Monday, January 30, 2017

Sweet and Spicy Wings

It's Super Bowl time again, and while I don't have any horses in this particular race, I will probably still watch the game just to cheer against the Patriots. And since the game is on at dinner time, I'm going to want to make something that can largely be prepped ahead of time and warmed up just before we want to eat. Chicken wings are a perfect example of such a dish.

I'm not a fan of deep-fat frying, so I prefer to bake my wings. It seems like many of the baked wing recipes online call for ridiculously short cooking times. I think 45 minutes is the longest I've seen, and even then, the wings come out somewhat flabby and not crisp enough for my liking. So I came up with another method.

Everyone knows that cooking french fries twice makes them extra crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Korean fried chicken is extra crisp because it, too, is fried twice. And my baked chicken wings are nice and crisp because, you guessed it, I bake them twice.

The first baking is done in a baking pan or casserole dish, to capture all of the fat that oozes out from under the skin. The second baking is done on a cookie sheet at a higher temperature to brown the wings and crisp the skin. It may take over an hour in total, but the two bakings can be done separately, with a rest in the fridge in between. That way, you can prep the wings in the morning, and then when you're getting hungry, you only need to preheat the oven and pop the wings back in for 20 minutes.

The result is so good, it's definitely worth the effort.

Also worth the effort is cutting whole wings into pieces yourself. Pre-cut drummettes and flats are about $2 more per pound than whole wings. However, unless you have a nice heavy chef's knife, separating the joints is a little difficult. I remember panting and puffing through my first batch of wings because I didn't have the proper tools. So I bought a small cleaver. The problem with a cleaver, however, is they can be quite dangerous for those of us unaccustomed to using them. It's not a good idea to hold the wing with your free hand while you're chopping down with that big blade because if you slip.... oops. Well, you probably didn't need that finger anyway.

I stretched each wing out on the cutting board, put my left hand well out of the way, and aimed for the joint with the cleaver in my right hand. Sometimes the cleaver cut cleanly, and sometimes I had to chop twice. In any case, it was much more quick and efficient than my wimpy chef's knife.

A few days before I made my wings, I got a box of goodies from The Spice Lab. This Florida-based woman-owned and family-run business offers everything from spices and exotic salts to condiments, kitchen tools, and loose teas. They even offer unusual items for mixologists, like pink salt shot glasses. One of the samples they sent was Caribbean Jerk seasoning, a chunky blend of chiles, allspice, and salt in one of those convenient twist-top grater bottles that keep the herbs whole until ready to use. As the mango pepper jelly I used for my base had a tropical touch, I knew jerk spices would work well even with the other Asian flavors in the sauce. It definitely added a little extra sumpin'-sumpin' as far as seasoning was concerned.

So if you're looking for something other than the usual nachos or sliders as a game-time snack (or dinner), give these wings a try. Of course, they're also tasty all year 'round.

Sweet and Spicy Chicken Wings

3-4 lbs whole chicken wings
The Spice Lab Caribbean Jerk seasoning
3/4 cup pepper jelly (I used Trappist Mango Pepper)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (I used Hung Foy brand)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch cayenne or to taste
Lime juice
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Carefully separate the wings into three pieces, drummette, flat, and tip. (I used a cleaver, but if you have a nice heavy chef's knife, that will also do.) Discard the tips or save in a plastic bag in the freezer until you get enough chicken bits to make stock.

Line two 9x13 baking pans with foil and arrange the chicken pieces in one layer, skin side-up. If you have more than will fit comfortably, use three pans. Bake for 25 minutes. Take pans out of the oven and, using tongs, move wings around to insure they're not sticking to the foil--but don't turn them. Give them a liberal sprinkling with the jerk seasoning and return pans to the oven to cook for an additional 25 minutes.

While chicken is baking, make the sauce.

Melt the pepper jelly in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the vinegar, fish sauce, sambal, garlic, ginger, and cayenne and bring to a boil. Turn down and let simmer for 3-4 minutes. Season with a bit of lime juice. Add butter and cook until melted, stirring regularly. Remove sauce from the heat and set aside.

Once the wings have spent their initial time in the oven, remove the pans and, using tongs, transfer them to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment. At this point they are done and only need browning. If you don't want to eat the wings just yet, cover the pan and place in the refrigerator. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400°F and return wings to oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until browned and crispy and warmed through.

Using tongs, remove the wings to a large bowl. Give the sauce a stir and pour over the wings. Toss wings to coat with sauce, then pile onto a plate. Sprinkle with more jerk seasoning, if desired.

Serve with celery sticks and creamy dressing of your choice.

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

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Friday, January 27, 2017

Apple Pie a la Mode

More ice cream! Yes, I do love playing with ice cream flavors, never having been a "plain vanilla" kind of girl. This one has all the flavors of apple pie a la mode: cooked apples; cinnamon; even chunks of buttery crust. There are a few more steps involved here than in some other ice cream recipes, but the result is well-worth the effort.

Apple Pie a La Mode Ice Cream

1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Rome apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
3 cinnamon sticks
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons softened cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 an all-ready pie crust, baked and cooled

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring regularly, until the apples have softened but are not mushy, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in a pinch of salt and a little lemon juice. Scrape into a container and refrigerate until cold.

Mix 2 tablespoons of the whole milk with the cornstarch to make a slurry. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese, salt, and cinnamon together until smooth.

Put the remaining milk and cream in a large saucepan with the cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and allow to steep for 1 hour.

Prepare a shallow ice bath: in a large bowl or baking pan, place an inch or two of cold water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Remove cinnamon sticks from the milk mixture and add the sugar and corn syrup to the pot. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn't boil over (stir when it starts to expand), remove from heat, and slowly whisk in the slurry. Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Blend a few tablespoons of hot milk mixture into the cream cheese to loosen it, then pour the cream cheese mixture into the pan of milk. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Whisk well until smooth. Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid and place the container into the ice bath until cool, ensuring that the water level doesn't come up as far as the lid. When the mixture seems mostly cool, refrigerate until completely cold.

Freeze ice cream according to manufacturers instructions. Once ice cream is mostly done, start adding the apple mixture a little at a time. When the ice cream is completely done, scoop some into a lidded storage container. Layer on some of the crust pieces. Continue to add layers of ice cream and crust to container until both are used up. Press a piece of wax paper onto the surface of the ice cream. Seal container and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Jimmy's Famous Seafood

It had been years and years since we had gone to Jimmy's Famous Seafood, so when my brother's company had their holiday party there, I was happy to attend.

Jimmy's menu is expansive, including all manner of starters including flatbreads, classics like crab dip and oysters Rockefeller, and even sushi. There are loads of seafood entrees, plus steaks, and good number of pasta dishes, too. What to order, what to order?

The four of us tried coconut shrimp, the fried crabby mac, fried calamari, and the baked crab imperial sushi roll.

Dad didn't share his coconut shrimp, so I'm going to assume they were good. The fried crabby mac came in ball form - four enormous ones on a puddle of "ecstasy" sauce. The mac was creamy and had a decent amount of crab, and the outsides were crisp enough to contain the molten goodness. It was definitely an app to share.

I was less-impressed with the crab imperial roll. Chunks of salmon were hidden within the rice and nori wrapper, and they seemed a bit overcooked.

The calamari, however, was pretty good, with a generous amount of tentacles. It's getting so it's hard to find *bad* calamari in this town anymore, which of course is a very good thing.

Three of us ended up with crab cakes. I ordered the duo of what the menu describes as "Baltimore's Best Crab Cakes" and "twin 8oz multiple award winning masterpieces." Every person in the area has a different idea of what constitutes "Baltimore's Best" crab cake, and I'm sure some think Jimmy's should get that title. I'm not one of them, but I'll admit that Jimmy's are tasty. Bonus points for offering them fried as well as broiled. I couldn't even finish one of them and happily took the remainder of my plate home in a doggy bag.

Points also for actually broiling their non-fried crab cakes until they have some color. I've had broiled crab cakes that didn't even appear cooked. It doesn't look at all appealing, and I don't understand why any place would do that.

The broiled cakes (in a 5 oz portion) came with Mr Minx's (and Minx Bro's) steak and cake dinner, alongside a 12 oz NY strip. The meat was perfectly seasoned and cooked to medium; leftovers were great on top of a salad the next day.

Dad had the bbq ribs, which came plated in a mound of individual, glossy, sticky, riblets. Despite saying he wasn't particularly hungry after the appetizer round, he couldn't stop eating them. "I'll just have one more," he said at least twice before giving up and taking the rest to go.

We can't pass up brussels sprouts, especially when they're served with bacon. Jimmy's had good flavor, but the texture was odd. They seemed to have been boiled at some point, rendering them a bit mushy in the middles. Cutting them in half and simply frying them would have been the way to go - would rather have a crunchy half-raw sprout than an overcooked one any day.

I also tried a steamed crab that one of the other party-goers had ordered. The seasoning mix was spot-on for my tastebuds: not too salty, not too hot, yet noticeable. Definitely have to keep Jimmy's in mind for future crab feasts.

We were very full after consuming so much food and passed on dessert. Jimmy's offers the usual over-rich suspects like cheesecake and creme brulee, but I would have liked to try the Smith Island cake if I had some room.

Jimmy's was definitely not perfect, but one can see why they've been around for so many years now. There's something to please pretty much everyone (except, perhaps, vegetarians).

Jimmy's Famous Seafood
6526 Holabird Ave
Baltimore, MD 21224
(410) 633-4040

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Maryland Dogs

Upstate New York's Hofmann Sausage Company has been around since 1879 but only started expanding their market in 2013. If you haven't heard of them yet, they're still working their way through the Maryland area. They have, however, partnered with University of Maryland Athletics to create a special "Maryland Dog." I didn't think their recipe was Maryland-centric at all (but should probably have cut them some slack since they're not local). In any case, they sent me vouchers for free hot dogs so I could develop my own Maryland Dog.

I found that Harris Teeter sells Hofmann products, but the one at Canton Crossing only had the German Brand Frankfurters. They are made with pork, beef, and veal, and are stuffed in a natural lamb casing. They are smooth-textured with a snappy bite and a nice mild flavor that was absolutely perfect to pair with crab. For what is Maryland cuisine without crab?

My first idea was to top a frank with cold crab dip and a little tomato for color. Mr Minx felt that corn needed to be an essential element in the topping as well, but I didn't want to muddle the crab dip with another ingredient. So we made a crab salad using both tomato and corn. The corn we charred a bit so the topping would have all the colors of the Maryland flag: gold, black, red, and white (from the mayo used to bind the ingredients). We used claw meat, because it has extra crabby flavor and is less expensive than lump, but if you're not on a budget, by all means use lump crab in both recipes.

The cold crab dip on Maryland Dog #1 warmed up nicely when it came in contact with the hot dog, and the creaminess was a nice foil to the snappy casing. The bit of tomato brightened the flavors and added a pop of color to the otherwise pink palette. Maryland Dog #2 was just as tasty but had a lot more texture. I'm not sure which I preferred, but I will say that I very much enjoyed the hot dog itself. We normally buy Nathan's or Hebrew National, both of which have strong garlic and spice flavors that would probably overpower the delicate flavors of crab. The Hofmann dog, however, was nice and mild, and worked beautifully.

Tailgate season may be over, at least here in Maryland, but baseball starts up in a little over 2 months! Time to make a batch of crab dip and put it on a hot dog.

Maryland Dog with Crab Dip

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoons full-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cocktail sauce
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
3 ounces crab meat, preferably claw
4 Hofmann German Brand Frankfurters
4 potato rolls
1 small tomato, seeded and diced

Stir together the first 9 ingredients (cream cheese through crab meat) until combined. Chill until ready to use.

Cook frankfurters in your favorite method (boiling, pan frying, microwaving). Place franks into buns. Top with dollops of the crab dip mixture and sprinkle on a row of tomato. Top with a sprinkle of Old Bay, if desired.

Serves 4.

Maryland Dog with Crab Salad

1 ear of corn, with husk and silk removed
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
Dash lemon juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 ounces crab meat, preferably claw
2 small or one large tomato, seeded and diced
4 Hofmann German Brand Frankfurters
4 potato rolls

Place the corn cob directly over a gas flame or on a grill, turning regularly, until charred in spots. If using a grill, move the corn over indirect heat to finish cooking for 5 minutes. If using a gas stove, microwave the corn for a few minutes until tender. Allow the corn to cool before cutting the kernels off the cob. Set aside.

Stir the Old Bay and lemon juice into the mayonnaise. Fold in the crab meat, the cooled corn, and half the tomato. Taste for seasoning and add a pinch of salt, if desired.

Cook frankfurters in your favorite method (boiling, pan frying, microwaving). Place franks into buns. Top with dollops of the crab salad mixture and sprinkle on a row of tomato. Top with a sprinkle of Old Bay, if desired.

* 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, January 16, 2017

Stuffed Flank Steak

I've been seeing stuffed flank steak recipes all over social media recently, so I decide to try it. Normally, I marinate flank steak in a combination of garlic, Worcestershire, tomato paste, and soy and broil it until crusty brown on both sides. It's tasty and quick. Why I decided to do something fancier is beyond me. For one thing, it's not particularly easy to butterfly a flank steak if you're not used to butchering meat. My steak was oddly shaped, too, which also caused problems. But I patched it up with other bits of the steak and it seemed to work fine in the end.

The filling is a umami bomb of sundried tomatoes and mushrooms. While it's really yummy as a steak filling, I'm going to use the leftovers as a pasta topping, where I think it will really shine.

Make sure to season your steak with salt and pepper on both sides before filling and rolling. And it's flank steak, so while it has a lot of flavor, it's not going to be super tender. Worth a try though.

I sauced my steak with melted goat cheese mixed with pesto. Yes, I did notice that the sauce broke because the pesto was a bit oily. It still tasted good. Next time, I think I'd make a white sauce first and add the cheese and pesto to it, rather than just melting the cheese and stirring in the basil paste.

Stuffed Flank Steak

1(1 1/2 - 1 3/4 lb) flank steak
Salt and pepper
2 ounces sundried tomatoes
Olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
4 ounces finely chopped button mushrooms
Half a red bell pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful fresh baby spinach

Place the sundried tomatoes in a bowl. Pour over a cup of boiling water and allow to sit until the tomatoes have softened. Drain tomatoes and chop finely.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil and the onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper. Season with a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until mushrooms give up their liquid and the dish is mostly dry, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomatoes and cook an additional minute or two. Remove vegetables to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Butterfly the steak like a book along long edge, cutting and spreading the meat until it's twice as wide as when you started. Unless you have a very sharp knife and have done this before, you'll probably cut some parts too thinly and make holes. Just cut a flap in the thicker part opposite the hole to make a patch. As long as the holes are covered with meat, no worries. Cover the meat with plastic wrap and pound to a uniform thickness of about 1/4".  Season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper.

Spread the cooled vegetable mixture evenly over the meat, from edge to edge. Top vegetables with a layer of spinach leaves. (If you have made holes, put the spinach down first to create a barrier.) Starting at one long end, roll the steak jelly-roll fashion and secure in several places with kitchen twine. Starting about one half inch from the edge, place a line of toothpicks spaced about an inch apart across the top of the meat roll. Wrap the meat in loosely in foil and refrigerate for at least one hour.

When ready to cook, cut the meat into slices between the toothpicks, which will give you inch-thick spirals of stuffed meat. Put another toothpick into the bottom of each spiral (across from the original toothpick) for security.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the meat 2-4 pieces at a time, depending on the size of your skillet. Don't crowd the meat, otherwise it will steam and not brown. Cook until crusty and brown on both sides, about 8 minutes.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Southern Provisions

Southern Provisions used to be Jokers n Thieves, with the lovely and talented Jesse Sandlin in the kitchen. I'm not sure what happened there, why JnT became a different restaurant with the same general theme. We had dinner there once, summer before last, and liked it quite a bit. The soft shell crab waffle sandwich was killer, and I fell in love with the Carolina gold rice porridge served with a slab of smoky brisket. In any case, Jesse is off doing other things and the nice space on the corner of O'Donnell and Potomac Streets is now called Southern Provisions.

We had a book signing down the street at 2910 on the Square (a fab gift shop that we highly recommend) in early December and moseyed over to Southern Provisions for dinner afterward. I had heard that they were offering the trendy Nashville hot chicken sandwiches, and wanted to give them a try.

We ordered a couple of beers and both the Nashville hot chicken sliders and something called "Ol’ Saint Nick Fritters" for appetizers. I did the ordering, and when I added the "Chop Salad," our waitress seemed inordinately confused. Apparently she thought the sliders were my entree. A bit of advice to wait staff: when a fat woman orders a lot of food, just write it down and bring it. Maybe ask if she wants it all at once or some as an app and some as an entree, but don't stare at her like she has three heads. She may be a food writer who just wants to taste everything. There are these things called "doggie bags" if she doesn't finish it all.

Mr Minx ordered the Brisket French Dip. The waitress didn't look at him funny.

Let's start with those sliders, shall we? Real Nashville hot chicken is marinated, fried, and sauced in an ass-kicking cayenne-based paste. It's red and it's hot. As a sandwich, the chicken is typically served on white bread with pickle chips.

Well, they got the pickle chip part right.

The chicken itself was fried, somewhat dry, breast meat. Neither the chicken nor the breading was particularly flavorful. And there was no discernible heat. The menu claims the chicken is dipped in something called Jim Beam Devil's Cut hot sauce, but perhaps, as in the making of a dry martini, a bottle of the sauce was merely waved over the chicken. Disappointing.

I ordered the "Ol’ Saint Nick Fritters" just because they sounded like a disaster. "Fresh mint, sage and ginger fritters served w/peppermint bark butter." Not only is the Oxford comma conspicuously absent, I couldn't get my mind around the peppermint bark butter. The waitress assured me that the dish was tasty. She also said the fritters were like hush puppies, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle--an apt description. Definitely crispy on the outside, the fritters were raw and gooey on the inside. The waitress whisked them away with apologies; a few minutes later, a manager brought us fresh ones that were cooked all the way through.

I slathered a hot ball with some of the pink butter and took a bite. Weird, but not awful. On their own, the fritters tasted a tad like stuffing. The butter was creamy and tasted like melted Hershey's white chocolate kisses, the ones with the bits of candy cane inside. It would have been fab spread on a slice of chocolate cake. Had there been no sage in the fritters, it would have worked with them, too. Otherwise, it was just weird. But far from inedible.

I imagine it was my mistake thinking that a "chop salad" was going to be a "chopped salad." A chopped salad is, well, chopped. That is, everything is cut into small pieces, including the lettuce. A sturdy lettuce like iceberg or romaine works best; their prominent rib actually offers something to chop. Southern Provisions' salad was just a salad. There was a mess of baby greens topped with milky blobs of what was listed as "house made" mozzarella, plus roasted beets and pecans. A shit ton of pecans. An entire pie worth of pecans. I'm not complaining - they were the best part of the salad. What wasn't the best part was the "warm bacon & onion vinaigrette" which was unbalanced, leaning too far toward sour. It was also watery, which may have meant the greens hadn't been dried well after washing. In any case, it was a bad salad and I regretted ordering it.

Neal's brisket French dip was meh. The "sautΓ©ed" onions were little more than steamed (and whomever chopped them needs to learn better knife skills). The brisket was tender and had a nice smoky flavor, but it was a little hard to taste with all the bread. The fries were good though, well-cooked and seasoned.

So. Completely meh. Maybe that's being generous. They did take the fritters off the tab, which was nice. I should have complained about the abysmal salad and lack of hot sauce on the chicken, too. We actually should have sent it all back. But what's bitchier - being a picky and complaining customer, and making the wait staff suffer when it's not their fault, or writing about it afterward?

Southern Provisions
3000 O'Donnell St
Baltimore MD 21224
410) 675-4029

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Drink up! 🍷🍸🍹

With the New Year comes some fun booze news....

Wit & Wisdom is offering wine tasting classes with Advanced-level Sommelier Julie Dalton. Classes last about 2 hours and are limited to 24 participants; snacks are provided by Chef Zack Mills. Tickets can be purchased at

Blind Tasting Basics: How to taste wine like the Pros!
Saturday, January 21, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Clarity, Brightness, Fruit Character, Intensity, Earth, Acid, Length, these words mean anything to you? If not, join Lead Sommelier Julie Dalton to learn the basics of how to properly taste wine. Light bites will be provided to complement the wines.

'Love is in the Air' Wines
Saturday, February 11, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. (A Perfect Valentine’s Day Weekend Date or present!)
We will taste through 6 wines that are perfect for that romantic date on Valentine's Day. Many of these wines have aromas and flavors evocative of aphrodisiac-like ingredients that will definitely set the mood for a very special evening! Light bites will be provided to complement the wines.

Island Wines!
Saturday, March 18, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
We've reached that time of year when spring is trying to push winter out of the way and the cold weather is making us crave the Islands. We'll bring the Islands to you with these wines. Light bites will be provided to complement the wines.


Down in South Baltimore, Hersh's Anti-Temperance Society (HATS) is in full swing on Monday Nights. Starting at 6:30pm, January through May, participants will learn about various boozy subjects, some led by bar boss Ali Dryer, and others by brewers, distillers, and winemakers. The first Monday of each month will be dedicated to beer. And a special $5 drink will be available to HATS attendees all evening at the bar. Here's a sample of upcoming events.

January 16: Staple Booze and Tools for your Home Bar

January 23: New Liberty Distillery, makers of such fine spirits as Melvale Rye & Brothership Irish American Whisky

January 30: Hot Boozy Cocktails

February 6: Maryland’s own Flying Dog Brewery

February 13: Manhattans, and Ways to Riff on Them

February 20: Lyon Distilling Company, makers of Maryland’s finest rums

February 27: New Orleans Cocktails… because there’s *so* much cocktail history in NOLA but also because Mardi Gras!

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Iron Rooster All Day (and All Evening)

The Iron Rooster in the Hunt Valley Towne Center is the newest link in the Maryland-based mini-chain (the others are in Annapolis and Canton). We haven't been to the other locations, but we've been hearing great things from people who have.

While Iron Rooster isn't a diner, they're all about the comfort food, and for many of us, that involves things like pancakes and scrambled eggs, not to mention biscuits and bacon. And scrapple. Who doesn't like breakfast all day? When we got an invite to a media dinner at Hunt Valley, we were more than happy to attend. Our mantra has been "yay for locally-owned restaurants in northern Baltimore County!" and we've enjoyed repeating it on a more-regular basis in recent months.

A few moments after arriving at the restaurant and finding our party, we were asked about drinks. Not having a drink menu handy we defaulted to ordering draft beers, but I would have liked to try the Sriracharita, a signature drink. Next time. Drinks in hand, we explored the buffet provided to our group--after taking photos, of course.

We tasted samples from the supper menu, including the Iron Head Steak Salad. I am a fan of grilled romaine; the smokiness brings another layer of interest to a salad already packed with flavor. The crispy fried leeks and garlic aioli led the tasty charge, followed by the bleu cheese. Slices of strip steak and nuggets of fried pork belly "croutons" provided meaty umami.

Iron Rooster's Fried Green Caprese is a very loose translation of the classic salad of ripe tomato, basil, and Mozzarella cheese. The tomatoes are fried and green, the cheese is queso fresco, and instead of tomato slices there's a roasted corn salsa. A sprightly poblano pepper sauce and a chipotle aioli add a bit of moisture and heat, but the tomatoes were good on their own.

We also tasted the house-made kettle chips, which were crisp and perfectly browned. They're an accompaniment to all of the non-burger sandwich items on the menu, and a nice alternative to fries. (Burgers do come with fries, which is the natural order of things.) The chips with accompanying aioli can also be ordered as a side dish.

The Crabby Mac is an indulgent blend of mac and cheese with crab and Old Bay; spinach and red peppers break up the richness. Good call on the veg, which can also allow diners to fool themselves into thinking they're eating something healthy.

We also tasted Iron Rooster's biscuits. Oh myyyyy, they were good. Fluffy, moist, rich yet light. Perfection. And even better with a schmear of spiced maple bourbon butter (which was good enough to eat with a spoon). The butter regularly comes with their pancakes, French toast, and Belgian waffles, so you can enjoy it even if you're not scarfing down a plate of biscuits. (But why wouldn't you order a plate of biscuits? They are SO GOOD.)

This is a condensed serving. A normal serving includes three pieces of boneless chicken breast
with one waffle and the black pepper pan gravy.
The final savory dish was buttermilk marinated fried chicken on cornmeal waffles with black pepper pan gravy and maple syrup. What can seem like an odd combination really makes sense here. The chicken is well-seasoned and crisp, and the waffle is tender but not soggy. The gravy and syrup bring it all together.

For dessert, we had Iron Rooster's famous pop tarts in both brown sugar and berry flavors. We tried one of each, and really enjoyed them. In fact, they probably stuck in Mr Minx's mind the most, as the next day he mused that he would like to have them on a regular basis. They're served plain at the restaurant, but we fancy media types were presented with the opportunity to gussy up our pastries with frosting and bacon-shaped sugar do-dads. But these tasty treats certainly don't need any such fussy toppings.

If you haven't been to any of the Iron Rooster locations for one reason or another and you live in northern Baltimore County, definitely try out the Hunt Valley outpost. Honestly, I've been thinking about those biscuits frequently in the three weeks since that media dinner, and now that the holiday hubbub is finally over, am planning to get back there on a regular basis. The menu is pretty big, and I'm looking forward to trying other things. But always getting the biscuits.

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Friday, January 06, 2017

Best of 2016, Part 2

Every year we compile a list of what we felt were the best dishes of the year, both at home and in restaurants. These are completely subjective, of course - it's what tasted most delicious to our palates. This week we feature the best of home cooking. They are in order of posting, starting, of course, with January.


The Chamomile Honey Tea Gelato I concocted early in the year started me off with a decent amount (ok, a ton) of ice cream experimentation. There are some other flavors further down the list.


I went on a weird dairy- , wheat-, and sugar-free diet in March. Mr Minx made this corn pasta and meatballs dish to satisfy his own spaghetti and meatball craving, but it was easily the tastiest thing I ate while on the diet. Gluten free pasta can be surprisingly good!


I put this one together with a few aging sweet potatoes that were begging to be eaten. I turned them into a harissa-spiced mash and served it with lamb meatballs and a yogurt sauce. The sweet and tart flavors plus a dose of herbs made for a well-rounded dish.


When it gets warm outside, I like to make chilled soups. Avocado makes a super silky puree, and works really well with sauteed shrimp and blue corn polenta croutons.


The purple cauliflower tacos I made last summer had a ton of fresh ingredients in them: cauli patties; Mexican street corn; pickled carrots; and a harissa yogurt. I knew they'd be tasty, but I was surprised at just how very yummy they were--and nobody missed the meat. Definitely a recipe to re-make in the future.

I had a lot of fun experimenting with maple syrup last year. The syrup came from Runamok, a company I discovered at the Fancy Food Show in NY. Their flavored syrups are quite unique, particularly the ones infused with Makrut Lime Leaf and with cardamom. I used the latter to flavor the pistachios in this ice cream made with fresh summer apricots.


September brought me a new ice cream cookbook with a new technique that I was dying to try. I concocted a key lime pie ice cream that was rich and luscious and maybe even better than a slice of the pie itself.


I'm a bit of a carrot freak, and I gotta say that these charred carrots with white bean black garlic aioli were pretty super.

Yes! More ice cream! This time cardamom carrot made with homemade carrot halwa, an Indian sweet.


I like messing with cassoulet, making versions that have the required components--beans, sausage, poultry--but decidedly non-traditional flavor combinations. This one had a vague Caribbean vibe, thanks to the jerk seasoning used on the chicken and beans.

This pumpkin cheesecake was a bit of an accident. I wanted to create a recipe for Muuna cottage cheese, and I only had one small cup of the plain. Mini cheesecakes was the answer. They were fluffy and moist, not too cheesy, just the way I like my cheesecake to be.

There were other delish dishes here and there through the year--Mr Minx's meatloaf, the pork loin we at on Christmas day, some terrific sugar cookies--but those posts haven't been written yet. Maybe they'll end up on next year's list. Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Baltimore Winter Restaurant Week 2017

This year, Baltimore Restaurant Week falls between January 13th and 22nd (with some restaurants extending it another week or through the end of the month). I know some people pooh-pooh the event and prefer to stay away from participating restaurants during that time, but I love it and think it's a valuable event. How else to get people out to eat when the weather is crappy and the days are short?

I have always used Restaurant Week as a way to try places that are out of my price range. And these days, there are more and more restaurants that fit that description. While it's fun to try a new restaurant and eat three courses at a bargain price, it's even more fun to go to someplace expensive and enjoy a great meal for little cash.

For instance, at Aggio, entrees average $28 and full-sized pasta dishes are $32. During Restaurant Week, one can enjoy an app, entree, and dessert for $35. Cosima's entrees average a bit higher at $30 (although they are very generously sized and can feed two easily if you order apps and/or a pizza as well) which makes the $35 Restaurant Week dinner price there a bargain. Even more upscale in the cost department is Magdalena, in the Ivy Hotel. Entrees there average over $38 and even dessert will set you back $13, so that reduced three-course price is an amazing introduction to their cuisine.

If you fall in love with one of the restaurants you visit during Restaurant Week, then it can become a regular in your dining rotation, or at least a place to keep in mind for special occasions. And if you don't like the restaurant, well, then you didn't make a huge investment.

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Monday, January 02, 2017

Best of 2016, Part 1

Every year we compile a list of what we felt were the best dishes of the year, both at home and in restaurants. These are completely subjective, of course - it's what tasted most delicious to our palates. First up: the best of restaurant dishes. They are in order of posting, starting, of course, with January.


This rockfish dish at Waterfront Kitchen came with a plethora of carrots, and I couldn't have been more pleased.


A dinner at the Food Market's Private Kitchen included these succulent lamb chops, which we were happy to eat with our fingers in order to get every morsel of meat from the bones.


I indulged in a rather extravagant multi-course Korean meal at Gaonnuri in NY early last year. My favorite course was the kalbi, or short ribs, easily the best I've ever eaten. The bibimbap was pretty delicious, too.

Mr Minx and I had a great meal at Seasons 52. We enjoyed every course, but I think the sea bass with black rice was my favorite. Honestly, it was hard to choose.


Another tasty sea bass dish was had at the Rusty Scupper during an introduction to their Spring menu. Mr Minx also had blue crab ravioli that hit the spot.


Lamb shoulder isn't the first thing one thinks about when one considers chiles rellenos, but Chef Mike Ransom's lamb-stuffed chile in an ancho bbq sauce was among the best dishes at a B & O American Brasserie dinner where everything was pretty wonderful.


We went to a media preview of Gnocco in the spring, and honestly, there wasn't a bad dish in the house. The agnolotti with goat cheese, chanterelles, and hazelnuts was probably my favorite, though.

I'd never think I'd include a kale dish in a "best of" post, but here it is. The kale chaat from Sneha Indian Cuisine is an odd hodgepodge of crispy fried kale and a sweet tamarind yogurt sauce, and it was both unusual (not a classic "chaat" dish at all) and delicious.


In September, Mr Minx wrote about the best pizza we had all year - the cape sante di pancetta at Cosima. Topped with smoked baby scallops, smoked mozzarella, basil, caramelized bacon, and tiny whole onions, the pizza was fabulously unusual and unusually fabulous. The whole meal was excellent, but we gotta go back for this pizza.


It's hard to pick our favorite dish at Points South Latin Kitchen. Everything was marvelous, including this slab of meltingly tender short rib braised in a sauce containing bittersweet chocolate. The pork belly chicharrones and the evening's duck special were also amazing. One of the top meals of 2016.


Is it weird to have a salad on the best of list? This one,.the Fall Harvest Salad at the newly remodeled Milton Inn had mixed greens, maple vinaigrette, roasted butternut squash, feta cheese, and pistachio nuts and totally hit all the right spots.

B&O American Brasserie has yet another new chef, this time it's Scott Hines, who had been their executive sous chef for a while prior to his promotion. We love Scott - he's a great chef and a good guy, and always willing to help us out with recipes. He contributed several to our latest book, Maryland's Chesapeake. He's come up with some delicious dishes for the B&O's dinner menu, among them is this house-made pappardelle with veal sugo and an unexpected orange and marjoram gremolata. Another dish we need to have more of before the season ends and it comes off the menu. His oxtail marmalade and lamb dishes are notable as well.


We were invited to Charles Levine's new restaurant at Quarry Lake, Citron, where we had a lovely meal. There were many high points, the highest of which may have been this lobster bisque. Redolent of shellfish broth and containing two butter-poached claws, it is last-meal-worthy.

That's it for 2016. Not a good year in many respects, but not bad at all when it comes to restaurant food. Still, we can hope that 2017 is even better!

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