Monday, November 28, 2016

New Fall Menu at B & O Brasserie

B & O Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco is one of our favorite restaurants, especially for special occasions, but also for a simple weeknight dinner. The restaurant has seen several executive chefs over its relatively short existence, but each has created complex, high-end dishes that have never been boring or predictable. B & O's current executive chef, Scott Hines, continues the tradition set by his predecessors with a new fall menu that entertains the palate with layers of flavor and ingredient combinations that are new and exciting. We were happy to be invited to try out the new offerings recently.

We started our meal with a Brussels sprout salad made of the bright green outer leaves of the sprouts. Crab apples, onion, Marcona almonds, and pancetta round out the salad, providing a variety of flavors and textures. When I first tasted it, I thought the pancetta was Mexican chorizo. I later found out that the maple vinaigrette included achiote (or annatto) which lends an earthy flavor as well as a yellow hue, and is also used in chorizo. I was glad to discover that my tastebuds were not playing tricks on me. 

The oxtail marmalade is slow cooked oxtail (actually the tail from cattle we think of as cows, as opposed to oxen) blended with sweet and savory ingredients to create intense, meaty, flavor. When combined with a bit of bone marrow schmaltz (a rich combination of bone marrow and beef tallow) and a little of the lightly acidic pickled shallot and peppercress garnish on a slice of ciabatta, the result is a rich and satisfying bite that is lovely and well-balanced. A top-notch appetizer that would also be a perfect bar snack when paired with one of the B&Os always inventive cocktails. In that vein, I had the Harvest Moon from the new fall menu, a surprisingly dry combination of apple brandy, cacao nib syrup, lemon, and Millstone gingerroot cider. The Minx had the Rock Wall, a combination of mezcal and rum with cider, lemon, and spiced sugar syrup that reminded her of wood smoke and fall leaves.

The lamb noisette features medallions of medium rare lamb over a bed of fregola flavored with black olives and merguez sausage, and escarole, with a simply perfect lamb jus. An intensely carrot-y spiced carrot reduction is spread across the plate and feta cheese is sprinkled on top for an additional layer of flavor. There was just so much going on in this dish, and all of it was exactly the right thing.

A exciting surprise for me was the marjoram and orange gremolata atop the house made pappardelle with veal sugo. The veal is slow braised for 6 to 7 hours, making it unbelievably tender, and the pasta is lovely and silky on the tongue. While the dish would have been amazing as is, the salty pepperiness of pecorino pepato cheese nudged it over the top. While I might not be ambitious enough to tackle the slow braised veal, I would like to try the marjoram and orange combo on one of my own pasta dishes. It was quite the flavor revelation. Marjoram, a member of the mint and oregano family, is a somewhat underutilized herb when fresh, at least in such an obvious way. The flavor is reminiscent of both oregano and mint and added a fresh herbal contrast to the rich meaty sauce.

Although we were bursting at the seams, Chef Hines wanted us to try out a selection of their desserts. The lavender and caramel flan was redolent of lavender and finished off with slices of crisp meringue.

From the moment we arrived at the restaurant, everyone was raving about the lemon bar, and the praise was completely in order. Feuilletine white chocolate crunch, berry gelee, toasted meringue, vanilla ice cream, and lemon brittle make for a wonderful variety of flavors and textures that all work together. Your palate never gets bored with this dessert.

The B & O ice cream sandwiches are nothing like the ones you pulled out of the freezer as a kid. Almond macarons sandwich rich vanilla ice cream and are set on a pool of dulce de leche. To cut the sweetness and provide a little warmth on a chilly fall evening, the sandwiches are served with a cup of spiced hot cider.

While we've never had a bad meal at B & O Brasserie no matter what time of year we've gone there, this fall menu created by Chef Scott Hines is something worth checking out before the season is over. It makes us excited for the new, inventive dishes he will create in the future.

Full disclosure - Chef Hines provided several recipes for our latest book, Maryland's Chesapeake. He's a terrifically creative chef who is also very generous. We are so pleased that he's running the kitchen at B & O, and look forward to many more delicious meals there.

B & O Brasserie
The Hotel Monaco
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21201

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Renovation and New Menu at The Milton Inn

The Minx and I first went to The Milton Inn for my birthday several years back. I had never been there before and was curious after doing some research on the building's rich history. We had a wonderful dinner and the service was lovely, but somehow I felt a bit out of place with the equestrian paintings on the walls and the heavy Colonial-style ornamentation. Some time later, we were invited to experience Chef Brian Boston's new c. 1740 Lounge and small plates menu. The lounge has a more rustic charm than the otherwise formal restaurant, and the new menu of smaller portions demonstrated a more modern vibe.

Today, The Milton Inn has undergone an extensive renovation. The wallpaper is lighter, the curtains are of lighter fabrics and no longer weighed down by tassels, and many of the equestrian paintings have been replaced with other subjects, although there is a beautiful equestrian mural painted on all four walls of one of the upstairs dining rooms. The rooms are brighter, and while still elegant, the overall look says "classic" rather than "old-fashioned."

The menu, too, has received a face-lift in the form of fall flavors. It's quite extensive, covering all manner of fish, fowl, meat, and vegetables. Many of the items are available on the restaurant's small plates menu, albeit in smaller portions. Most small plates are $12 while some that use pricier ingredients have an up-charge. Make sure to read the menu carefully.

We were invited in to experience the changes. Everything that we tasted during our visit was quite delicious, including the items pictured below.

The four-ounce crab cake with wild mushrooms and fava bean succotash...

...the flatbread of the day: tomato sauce and cheese with caramelized onions...

...the Pasta of the Moment: on our visit it was spicy penne pasta with shrimp...

...the Fall Harvest Salad with mixed greens, maple vinaigrette, roasted butternut squash, feta cheese, and pistachio nuts...

...the Braised Beef Short Rib with plum barbecue sauce,  root vegetable, and white cheddar mashed potatoes...

...and the Blackened Beef Tenderloin with barbecue sauce and béarnaise cheddar grits.

We finished off the meal with a sampling from their dessert menu: a seasonal berries tart with blackberries, raspberries and strawberries; macadamia torte with a caramel-laced chocolate cookie base studded with macadamia nuts, cream cheese mousse, and topped with chocolate ganache and macadamia nuts; and a chocolate truffle.

All next year, The Milton Inn will be offering a special menu to celebrate their 70th anniversary, which will also be Chef Brian Boston's 20th year with the restaurant. The menu is full of turn-back-the-clock classics like chateaubriand and shrimp remoulade, and includes hors d'oeuvres, mignardises, and coffee, plus a bottle of champagne or wine, for the bargain price of $130 per couple. The Minx and I look forward to dining there at some point after the first of the year, perhaps to celebrate our own anniversary.

The Milton Inn
14833 York Road
Sparks, MD 21152

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Another Carrot Recipe - Yes, I Like Carrots.

I normally don't follow recipes to the letter. I don't know if it's because I know my palate and understand what will work best for it, or if I just have some odd recipe-specific ADD. In any case, it's very very rare that I do what I'm supposed to do. Case in point: the recipe for roasted carrots with creamy nuoc cham dressing that I found in a recent e-mailing from Bon Appetit magazine. Nuoc cham is the ubiquitous Vietnamese all-purpose sauce. It's sweet, salty, pungent, and amazingly delicious. Blending it with mayo and oil to create a dressing to go over a lightly sweet roasted root vegetable seemed like the fabulous no-brainer idea I always want to have (but often don't).

Normally, if I get a recipe off the Internet, I write the ingredients on a piece of scrap paper and take that to the kitchen with me. In the case of this recipe, I neglected to write down "1 ½-inch piece ginger, peeled, thinly sliced." So I made it without the ginger. Nevertheless, the sauce was lovely (after I added more mayo and a pinch of cayenne to up the heat level a tad). It worked very very well with the roasted carrots, but would be even better, I think, as a dressing for a Caesar salad. Just add parm. Had I remembered the ginger, however, I don't think I would have made the connection.

Fortunately, this recipe makes more dressing than needed for the carrots. Toss it on some romaine lettuce, add croutons and lots of fresh Parmesan, and you'll have the Caesar salad of your dreams.

Roasted Carrots with Creamy Nuoc Cham Dressing (adapted from Bon Appetit)

2 pounds medium carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch cayenne (optional)

Preheat oven to 425°. Toss carrots and vegetable oil on a large rimmed baking sheet and season with salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until crisp-tender, 20–25 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring shallot, red pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and 2 tablespoons water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until shallot is soft, 8–10 minutes. Let cool. Transfer to a blender or mini-prep food processor, add lime juice and mayonnaise, and blend until smooth. With motor running, gradually stream in ¼ cup oil; blend until emulsified. Season dressing with salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper, if you'd like the dressing to be spicier.

Drizzle dressing over carrots just before serving.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Everything!

When the weather gets a bit cooler, or even when it doesn't, I look forward to the flavors of fall. For some folks, that means pumpkin spice lattés. I enjoy one once in a while, sure, but there are other things to do with pumpkin besides turn it into a sweet treat with cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. (A look at local grocery store shelves says differently, however, what with all the various pumpkin spice granola bars, yogurt, cereal, breakfast bars, pretzels, cookies, and cake. Giant Foods even has a store-branded pumpkin spice gouda cheese. Oh, and dairy butter. WTF?)

Canned pumpkin (which, apparently, in most cases, is actually butternut squash) is available all year long. Still, it seems most appropriate to eat it in the fall and winter. I'm not sure why - the flavor isn't heavy (unless of course you load it up with sweet spices). Why not have pumpkin soup in summer? Canned pumpkin is almost tomato-y in a savory dish, as it's not sweet, yet quite vegetal. In any case, it is fall right now, so this pumpkin risotto is seasonally appropriate. It has a creamy texture, which is emphasized by the cheese, but contains no cream. All that creaminess comes from stirring the rice, which releases starch into the cooking liquid. The seasoning is fairly mimimal, just some alliums, sage, and S&P, but you don't really need much more than. Please try not to give into the urge to add brown sugar and cinnamon to this dish.

I served this pumpkin risotto with pan-seared swordfish, but it would go equally well with pork chops or roast chicken, or another type of firm-fleshed fish. I also made a pumpkin seed sauce to put over the fish--pipian--but you can omit it and enjoy the pumpkin risotto all on its own.

Pumpkin Risotto

For pipian:
1/4 cup unsalted, shelled, pumpkin seeds
1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds, cut into chunks
1 small handful cilantro
1 small yellow tomato or 1-2 tomatillos, cut into chunks
3 green onions, both white and green parts roughly chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
3/4 - 1 cup chicken stock
Pinch cumin
Pepitas for garnish

For risotto:
6 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin puree
6 leaves fresh sage, finely minced
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Additional salt and pepper to taste

To make pipian: Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry sauce pot until they start to puff up. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then add to the jar of a food processor (a mini prep will do fine) and pulse until nuts are finely chopped. Add the jalapeno, cilantro, tomato, green onions, oil, and enough of the stock to blend into a fairly smooth puree. Pour the puree into the same pot you used to toast the nuts and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. The mixture will splatter a bit so be vigilant. Add the rest of the stock and cook until slightly reduced and thickened. Season with the cumin and salt to taste. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and reserve. Don't wash the pot.

To make the risotto: Bring the stock to a simmer in the same saucepan you used for the pipian and allow it to simmer throughout the cook time.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute over medium-high until it begins to soften. Add the rice and stir well to coat each grain with the oil. Cook for a few minutes to toast the rice. Stir in the garlic. Add the wine and cook until evaporated.

Add one cup of the stock to the pan with the rice. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, stirring regularly. Repeat with another cup of stock. After the third cup, stir in the pumpkin. Continue adding stock and stirring until the rice is almost tender and the dish is still a bit loose. Stir in the sage, Parm, and butter, and season with the salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Cook protein of your choice. Place risotto in a bowl, top with protein, and add a few spoonsful of pipian to the top. Garnish with additional pepitas, if desired.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Squash Pie

I was recently reminded why we buy our holiday pies, rather than bake them at home.

Recently, I purchased a copy of The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends: New Recipes, Stories, and Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show. Amazon was offering the Kindle version for $1.99, and I couldn't pass it up. Perusing it, I noticed a recipe for "pumpkin" pie made with butternut squash. As it happened, I had at home two medium-sized winter squash looking for an application, and this recipe seemed like a perfect fit. I also had a box of pie crusts in the fridge, because I'm too lazy we don't have enough counter space to deal with rolling out a crust.

The problem with those refrigerated pie crusts is that they're not quite big enough for my pie pan. They just barely reach the top, and shrink miserably when I blind bake them. Oh well. I use them anyway because of the counter situation. Also because until very recently, we didn't own a rolling pin. (After 16 years of happy rolling pin-free domesticity, Mr Minx decided that we needed one. And so we now have one. Maybe some day we shall use it.)

Anyway...back to the recipe. And why we don't make pumpkin pies from scratch.

Canned pumpkin (or butternut squash, as it were, masquerading as pumpkin) is really such a time-saver. An ultimate convenience food. Pre-cooked and pre-pureed, it just needs to be plopped into whatever pie, soup, quickbread or other dish requires its earthy presence. Making squash puree at home, however, takes a bit more effort and lots more time. The squash needs to be halved (which requires a large, sharp knife. If you don't have a chef's knife (we have several, thankfully, and a Chinese cleaver, just in case), be prepared to struggle a bit. Once split, a squash needs to be de-seeded, oiled, and baked at high temperature for 45 minutes to an hour to soften the flesh to a scoopable texture. The baked squash then needs time to cool a bit; this is important, otherwise fingers are burnt. The scooped-out flesh then needs to be pureed, which means dragging out the food processor or blender, whichever is the least amount of trouble (or in our case, already lives on the counter). Then the food processor (or blender) needs to be cleaned and returned to its cupboard, not to mention the baking sheet and whatever utensils were used to remove the squash's caramelized flesh from its now-sagging carapace. At this point, two or more hours later, the squash is ready to pie-ify.

I was so glad to have the pie crusts on hand. That was at least one thing that was simple and quick in this whole pie-making project. Except I decided make more work for myself by using one of the two crusts included in the box as decoration. I cut vaguely leaf-shaped pieces and placed them on a separate baking sheet, brushed them with a bit of egg yolk (almost-clever tip: there's usually enough yolk left clinging to the bowl in which they were beaten to glaze a few bits and bobs of pastry) and a sprinkle of granulated sugar, and baked them alongside the pie once the oven temperature was lowered.

I used a delicata squash and a Thelma Sanders acorn squash, both of which had fairly pale flesh. The combination of sweet spices + pale yellow squash makes for a somewhat grayish-brown filling (which looks much better when covered up with fancy pastry shapes). It still tastes good, however, much like the more orange butternut squash called for in the original recipe. (Raw butternut squash is a real bitch to cut in half though - you are forewarned.)

If you're up for the task of making a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving next week, here's the recipe, with my alterations. Or you could just go to your favorite bakery and purchase one, like I plan to do.

"Pumpkin" Pie (adapted from the Splendid Table)

1 box refrigerated pie crusts
2 small to medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
3/4 cup sugar, or to taste
Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
Generous 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional - my addition)
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional - my addition)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup plain full-fat yogurt
About 1/2 cup milk
3 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400°F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Butter a 10" metal pie pan. Fit one of the crusts into the pan and if there's enough dough there, crimp the edge. Then line with a piece of foil and pie weights (raw rice, beans, or these ceramic thingamabobs) and bake 10 minutes. Carefully remove the foil liner, with a fork pierce the crust in several places, and bake an additional 5 minutes or until dry looking. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Keep at room temperature up to 24 hours.

Roast the squash flesh-side down on an oiled cookie sheet in a 400° oven. Bake one hour, or until a knife slips easily into the thickest part of the squash. They should be extremely tender. Cool, then scoop out the squash and puree it completely. You should end up with 3-1/2 to 3-3/4 cups puree.

To make the pie, have the oven at 400°F. In a large bowl, beat together the squash, sugar, salt, spices, vanilla, yogurt, and milk until smooth. Taste for sweetness and spiciness, adding more sugar and/or spices if needed. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add to the squash mixture.

Pour the filling into the baked pie shell. If your shell shrunk, as did mine, only fill it to the top of the shell, not to the top of the pan (duh!). (There will be extra filling - pour it into as many small ramekins as it requires and bake them alongside the pie for about 30 minutes.) Set the pie on a cookie sheet to catch any spills. Bake 15 minutes at 400°, then reduce heat to 325°. Bake another 45 minutes to 1 hour. The pie is done when a knife inserted an inch or more in from the edge comes out nearly clean (the center will still be soft).

If you're feeling crafty, cut shapes out of the second pie crust (most refrigerated crusts come with two per box), brush with the bit of egg yolk clinging to the bowl in which you beat it, and sprinkle with sugar. (If there's no egg yolk left, use milk instead. No use wasting a whole egg for a few bits of crust.) Put in the oven once the temperature is turned down to 325° and bake for 20 minutes or so, until golden brown and slightly puffed. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Cool the pie on a rack. Top with any crafty pastry shapes. Chill if you are holding it more than a couple of hours. Serve the pie at room temperature, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

I had enough filling for two ramekins, and enough of the second crust to make two
little hats for them. Cute, huh?
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Friday, November 11, 2016

Green Falafel

I love falafel, I really do. But.... I hate to say that I am "allergic" to pulses like chickpeas/garbanzo beans and lentils, but they do make me very sick, so I guess that counts. And chickpeas are so in right now. Some bars serve them crisped and spiced in place of peanuts, and they are all over the place in Middle Eastern food. Thank goodness really yummy hummus can be made from pretty much any kind of bean (believe me, I've made most of them), because otherwise I'd be missing out on a really fab and simple dish. Falafel is another thing entirely. It's really difficult to make good, fluffy, falafel with beans. Traditional recipes call for soaked--but still raw--chickpeas. I'm not sure that beans like black beans or cannellini beans can be used raw like that. At least, I've never found a recipe that calls for soaked raw beans. Every non-garbanzo falafel recipe I've seen calls for cooked or canned, and I'm not about to torture my digestive system by experimenting with a recipe using raw beans. I may as well just eat garbanzos.

So what to do when I want to eat falafel? Use canned beans. (sigh)

Mr Minx bought some fresh green beans and I thought perhaps they could add the necessary texture and green flavor to non-garbanzo falafel. They're fine to eat raw, so I whizzed them up in the food pro, added a can of white beans, cumin, lots of herbs. They made a pretty green dough that tasted great, and pan frying little patties of the mixture made something that tasted fairly akin to falafel. They were a little softer, yes, but that was to be expected. In a pita with cucumber sauce, they were terrific. I am not a fan of pocket pitas - the ones in the grocery store always seem stale, and the pockets seldom cooperate and rip in inconvenient places. So I used puffy Greek-style pitas. You may use whatever you want. Slider buns would work fine, too. Or make them hamburger-sized and eat them like veggie burgers.

Green Falafel

For the falafel:
1/2 lb green beans, washed, trimmed, and roughly chopped
1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons flour
Up to 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Soybean or vegetable oil for frying

For the sauce:
1 medium cucumber
1 cup 2% or full fat Greek yogurt
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch cumin

To serve:
Pocket or Greek pitas
Chopped tomato
Hummus, if you like (I used edamame hummus)

To make falafel: Place the green beans in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped but with some texture remaining. Remove and set aside. Add the cannellinis, scallions, herbs, garlic, salt, and cumin to the food processor and pulse until well combined but not pureed. The mixture will be quite wet. Add the baking powder and the flour and pulse until combined. Add the panko a bit at a time and pulse, until the mixture seems dough-like. Fold in the green beans. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

Form dough into small patties. (The dough will be somewhat sticky; don't worry if they're not perfect). Heat several tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. Add patties a few at a time and cook on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towel-lined plates. Add a bit of salt while they are still warm.

To make the sauce: Peel the cucumber. Shred it with a mandoline or box grater. Put the shredded cuke on a tea towel and squeeze the moisture out over the sink. Place cucumber in a medium bowl and add the yogurt and the red pepper and stir well to combine. Stir in the salt and cumin. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: Pile a few falafel patties on a pita. Top with tomatoes, cucumber sauce, hummus, and cilantro. Serves 4-6.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Happy Birthday Wit & Wisdom!

I was surprised to realize that Wit & Wisdom opened its doors on November 14th, 2011. It's only been five years, but the place is so much a part of the Baltimore dining scene, it seems like much longer. To me anyway.

To celebrate the big Five, the restaurant is offering a special "Five Years of Wit & Wisdom" five-course prix fixe menu from Wednesday November 9th through Monday the 14th, featuring the restaurant's most popular dishes over the years. Plus, there's a special anniversary cocktail to wash it all down ($5 from every cocktail purchase will be donated to the Living Classrooms Foundation). Of course you can also opt for their fabulous sommelier Julie Dalton to help you choose the best wines to pair with each course. Bonus: diners who opt for the "Five Years" menu get a recipe card featuring their luscious lobster pot pie.

The special menu will also be offered as part of the restaurant's Wednesday night Kitchen Table dinner series, "Curated," on  November 9th. (Kitchen Table is the new 12-seat interactive chef's table.) For more information, please visit them on Facebook, Twitter or at

Wit & Wisdom
Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
200 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 576-5800

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Monday, November 07, 2016

Cottage Cheesecake

Cottage Cheese. You all know what I'm talking about. No, not the unattractive dimply stuff in our thighs. Rather, the stuff diner menus include in what they inexplicably refer to as a "diet plate," along with a bare hamburger patty and some iceberg lettuce. Or the white lumpy stuff that my mother-in-law ate on matzoh crackers with a touch of apple butter. Cottage cheese was once a popular food, but these days, the salty curds-and-cream substance seems more like punishment. The last time I tried supermarket cottage cheese, I gagged.

Of course, I once felt the same way about yogurt, and now I eat a ton of it.

Earlier in the year, at the Fancy Food Show, I tasted a new brand of cottage cheese. I'll try anything once, even camel milk and tortilla chips made with cricket flour. Expecting the same chalky curds in mucus-y sauce that I had eaten in my youth, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the curds were tender and the sauce binding them together was more like sweet cream. It was tasty. I liked it.

So when I received an e-mail from Muuna Cottage Cheese, asking if I'd be willing to try their products and write about them, I said, "sure." As it turned out, I had seen Muuna at the local grocery store just that week and had purchased the mango flavor. It was tasty. I liked it.

Muuna sent us a great box of cottage cheese goodness - 5.3-ounce cups of all five flavors (blueberry, strawberry, peach, mango, and pineapple) plus a cup of the lowfat plain. I tucked into the flavored stuff immediately, and found that while pineapple and mango were pretty good, blueberry and strawberry were even better. However, I wasn't sure I was ready to eat the plain lowfat cottage cheese on its own. So I made cheesecake with it. Pumpkin cheesecake. Because fall. Oh, and since I only had 5 ounces of cottage cheese to work with, I made minis.

There was still a bit of trepidation involved. I am a fan of smooth cheesecakes. I don't like the oddly dry texture of ricotta cheesecake, and I have never liked the old Baltimore favorite smearcase, which was commonly made with cottage cheese. So I popped the Muuna into the mini prep and gave it a whirl.

The result was an incredibly smooth cream, the texture of my favorite Australian-style yogurt. I added cream cheese, pumpkin, and spices, poured the mixture into graham cracker crusts, and popped them in the oven.

They were incredible. Seriously. I like smooth-textured cheesecakes that aren't overly-cheesy. These little babies were perfect, IMHO. Very pumpkin-y, very smooth, not too dense or cheesy. One 4-inch cheesecake was the perfect size to split with Mr Minx.

I was so pleased with the results and the texture of the blended cottage cheese, I think I might try a version without using any cream cheese at all. Maybe even a smearcase-style cake. Maybe.

Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes for Two
I call for a mini prep to whiz the cottage cheese because it seems silly to dirty a big food processor with this ridiculously small amount of batter. If that's all you have, however, then use it. A blender would work, too. I find the Cuisinart Mini-Prep's 3-cup size is just perfect for small jobs like hummus and pesto, and it's small enough to leave on the counter at all times. Amazon has it for around $35, and I have more than gotten my money's worth.

For the crust:
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (I used crushed Teddy Grahams)
2 heaped tablespoons toasted unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), ground in a mini prep or with a mortar and pestle if you're old fashioned
Pinch brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted

For the filling:
1 (5.3 ounce) container of Muuna lowfat plain cottage cheese
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 egg

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the crust ingredients in a zip-top sandwich bag. Close the bag and squish the ingredients around until everything is coated with the butter. Dump the bag into two 4-inch springform pans and pat into an even layer, coming a little up the sides. Bake for 7 minutes, then remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the filling: Put the cottage cheese in the bowl of a mini-prep food processor and pulse until the cheese has been pureed. Add the pumpkin, sugar, spices, salt, and vanilla and blend well. Scrape mixture into a bowl and stir in the softened cream cheese, then beat in the egg until everything is well combined.

Pour filling into prepared pans and bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes, or until puffed and set. The middle might jiggle a wee bit but should not be liquidy. If it is, bake it for an additional 5 minutes. Cool cakes on a rack. When cool, loosen the edges with a knife before releasing the sides of the pan. Wrap and foil and refrigerate until cold.

Serve topped with whipped cream.

Serves 4

* 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 $ at no cost to you! Please buy!

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Friday, November 04, 2016

Jerk Chicken Cassoulet

There are some foods that I consider blank canvases: pizza, tacos, pasta. You have to admit, pretty much anything tastes good in those applications. Pulled pork and hmmm...smoked gouda...would work equally well on pizza, in tacos, or on pasta. At least I think so. I have come to think of cassoulet in much the same way. A classic French dish of white beans enriched with fatty garlic sausage and even fattier duck, cassoulet is seasoned with herbs like bay leaves and thyme. Thyme is also a main constituent of Jamaican jerk seasoning, commonly used on chicken. I've made cassoulet with Chinese sausage and black vinegar before, so why couldn't I make it with jerk seasoning and chicken?

I could and I did. It was a fine activity for a windy Sunday afternoon.

A friend brought us some fairly mild jerk seasoning as a souvenir from Jamaica. We'd been using it for a while so there wasn't much left, but definitely enough for this dish. You could use a spicier commercial seasoning or make your own. You could also add more than I call for. Since there's no real standard spice mix, and I used a non-commercial blend, it's one of those things that should be up to individual taste. My final dish didn't taste exactly like jerk chicken - it wasn't nearly hot enough - but it was really delicious. The beans with their savory, lightly sweet, and vinegary cooking liquid would have been lovely on their own, even without the crisp-skinned chicken. Maybe even without the sausage, although as a carnivore, I really liked the sausage part.

Jerk Chicken "Cassoulet"

2 leeks
2 stalks celery
Olive oil
1/2 pound cured garlic sausage (like Hickory Farms kielbasa), diced
Jerk seasoning
2 (15-oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Fresh thyme
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Hot sauce
Chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 325°.

Trim the ends off the leeks, cut a deep slit from top to bottom and rinse the inside layers very well to remove any sand. Cut leeks into quarters and slice thinly. Trim the celery stalks and dice. Cook leeks and celery in a large skillet with a small glug of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until wilted. Add the kielbasa and cook until it starts to render out a bit of fat, 3-4 minutes. Season with a couple teaspoons of jerk seasoning and remove from heat. Stir in the beans.

Pour the bean mixture into a 9x13-inch baking pan. Top with 6 sprigs of fresh thyme. Set aside while you cook the chicken.

Place the same pan that you cooked the leeks in over high heat. Add the chicken, skin side-down, and cover pan to prevent splattering. Cook until skin is browned, 3-4 minutes. Turn chicken and sprinkle chicken skin with a teaspoon or so of jerk seasoning. Cook until bottoms of thighs are browned. Using tongs, remove chicken and place on top of the bean mixture in the baking pan.

If there seems to be a lot of chicken fat in the frying pan, blot it up with paper towels, being careful to leave any bits of chicken that are adhering to the bottom. Turn the heat to high and add the chicken stock, scraping up those browned chicken bits with a wooden spoon. Add the dark brown sugar, vinegar, and hot sauce to taste. Season with a few teaspoons of jerk seasoning. The sauce should be piquant, spicy, and have a nice thyme/allspice flavor. Feel free to add more ground allspice and ginger if you feel the seasoning needs to be kicked up a bit. Remove liquid from heat and pour over the beans in the pan, trying not to soak the chicken skin.

Cover the pan with foil and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 1 hour. Remove foil, turn oven down to 300°F and cook for an additional hour, until beans have absorbed most of the liquid and chicken is very tender.

While the chicken is cooking, melt a pat of butter in a small skillet. Stir in half a cup or so of panko and cook over medium heat until the panko is coated with the butter and nicely crispy. Season with a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and spread on a plate to cool. When cool, stir in a few tablespoons of finely chopped parsley.

To serve, mound beans in a shallow bowl and top with a piece of chicken. Garnish with some of the panko/crumb mixture. Serves 4-6.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2016

No Kid Hungry Dinner at The Food Market

One in five children in this country struggles with hunger, including more than 247,560 Maryland children. Using proven, practical, solutions, No Kid Hungry is ending childhood hunger today by ensuring that kids start the day with a nutritious breakfast and families learn the skills they need to shop and cook on a budget. Already, No Kid Hungry and its partners have connected kids struggling with hunger with more than 460 million additional meals.

On November 14, 2016, Chad Gauss, father of three and owner and executive chef of The Food Market in Hampden, will host a No Kid Hungry Dinner presented by Citi. The multi-course dinner will benefit No Kid Hungry‘s work to end childhood hunger in America.

Event chair Amy Langrehr of Charm City Cook says, "School breakfast, summer meals, and nutrition education are three of the areas where No Kid Hungry programs focus to make sure kids get the nuttrion they need - all the time, not just at lunch at school. Chad felt that hosting a No Kid Hungry dinner was the next natural step" in supporting causes that matter to him.

The dinner will feature nationally renowned guest chefs Aja Cage (Gunther & Co.), Neill Howell (The Corner Pantry), Ben Lefenfeld (La Cuchara), Zack Mills (Wit & Wisdom), and Bryan Voltaggio (Aggio), all united for a cause: making sure all children in this country have the healthy food they need, every day.

The dinner will be preceded by a cocktail reception and will feature a live auction in which guests can bid on a variety of luxury culinary items. All proceeds from the event support No Kid Hungry’s work to end childhood hunger across the country and right here in Maryland.

All proceeds will go towards funding No Kid Hungry's work in Maryland. For ​event specifics and to purchase ticket​s​​, please go to ​NKH Baltimore.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Win a Copy of Maryland's Chesapeake!

Enter for the chance to win a copy of our latest book, Maryland's Chesapeake: How the Bay and Its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine! You just need to do a few things first.

Follow @minxeats on Instagram. Then come back here and let us know in a comment. For an extra chance at winning, follow @daminxy1 on Twitter as well. (If you don't use Instagram, then following us on Twitter will count. Just make sure you tell us that when you leave your comment.)

Contest ends November 11th, 2016. Winner will be announced by email, so make sure we can reach you that way.

Open to residents of the Continental US only.

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