myself, but a little goes a long way.

I purchased some rose water in an Indian market a few years back, and it was so weak as to be unnoticeable. I never ventured back to see if I could find another brand and then forgot about it until the SFFS reminded me.

One company on my list of booths to hit at this year's show was Nielsen-Massey, perhaps best known for their vanilla extracts and pastes. However, I didn't have time to actually pay them a visit, so the nice people at N-M sent me some sample bottles of a few of their various non-vanilla extracts--pure coffee, orange blossom, and rose water. I immediately opened each bottle and took a sniff. Yup - coffee, orange blossom, and rose scents were pretty strong! Couldn't wait to use them.

This time of year, post SFFS, I really wish I could stay home full-time and cook (and eat). I have so many fun things to play with, but they usually have to wait for the weekend until I find a bit of free time. I decided that the rose water games would come first, and I would make a rose water-flavored rice pudding for the 4th of July. Why? because my samples arrived on the 2nd of July, that's why.

Nielsen-Massey included a recipe for rice pudding, but it was the fussy kind with raw rice that requires a bit more time (and stirring) than I had to offer. We already had some leftover cooked rice in the fridge, and I wanted to use that. So I did. When the rice is precooked, it takes less than 30 minutes to prep and cook. Prep basically equals measuring stuff directly into a pot. Once the rice absorbs all the yummy cream and sugar, just stir in the flavorings, let cool a bit, then eat.

I decided since roses are red, and my pudding would be served on the 4th, that blueberries would be an appropriate accompaniment. Red, white, and blueberry!

If you're going to use rose petals as garnish, make sure they are grown without the use of pesticides or herbicides. Do not eat flowers from a florist! It's best if they are grown in your own yard, and they should smell pretty. If they don't have much fragrance (like most of the old, not-well-cared-for roses in my neighborhood), they won't taste like much, either. You don't have to ingest them, of course - use petals as garnish, then pick them off before eating. The Nielsen-Massey rose water will supply plenty of flavoring.

Rosewater Rice Pudding

2.5 cups cooked short grain rice
1.5 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Nielsen Massey vanilla paste
1/4 teaspoon Nielsen Massey rose water
Fresh blueberries
Food grade rose petals (optional)

Combine the rice, milk, cream, sugar, and butter in a saucepot. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Remove pudding from the heat and stir in the vanilla paste and rose water.

Eat warm, at room temperature, or chilled, garnished with blueberries and optional rose petals.

* 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!

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fork & Cork 2.0

Last year, Wit & Wisdom, Aggio, and Fleet Street Kitchen combined forces in a series of spectacular wine dinners. Both chefs and sommeliers participated, which meant diners were not only enjoying the food of Zack Mills, but also of Chris Becker and Bryan Voltaggio, while drinking wines selected by Julie Dalton, Chris Coker, and Tim Riley--all in the same meal. This year, they've added a fourth restaurant; Chef Ben Lefenfeld and somm Greg Schwab of La Cuchara will be joining the others in both the kitchen and the wine cellar.

The chefs have fun cooking together, the sommeliers enjoy a bit of friendly one-upmanship as they choose the right beverage for each dish, and diners get to sit back and experience the talents of four of the best-regarded restaurants in Baltimore. A win-win for all involved.

This year, Fork & Cork starts off at Aggio on August 16th. The next dinner will be at La Cuchara on September 13th, followed by Fleet Street Kitchen on October 18, and Wit & Wisdom on November 15th. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite. There's a big bonus for folks who buy tickets to all four events - they will receive a $20 gift card for each participating restaurant, plus they have the chance to win dinner for two at all of them.

Will you be joining us at Fork & Cork this year?

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Monday, July 25, 2016

Blue Pit BBQ

We'd been meaning to try Blue Pit BBQ for a while and finally got around to it last month. Located in Hampden across Union Avenue from Union Craft Brewery and Artifact Coffee, Blue Pit is a bourbon bar as well as a 'cue joint. They offer 40+ bourbons, plus 20+ ryes, and dozens of other whiskies. There are a few cocktails, a list of beer in cans, and if you simply must have wine with your pulled pork (weirdo), they have a bottle or two of that hanging around, too.

Service is pub style. You order at a counter, take a number, then sit somewhere patiently and wait for your food to be brought to you. The bar area on the first floor has a few tables, and there's a patio, but we chose to eat upstairs where the tables are larger, the light is better for photographs, and there were no other diners (for it was 4pm on a weekend afternoon). The lack of chatter around us, however, meant we noticed the seemingly endless loop of music by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Fine if you like that sort of thing (and my Dad did get into it quite a bit).

We went whole hog, so to speak, and ordered three kinds of meat and three sides--a pound of brisket, a half rack of ribs, and a pound of pulled pork, plus mac and cheese, collard greens, and baked beans.

I am going to confess that we are semi-regulars at Andy Nelson's, that 'cue stalwart in Cockeysville. Andy's grub has only gotten better over the years (his beans are a-maze-ing), so it was really hard, nay, impossible, for me to not make comparisons. But I'm going to be as fair as I can here.

The brisket, rubbed with local Zeke's coffee before being barbecued, was pretty darn good. Smoky, but not overwhelmingly so, with a nice edge of fat that kept the meat moist (dry brisket is a sad thing). The bourbon-glazed St Louis-style ribs also tasted good, but they were very hard to cut apart with a plastic knife. That's not to say the meat wasn't tender, but there was some connective tissue thing going on in there which led to a bad hack job on our part. The glaze on the ribs is lightly sweet, but if you want more wet sweetness, there are several styles of sauce available in squeeze bottles on each table. Out of the sauce choices (which included mustard, vinegar, sweet and hot, and smoky), I liked the Zeke's coffee-spiked sauce. It was a bit sweeter than the others, but it reminded me a good deal of the house sauce at Cafe Tattoo, a bbq joint that used to be in Gardenville on Belair Road. (God, I miss that place.)

The pulled pork was nicely moist, if not particularly smoky, and was just fine without an extra dose of sauce (although I'd probably add some if I were eating it in a sandwich).

All three sides were good. The collards, made with neck bones and flavored with sherry vinegar were extremely tender; I can never get mine so soft. I loved the vinegar flavor, wished there was even more, and doused it with a bit of the vinegar sauce on the table to bring the tang up a tad. The baked beans, made with bits of both brisket and pork, were fine (and the only thing I'm going to compare unfavorably to Andy Nelson's, mostly because I love the latter so much). Finally, the four cheese mac and cheese was a nice creamy and slightly bland foil to all of the other textures and flavors on the table.

In addition to all the meaty goodness, Blue Pit also offers the new yuppie bbq nod to vegetarians and vegans--pulled jackfruit. I'd really hate to be a vegan in a bbq joint, but I suppose if they drink enough bourbon they won't notice that their sandwich isn't full of beef.

Service was great, mostly in that there was so little of it needed. Someone took our order and gave us cups for soft drinks. Someone else brought our liquor, and a third person brought all of our food--pretty quickly, too--and pointed out the location of extra utensils, and should we need them, carry-out containers and bags for transporting them home.

So...while not that favorite county bbq joint, Blue Pit more than holds its own. Plus it's a non-chain restaurant in the city. With enough good bourbon to drown in. Go.

Blue Pit BBQ
1601 Union Ave
Baltimore, MD 21211
(443) 948-5590

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer Fruit Bread Pudding

Ok, maybe not the best photo in the world, but it gives you an idea of how big this recipe is. Great for a summertime party!
There's a small (very small) farmers' market very close to work (across the street!) and I'm fortunate to be able to get luscious peaches for much of the summer, and sour cherries in their very short season. Sometimes I get a bit carried away and buy cherries and peaches and nectarines and other stuff that we simply can't eat fast enough. After all, there's only two of us. And once in a while, those extra peaches get squishy and the cherries threaten to get moldy, so I have to do something with them, and quick.

Bread pudding is a good solution to the problem. We always have bread and eggs, and there's usually a can of sweetened condensed milk in the cupboard. Mix it all up, add fruit, bake (I know - it's hot, sorry) and eat with some vanilla ice cream or custard or heavy cream poured on top, or as is. Bread pudding makes a great breakfast, snack, or dessert. If you can't eat it fast enough, you can cut it into serving pieces, wrap well in foil, and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer.

Summer Fruit Bread Pudding

4 eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch salt
About 1/2 pound stale white bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 5 cups)
2 peaches, peeled and cut into about 1" pieces
1 cup sour cherries, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon softened butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the eggs, milks, vanilla, and seasonings together in a large bowl. Add the bread and toss to combine. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for half an hour or so, so the bread can soak up the milk.

Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish (or a bundt pan) and pour the bread pudding mixture in. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake for 45 minutes and uncover. Continue baking until the pudding rises and is firm in the center and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.

Let cool slightly before serving.

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Monday, July 18, 2016


Langermann's, in the old American Can Company Building, has been a favorite of ours for many years. When we were writing and promoting our first two books, Neal Langermann was a great help to us. While Chef Langermann has moved on to other endeavors, his namesake restaurant carries on with his original concept of offering a refined take on "lowcountry" southern cuisine. The Minx and I were invited back for a chance to sample some of their current menu choices.

We started off with drinks. I had an unusual gin & tonic with a pleasing orange flavor and aroma instead of the usual lime. Other guests in our party enjoyed the southern classic, Pimm's Cup. The Minx opted for a glass of French rosé, which has become her new summer drink of choice.

Our meal began with a quite satisfying amuse of shrimp and grits. The creamy grits--a Georgia heirloom variety, custom ground--were served in a broth of clam juice and white wine and topped with slices of mild andouille sausage in addition to the shrimp.

We also sampled the baby arugula salad and Scotch egg starters. With shaved Parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes, and a lemon olive oil dressing, the salad was light and refreshing for a hot summer day. The Scotch egg was heartier, with its crisp sausage coating and accompanying sweet sriracha-style sauce and stone-ground mustard.

A perennial favorite at Langermann's, the Low Country Louie adds lobster and shrimp to the traditional crab salad. The Creole mayo dressing makes the salad pleasantly spicy, and the corn kernels provide a bit of texture and sweetness to the dish.

We also sampled the pork belly appetizer, served over more of those delicious grits. The meat was perfectly cooked, with a crispy top layer and melt-in-your-mouth tender pork underneath. While it was lovely on its own, the smoky tomato jam and a sauce made from a reduction of the braising liquids made the dish more special. 

We also sampled a fellow diner's Pork Pops, savory spirals of roast pork and bacon with date and fig jam speared on lollipop sticks and glazed with hot honey. Maybe a bit trendy, but fun to eat and tasty to boot.

For an entree, I had a perfectly cooked piece of pan-roasted Alaskan halibut with a nice crusty top, served on a bed of corn, asparagus, and brown rice. The topping of sweet pickled peaches was unexpected, and the jury is still out on that.

The Minx's seared diver scallops were served in a rather autumnal cider butter sauce over a hash of sweet potato and mushroom. Coupled with the steamy hot weather outside, the dish really made her long for cooler weather. And while it all worked fine with scallops, the accompaniments would have been really perfect for a fat pork chop.

For dessert, the Minx had the rich bread pudding with creme anglaise while I opted for the light and citrussy key lime pie. Both were satisfying endings to a substantial meal.

Despite all of the many new restaurants that have been popping up in Canton recently, Langermann's still seems to be going strong. The spacious dining room was fairly busy that night, and there were several patrons enjoying the bar area as well. Langermann's has outdoor patio seating, too, where one can watch the comings and goings of Cantonites up and down Boston Street--a perfect way to spend a summer evening.

American Can Co, Building
2400 Boston St #101a
Baltimore, MD 21224

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on

Friday, July 15, 2016

Flashback Friday - Fumetto #4 - Semi-Ho Made with Sandra Lee

I had fun doing these.


This post was originally published on September 21, 2010.
Fumetto #4 - Semi-Ho Made with Sandra Lee

Follow on Bloglovin

Posted on