Friday, March 31, 2017

Beanie Weenies

My life has been entirely too hectic recently. Besides my day job, my various writing jobs, a time-consuming gig as a book editor/designer, and media dinners, we've had to run back and forth to a local nursing facility to visit my Dad, who's been an in-patient for physical and occupational therapy. Normally I get to do quite a bit of cooking on the weekend, but recently I've had to resort to making things that were fast because time was short. One-pot meals are ideal.

One particular weekend, we had a relatively quick chicken dish that yielded a decent amount of leftovers. My suggestion of chicken pot pie with a puff pastry crust was met with a non-committal shrug from Mr Minx. I realized he doesn't particularly like pot pie (a sentiment I do not quite understand, as he likes both stew and pie) so switched gears. I found two cans of cannellini beans in the cupboard, and remembered that we still had a package of Hofmann German Brand Frankfurters in the freezer. Beans and Franks it was!

I recall that beans and franks was a favorite fast dinner in my house when I was a teenager. Mom would cook some onions, add two cans of Big John beans and sliced Esskay franks and we'd devour it with white bread (one of the few times we'd eat white bread untoasted). Big John beans are pretty sweet, but everyone in my family has a sweet tooth. Mr Minx does, too, but he's not a fan of sweet entrees. Keeping that in mind, I toned down the sweetness of the beans quite a bit. If you are a fan of sweeter beans, then by all means, add more brown sugar and/or ketchup. I think it's one of those recipes that's easily customizable--just add more or less of any of the ingredients to taste. Want spicy beans? Add more hot sauce. Want tangier beans? Add more vinegar and mustard. Hate marjoram--leave it out. (I only used it because I happened to have a bunch of fresh marjoram in the fridge left over from another dish.) Don't have sundried tomatoes? Use more tomato paste. No salami? Leave it out. You get the drift. In other words, the recipe below is a loose guideline.

Beanie Weenies

1 tablespoon bacon grease or olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh marjoram
2 tablespoons 'nduja or other salami, minced if hard salami
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, rehydrated in boiling water for 15 minutes, chopped
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste
Splash Worcestershire sauce
Pinch smoked paprika
1 cup chicken stock
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (use Navy beans if you prefer smaller beans)
4 hot dogs, sliced on the bias

Melt the bacon grease (if solid out of the fridge, like mine was) in a 3-quart saucepan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to turn golden, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the marjoram, 'nduja or salami, and tomatoes and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly, until the mixture is pasty. Add the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste, mustard, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and stock and bring to a boil. Add the beans and bring back to the boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer until beans are tender, 30-35 minutes. Add the sliced hot dogs and cook until warmed through.

Serve with buttered bread, 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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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Vodka Cocktails

We like to drink. In moderation. While Mr Minx is happy with a few sips of good scotch or bourbon on the rocks, I go for flavored liqueurs and cocktails, so our booze collection contains a little of this and a little of that and at least one or two bottles of vodka. So when I was asked if we wanted to taste two types of vodka that were being carried by Total Wine & Spirits, LEAF Organic Vodka and Khortytsa Platinum vodka, I said "of course!" The Total Wine on Joppa Road is our favorite liquor store, so we were happy to promote a product they will carry.

Khortytsa (hor-tee-tsa) is made in the Ukraine using local organic filters like schungite (a type of carbon used to purify water) and birch- and alder-tree charcoal. LEAF Vodka comes in two varieties, one made from Alaskan glacial water, and the other from Rocky Mountain mineral water. And yes, the vodkas do have their unique flavors, with the glacial version being a tad sweeter than the mineral water version. (Doing a vodka taste taste is perhaps a little too much fun.)

We don't drink vodka straight, so needed some cocktail ideas. We really like the Sparkling Mandarin, which is like a fancy Screwdriver. And we came up with our own recipe for the LEAF vodka based on ingredients we had on hand. That's one of the beauties of vodka, actually--it's neutral, so you can add it to just about anything you like to drink and get a tasty cocktail.

Right now, LEAF and Khortytsa are available at Total Wine & Spirits in California, Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, and Delaware. Eventually they should be available in Maryland, but in the meantime, local outposts of Total Wine have no shortage of other fine brands of just about any libation you can think of.

The Sparkling Mandarin

1.5 ounces Khortytsa Platinum
4 ounces Mandarin juice (two mandarins)
6 ounces Brut sparkling wine

Combine the vodka and juice in a tall glass and top with sparkling wine.

Makes 1 drink.

The Glacial Rose

2 strawberries
1 teaspoon sugar
1.5 oz Leaf Alaskan Glacial Vodka
3/4 ounce Art in the Age Rhubarb Tea liqueur
3/4 ounce grapefruit liqueur (like Combier Pamplemousse Rose)
6 ounces rosé wine

Hull one strawberry and muddle it in the bottom of a highball glass with the sugar. Add the liqueurs and wine, top wish a splash or two of grenadine. Cut a slit into the pointed end of the strawberry and fit it over the rim of the glass.

Makes 1 drink.

* 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, March 27, 2017

Shrimp Dip

I like to make dips, so much so that I think my next cookbook might be all about them. Why do I like them so much? Besides the obvious deliciousness factor, dips are versatile. Though some are specifically meant to be eaten at room temperature or cold, many can also be heated until bubbly and golden. Some can also be re-purposed as a sauce for pasta (like the corn dip in this pasta casserole) or a sandwich component (try crab dip on a hot dog). If the dip is hearty enough, it can be dinner (see: fondue).

When we received samples of Farmer's Pantry Cornbread Crisps, I determined that they needed a dip. Well, not really--they are perfectly delicious on their own. The jalapeno flavor is especially tasty, and it does indeed have a peppery kick. I found myself eating them by the handful even before the dip came out of the oven. By that time, I was getting full, so the dip became my dinner. (Mr Minx's too, even if he didn't eat half a bag of Crisps before dinnertime).

The dip is full of chunks of shrimp and artichokes, with lots of cheese and a few sliced almonds scattered on top for crunch. It's one of those things that would also work really great as a topping for chicken breast fillets or pasta, so consider that if you have any left over. And that's a big "if."

Shrimp and Artichoke Dip

1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 red bell pepper, chopped
Olive oil
Pinch salt
8 ounces of shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped into dime-sized pieces
2-3 teaspoons Chesapeake Bay-style seafood seasoning, like The Spice Lab Best of the Bay
4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan + more for topping
1 (14-oz) can artichoke heart quarters, drained, chopped, and blotted dry
Lemon juice
Sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Over medium-high heat, cook the onion and bell pepper in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until translucent. Stir in the shrimp and cook a few minutes until opaque. Stir in Bay seasoning to taste.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and mayo. Stir in the Swiss cheese, the 1/2 cup of Parm, the artichokes, and the shrimp mixture. Add lemon juice to taste.

Scrape the mixture into a round or square 8" baking dish, or into individual ramekins. Top with additional Parm and some of the sliced almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes until oozy and the cheese and almonds are browned.

Serve with Cornbread Crackers or sliced French bread.

* 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, March 24, 2017

Chicken in Milk

Years ago, when Mr Minx and I were regular Food Network watchers, we saw an episode of Jamie Oliver's show (The Naked Chef, I believe) in which he oven-braised a whole chicken in a pot of milk. Seemed a little weird, especially as he also added lemon peel, which curdled the milk. Jamie insisted the chicken was the best thing ever, so I filed the idea away in my head to make sometime in the future.

Flash forward a good 15 years when I stumble upon the recipe on the Internet. "Oh yeah," I think, "I was going to make this at some point." Better late than never is definitely true in this case.

I had to adapt the recipe somewhat. I don't have an oven-safe vessel that would comfortably hold a whole chicken, so I used the stovetop. Small chickens are nigh impossible to find in a regular supermarket, and if you know me, you'll know I'm not the kind of person who will go running around from store to store to find a perfect ingredient. Chicken thighs and chicken legs were more than good enough for the job, however, The recipe called for 10 cloves of garlic, skin-on, but my small bulb yielded 14 and I used all of them. I would, in the future, remove the skins, as they don't melt during cooking and are a little annoying to find in one's mouth.

The end result was pretty amazing. The chicken was meltingly tender, garlicky but not overwhelmingly so. The curds in the sauce were small and not entirely unappealing. Most of my liquid cooked away so I added a splash of milk at the end to create more sauce. I'd also, in the future, save some of the sage to chop up and sprinkle on at the end of cooking, for some fresh herbal flavor. This recipe will definitely go into my cooking rotation, as it was easy, used only one pot, and tasted great. Plus there's the possibility for variations: coconut milk and lime, perhaps, with makrut lime instead of sage; sub orange for the lemon; etc.

Chicken in Milk (adapted from a recipe by Jamie Oliver)

1 tablespoon butter
8-10 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and legs
Salt and Pepper
½ stick cinnamon
1 good handful fresh sage leaves
Zest of 2 lemons, cut into long strips with a vegetable peeler
10 -14 whole cloves of garlic, skins removed (about a whole small bulb)
2 cups whole milk + more

Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, which you have salted and peppered, skin-side down and cook until browned on both sides. (You'll need to do this in two batches.)

Remove the chicken to a plate and drain any liquid fat from the pan, leaving the sticky crusty bits behind. Add the chicken back to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down so the milk is just simmering and cook until chicken is falling-apart tender, about an hour, maybe a bit more. 90 minutes max. If you find that much of the liquid has boiled away, add half a cup or so additional milk toward the end of the cooking time, so you 'll have sauce.

Serve a few pieces of chicken per person with some of the juices spooned over, plus a green veg and some sort of starch to absorb the sauce. (I used quinoa.)

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Monday, March 20, 2017


I'm not into the whole idea that one simply eats to live, because I live to eat. That has made me an adventurous cook. While I love meatloaf and spaghetti and meatballs as much as the next person, I almost never cook them. (Besides, Neal does a much better job at both dishes than I do.) I prefer to make things that are a little more unusual than what one would expect a second generation Polish-American to make: octopus; egg foo yung; b'stilla; rasgulla.

Rasgulla is an Indian dessert, basically cheese balls cooked in a sweet syrup. I found the recipe in Chetna Makan's book The Cardamom Trail. Chetna was a contestant on the 2014 season of the Great British Bake-Off and an even more recent Christmas special. Trained as a fashion designer in Mumbai, she moved to the UK a decade or so ago where she honed her already keen talent for baking. She's known for incorporating exotic spices and international flavors into her bakes, and her creativity quickly made her my favorite contestant of the four seasons of the Bake-Off that I've seen so far. I purchased her book as a Christmas gift to myself but so far haven't made anything other than the rasgulla. Why? Because most of the recipes call for self-raising flour, and I've been too lazy to look up the conversion to regular AP flour. Plus, the house has been full of holiday baked goods and food show samples and there hasn't been room for one more pie or cake or cookie in our already oversized bellies. That said, I'm hoping to try something before it gets too warm to turn on the oven.

In the meantime, however, I did find time to make these cheese balls. No self-raising flour required, and they sounded pretty simple otherwise. They're rather unusual, in that the cheese becomes very firm and "squeaky" after cooking. I find them most pleasing when warm, but they can also be eaten at room temperature or chilled.

Rasgulla (adapted from The Cardamom Trail)

1-2 tablespoons lime juice
1 3/4 pints whole milk
Pinch saffron
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Mix 1 tablespoon of lime juice with 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron. Pour in the lime juice and stir well. Let stand for 5 minutes - the milk should curdle. If it hasn't curdled enough, add the other tablespoon of lime juice and wait a few more minutes until there's a definite separation of the curds and whey.

Place a layer of cheesecloth in a fine gauge strainer and place over a bowl. Carefully pour the curdled milk into the strainer, catching the curds in the cheesecloth and allowing the whey to drain into the bowl. Gather the ends of the cloth together and wring out as much liquid from the curds as you can. Drain the whey from the bowl, set the strainer back on top, and place the bundle of squeezed curds back in. Place a small plate on top and weight it down with a can or two to help press out any excess liquid. Allow to drain for 15 minutes.

In a wide pan, heat the sugar with three cups of water until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat.

Remove the curd from the cloth. Place it on a clean surface, sprinkle with the cornstarch, and knead with your palms for 10 minutes. It will go from crumbly to soft and smooth. Roll the dough into a fat log and cut into 20 pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball.

Once the balls are ready, bring the syrup to a boil and add the rosewater. Add the balls, then cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. The rasgulla will double in size and become spongy. Turn off the heat and keep the balls in the syrup until ready to serve.

Serve warm with or chilled with some of the syrup. Leftovers can be stored in the syrup in an airtight container for up to three days.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Most broccoli cheese soups I've had are as thick as paste and is about as tasty. The broccoli is often mushy and flatulent, well past the point of overcooked. And forget canned versions; I find them abominable.

Homemade soup, on the other hand, can be quite delicious. And no, you don't need a crock pot (not for anything in my book). Broccoli cheese soup is actually quite quick, especially if you don't roast the broccoli first. But why not? Roasting adds another layer of flavor, and it can be done while you're prepping the other veg.

There's also no need for a gloppy texture. Just don't use so much flour!

This soup is somewhat lean in that I didn't use whole milk or half and half, as some recipes call for. Much of the broth's flavor comes from bottled dry hard cider (but a light beer will also work) and chicken stock. It's roux-thickened, so there's not really any need for tons of dairy. And it doesn't need more than a cup and a half of cheese--it's not fondue, after all.

I think this soup is perfect on a cold winter day, especially like the snowy one we just had. In fact, this was dinner that very day, accompanied by hot buttered toast. It would also work well using a small head of cauliflower in place of the broccoli. Even a pound of button mushrooms, sliced and sauteed in butter, would make a good substitute for the broccoli-averse.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

2 heads broccoli
Olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup dry hard cider
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups 2% milk
4 shakes Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground nutmeg (1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon, or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (as much as you like)
Tabasco sauce
6 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Trim broccoli stems. Cut into small florets. Peel the stems and cut into chunks. Arrange in one layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, or until florets start to char a bit on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a soup pot or dutch oven, melt the butter and stir in the flour until a paste forms. Add the carrot, pepper, and onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until veg start to soften and everything smells good. Pour in the cider, stock, and milk and bring to a simmer. Season with the Worcestershire, nutmeg, pepper, a few shakes of hot sauce. Add the broccoli and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the broccoli is tender. Stir in the cheese until melted. Season with salt to taste.

Serves 4-6

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Paulie Gee's Hampden

Baltimore has never been known for its pizza. Starting in the 70s, many restaurants serving pizza used "fresh dough" that was trucked in from a factory, so crusts were uniformly flavorless and flabby across the board. Then the big chains like Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's came in. They put out complete crap, but since they can seem like the only choices, especially for delivered pizza, people eat them anyway. There are exceptions, of course. Matthew's, in Highlandtown, claims to be Baltimore's first pizzeria (since 1943), and they are a favorite of many. There's also Pizza John's in Essex and Squire's in Dundalk (my fave), both serving tasty pies for generations. But even with a couple of decent pizzas in town, Baltimore was never going to be New York, a city where even a cheap dollar slice can be manna.

Suddenly, in the 21st Century, Baltimore has good pizza. Even some great pizza. We even have New York pizza now. Ok, technically Paulie Gee's serves Neapolitan-style pizza, but founder Paul Giannone opened his first shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Baltimore outpost, owned by Maryland native Kelly Beckham (aka Pizzablogger), is the second franchise location outside of NY and a welcome addition to the foodie paradise that is the neighborhood of Hampden.

Paulie Gee's is all about the pizza. It's pretty much all they serve, apart from the three salads currently on the menu. We tried 'em all. Each salad features its own type of greens (spinach, baby arugula, or spring mix) with a handful of toppings and a vinaigrette. Nothing groundbreaking, but all tasty, and fine choices if diners need something green to fool themselves that they are eating healthily in a pizza joint.

Sherry Lee Lewis - spring mix, pecans, red onion, guanciale, cranberries, oloroso sherry vinaigrette.
The pizza is the real show here. We heard that the pizza crusts weren't quite perfect when the place first opened, at least not in the opinion of some of our foodie friends. Chalk that up to getting used to the ovens and all the vagaries involved in making pizza crust, from the yeast to the water to the fermenting times. Now, however, I think they have it down.

Currently the menu boasts some 34 pizzas, a baker's dozen of which are vegan. We took a vegan friend with us one afternoon to sample a couple pies. He chose the Lou Ferrigno with cashew ricotta, pecan pesto, and vegan sausage (all house-made) along with basil, grape tomatoes, and a dash of nutritional yeast. It was pretty, and the ricotta was admirably cheese-like. He seemed to think the sausage was realistically meaty, but I'm not fond of meat analogs in general.

We also had the In Ricotta da Vegan (I'm not sure if the names amuse me or make me sad) with vegan tomato sauce and more of that sausage stuff; dollops of cashew ricotta, baby arugula, and evoo are added after the pie emerges from the oven. Again, the vegan ricotta was pretty nice. Of course the real star of both pies was the crust, thin, lightly chewy, with a nice crackle and a ton of blistering.

Over two visits, Mr Minx and I tried four other pies, two with tomato sauce and two without. We ordered the Betty White, a white pie with mozz, parm, pecorino, garlic oil, and soppressata, but got the Barry White, instead which is meatless. Because our server didn't write our order down. (Why? Why? Something usually comes out wrong or not at all when people rely on their memories.)

Top: Lou Ferrigno. Left: In Ricotta de Vegan. Right: Barry White.
We also had Mo Cheeks (tomatoes, parm, pickled red onion, pecorino, guanciale)...

Mo Cheeks

...and Hot Child in the City (somewhat similar to Mo Cheeks, but the red onion isn't pickled, the guanciale is replaced with Italian sausage and rosemary, and there's a liberal dose of HOT chile oil).

Hot Child in the City
Also the Stinger Bell. Yes, they couldn't not have a fucking reference to The Wire, because, you know, that's all Baltimore is known for. At least they didn't top this white pizza with shell casings and smack. Instead, there's a clever combo of smoked mozz, basil, lemon slices, lemon bitters, and Mike's Hot Honey. Yes, it sounds totally wacky, but works well together. The lemon doesn't make the pie sour, and the honey doesn't make it sweet. Instead there's great balance with subtle smoke in the background.

Stinger Bell
Beckham, and Co. transformed the former Republican Club by exposing the brick and decorating the place with two domed pizza ovens and a ginormous stack of fire wood. The wooden chairs aren't particularly comfortable, but one doesn't linger over pizza. With those blazing ovens, they take a short time to make, and the thin crust means they get cold pretty fast. Best to eat and get out so the next pizza hungry patrons (and we are legion) can take their turn. There's also a full bar in the back with a growing list of wine, beer, booze, and cocktails (which are also available in the front).

We like Paulie Gee's a lot. The pizzas are very good, and it's a hell of a lot closer to us Towson residents than our other favorite pizza joint, Hersh's. Expect lots of pizza photos on our Instagram accounts (@minxeats and @neal.patterson).

Paulie Gee's Hampden
3535 Chestnut Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21211

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Friday, March 10, 2017


We visited Daniela's original location, a tiny storefront on 36th Street, when we were writing our first book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore. Today, they're in a much bigger space down the road, in one of those cute buildings with covered porches on the north side of the street. The menu has expanded, and they serve lunch and dinner 7 days a week. We had originally gone to Hampden to eat at another restaurant across the street, but at 5:15 it was already packed and unbelievably noisy. I was not willing to wait to eat potentially mediocre food with the din of clueless hipsters all around me, so we instead sought refuge in the quiet at Daniela.

I imagine Daniela can get fairly boisterous at times, too, when full, but the atmosphere was serene during our visit.

The menu is a real pastapalooza, with a few meat and fish dishes. Knowing that Daniela makes all the pasta in-house, however, made our decision to stick with starches an easy one. But first, the appetizers.

Mr Minx was intrigued by the sound of Italian crab soup, zuppa di granchio. It smelled absolutely amazing, rather like scampi, very garlicky and briny. It was absolutely nothing like the familiar Maryland-style crab, though delicious in its own way.

I had the zuppa di pomodoro, a rich creamy tomato soup that contained a ton of cheese. It was like eating a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup, only without the bread. I think it would make a great lunch on a chilly day.

We also got the fritto misto, not realizing it was going to be such an enormous portion. There were three fat shrimp, a pile of calamari, and several dozen tiny baby anchovies, all delicately coated and lightly fried. The only accompaniment was lemon, so the flavor of the fish was allowed to speak for itself.

I had the saffron fettuccine with shrimp and zucchini in a tomato vodka sauce. The pasta was quite rustic, about twice as thick as any fettuccine I've had before, and cooked until fairly soft. There were three of those big fat shrimp again, but also a plethora of tiny shrimp, some as big as my thumbnail, but others as small as my pinky nail (they must have been fun to shell). The zucchini was very thinly sliced and added a pretty hint of green to the dish. The flavors were very nice, lightly tomato-y, a touch of saffron, but I wish there had been a bit more texture.

Mr Minx's scialatielli al fruitti di mare was also on the soft side, the thick pasta ribbons flavored with Pecorino and parsley. There was a plethora of seafood in the dish, including clams, enormous mussels, and more of those teensy shrimp. The dish had a stronger flavor than mine, both of tomatoes and of seafood, again very pleasing. Just a bit soft.

We couldn't finish our entrees (that fritto misto did us in) but we had to try dessert. We had eaten Daniela's fabulous tiramisu before, the cappuccino flavor, so this time we had the strawberry version. The enormous portion was definitely big enough for two, but was light and fluffy and somehow not at all heavy. While I enjoyed everything we had, dessert was my favorite.

It's nice that Daniela has moved to a larger space, so more people can enjoy her Sardinian cuisine. The food was tasty, but service was a bit...casual. We stood around at the door for a long minute before anyone noticed we were there, and while dishes came out of the kitchen at a nice pace, none of the servers seemed in any hurry to refill our water or offer us a more wine (or remove our empty glasses). Portions are large and nicely priced, and our leftover pasta made a nice dinner when reheated on a busy evening a few days later.

Daniela Pasta & Pastries
824 W. 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211

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Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Cookies and Pudding

When I get food products to sample and review, I don't really like to talk about the product straight up because I feel like it reads too much like a commercial. And unless the Super Bowl is on, most people don't like commercials. What I prefer to do is concoct some sort of recipe with the product in question and then post that. I feel like I have accomplished something by developing a new recipe, and I can talk about the product, too. But sometimes the products do speak for themselves, especially when they're cookies. Good cookies, that is.

I had this grandiose idea of inventing some sort of new banana pudding, only not using bananas, and with a different flavor of pudding. The La Mere Poulard cookies I was sampling would be the base of the not-banana-pudding, the vanilla wafer replacement. Only they were so tasty, I didn't want to cover them up with other flavors. All three types of cookie I received--sables, shortbread, and caramel biscuits--are buttery and crispy and smell simply wonderful, particularly the caramel ones. Two or three with a cup of tea is a perfect midday pick-me-up.

The cookies come from France--Mont Saint-Michel, to be precise. The story is that Annette Poulard, the local baker's wife, opened an inn on Mont Saint-Michel in 1888. Tourists flocked there for Poulard's cooking and especially her butter biscuits, which she baked for more than 50 years. Today, they're available in the US at stores like Whole Foods (and on the Internet).

Although I no longer wanted to use the cookies in a recipe, I still wanted to make something to go with them. Since I had pudding stuck in my head, I went with it. This recipe is based on the classic Hershey's chocolate pudding recipe, and is so fast and easy I don't know why anyone would ever buy instant pudding. I added peanut butter and rum, just to be different. The result was rich and chocolaty, with a distinct peanut flavor. Eating it with a couple of crispy cookies (the ones in the top photo are the sables) adds a bit of extra texture. You could, if you'd like, crumble some cookies on top of the pudding and pretend you've invented a new dish. Or just skip the pudding and have some of the cookies with a cup of tea.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 cup 2% milk
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Splash dark rum
Handful dry roasted unsalted peanuts
Sea salt
La Mere Poulard cookies

Combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and kosher salt in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in the milk, first making a paste of the milk + dry ingredients, then adding the rest of the milk. Cook over medium high heat until it comes to a boil, stirring regularly. Boil for 1 minute, until thickened.

Turn off the heat and stir in the peanut butter and butter until combined. Add the vanilla and a healthy splash of dark rum (a few tablespoons worth) and stir until combined. If the mixture seems too thick while it's still warm, thin out with a few tablespoons of milk. Stir in the peanuts, leaving a few for garnish.

Store in the fridge in a covered container until ready to eat. If you're not a fan of pudding skin, then press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pudding.

Spoon into bowls and garnish with peanuts and a sprinkle of sea salt. Serve with cookies.

4-6 servings.

* 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, March 06, 2017

Hersh's - More than Pizza

After our very first trip to Hersh's, Mr Minx declared it to be his pizza holy grail. We had heard many terrific things about their pies, which turned out to be completely true. The crusts are perfect and the toppings creative and flavorful; the staff was lovely as well, which only makes things better.

But Hersh's is so much more than pizza, as we learned at a recent media event. On our prior visits to the south Baltimore restaurant, we had tasted some of their non-pizza offerings, but still ordered pizza, too. I mean, how could we not? As it turns out, one can have a fabulous meal there without eating anything that comes on a crust.

Among the things we tried that evening were a lusciously tender octopus dish with fried potatoes and 'nduja, broccolini served in a prosciutto broth with chopped marcona almonds, and this lovely "greens so hearty" salad.

There were also these super hot, double fried, chicken wings doused in a sauce of Calabrian peppers with a cooling yogurt drizzle....

...this crispy lamb breast with chevre polenta and lemony arugula....

...and a plate of house-made tagliolini with gulf shrimp, garlic, butter, more of those Calabrian chiles, and lemon/focaccia crumbs.

Of course there was pizza, the Fumo e Fuoco (front) with smoked mozz and fried eggplant, and the Kale and Pistachio topped with fontina, two of my favorite pies.

Everything was amazing. Everything. Good enough to cause me to lament the fact that Hersh's is a decent haul from our house in Towson, so we don't eat there as often as we'd like. If we lived in the neighborhood, we'd be there at least once a week, I'm sure.

It's clear they pay a lot of attention to detail at Hersh's, from the hand-made pasta to the layers of textures and flavors on every dish. Knowing this, we're definitely going to start ordering vegetable and pasta dishes on future visits. But we're never going to stop ordering the pizza, too.

1843 Light St.
Baltimore, MD 21230
(443) 438-4948

* 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, March 03, 2017

Spinach Pie

Every weekend I try to make one vegetarian dish. It's not that we eat a ton of meat, but it's always a good thing to eat more vegetables. This particular weekend was going to be Greek Week. I planned to do something with octopus (perhaps not a traditional Greek preparation) but the grocery store we went to that week didn't have large tentacles, only whole baby octopi. They did, however, have proper ingredients for spinach pie--filo, spinach, feta--which was my choice for the second night's dinner.

I'm pretty sure I've made spinach pie at least once in the past. I've definitely worked with filo before, and have definitely made baklava. But it had been a long, long time ago. I'm thinking 25 years. (I find it hard to believe I'm old enough to have been cooking for over 25 years, but alas, I am.) I'm not Greek, so I don't have a go-to recipe, which led me to poking around the Internet for one. Not that I had to poke very long. A Google search for "spinach pie" brought up one by Ina Garten that sounded easy enough, and I knew an Ina recipe would be reliably tasty. It called for 30 ounces of frozen spinach and only 6 sheets of pastry, 6 extra-large eggs, and 4 ounces of melted butter. Kinda crazy, I thought. Not enough pastry, too much spinach and butter, and the eggs are a weird size that I don't buy. So, I did what I always do and modified the recipe to work for me.

She also called for it to be baked in an 8-inch oven-proof saute pan. I can't imagine that amount of spinach fitting well in a small pan, so I used a square 8" baking pan instead. The sides are much higher than on a skillet, to contain all the goodies. (Yes, I dare to question the Barefoot Contessa!)

I used a bit less spinach, smaller eggs, and more filo. I also changed the proportion of cheese a bit, as I had more Parm than Feta in the house. (This is what happens when I find a recipe after I've been to the store and not vice versa.) I also used far less butter, only about 3 tablespoons. There's no way her six sheets of filo needed a whole damn stick! I also omitted the pine nuts and the bread crumbs.

The result was simply gorgeous, and it tasted fab. You really have to like spinach to enjoy this pie, and I do. It was really really good, and something I might try to make more often. Though filo is a little fussy, as it dries out really fast, the overall recipe is pretty simple. Definitely worth the effort.

Spinach Pie (adapted from Ina Garten)

2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 1-lb bags frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
6 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch red pepper flakes
Dash garlic powder
8 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6 ounces feta, crumbled
3 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 roll filo dough, defrosted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the onions in the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add the salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Place the spinach in a tea towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Put the spinach in a bowl and add the eggs, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, parm, and feta. Stir well to combine.

Butter a 8" square pan. Layer 6 sheets of filo dough on the bottom, folding or overlapping them so they fit, brushing each layer with melted butter. Put on another two layers of filo, allowing some of the dough to hang over the top of the pan. (This will create sides to keep the filling from bursting out.) Fill the pan with the spinach mixture, then fold over the filo ends. Top with another 4 layers of filo brushed with butter. Brush the top with melted butter.

Bake for about an hour. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving.

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