Friday, April 28, 2017

Apropoe's in the Marriott Hotel

It's hard to believe that 15 years ago, there was precious little in Harbor East besides a few restaurants and the Marriott Hotel. The Minx and I would venture down there occasionally for dinner at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion or Charleston, but most of the area was parking lots and office buildings. It wasn't long, however, before the area was transformed into a destination spot for shopping and dining. And now with the towering edifices of the Legg Mason building and the Four Seasons Hotel. the Marriott seems tucked away like a cozy corner table in a large restaurant. One might forget that the hotel has an expansive, modern restaurant with an impressive view of the Harbor.

During Light City Baltimore, we were invited to the Marriott's restaurant, Appropoe's, to sample some of their cuisine and take in some of the flashy sights going on in the Harbor. We were more than happy to accept.

We decided to order four items that might represent a cross-section of the menu. From the appetizers section, we ordered the jumbo lump crab cake with corn relish, wilted spinach, micro sorrel greens, and tarragon aioli. You can also order two crab cakes as an entree, but this cake is quite large and filling unto itself. The cake is mildly seasoned, allowing the natural crab flavor to come through, while the tarragon aioli is a nice touch for the relish.

Burgers are always a go-to meal for people who might be dropping in after work for a cocktail and the Marriott burger is a solid choice. The patty is thick and luscious with crisp strips of smoked bacon, melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and red onion to round out the flavor and texture profile. Also, it's served on a proper hamburger bun rather than a brioche bun that usually dissolves in your hands, leaving you holding a pile of meat and condiments. Herb fries are a great side as well.

From the pizza options we chose the white crab pizza because...Baltimore. The crust is coated with a tasty pesto and topped with gooey fontina cheese, Old Bay seasoning, and giant chunks of crab. The crust is crispy around the edge and has a nice chew in the middle.

The Minx and I are quite fond of wedge salads and Apropoe's has one of the prettiest we've ever seen. A small head of baby iceberg lettuce is sliced in half and set side by side. Then blue cheese dressing is applied and equal stripes of Nueske's applewood smoked bacon, finely chopped egg, and chopped parsley are layered on top. We each devoured an entire half, savoring the perfectly caramelized, thick cut bacon. I could see myself ordering this salad every time I go to Apropoe's.

The day we went to Apropoe's had been rainy and cold. We had dragged ourselves into the restaurant, weighed down by the dreariness of the day. But the meal warmed our spirits with its diversity and heartiness. Stepping out into the chilly air, the Minx and I felt renewed. As we walked the promenade toward the Inner Harbor festivities, the gray clouds cleared away and we were greeted by a spectacular sunset. Funny how a good meal can turn your day around.

700 Aliceanna St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 895-1879

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Keystone Meats Celebrates National Beef Month with a Contest

The weather is warming up and most folks would probably rather spend time doing fun things with the family than cooking. So during the month of May, Keystone Meats will celebrate National Beef Month with the "Beef Up Family Time" recipe contest. Throughout the month, Keystone fans are invited to enter by submitting their favorite beef recipe on Facebook or online. All dishes must use Keystone Beef and take 30 minutes or less to make.

We've tried Keystone Beef before and were impressed with the quality and flavor. I never thought I would embrace canned meat, but hey, I like tuna salad and that's technically made with canned meat. We plan to enter and already have a couple of recipes in mind.

There are three contest categories (5 ingredients or less, family tradition, lighter meals) but only one winner. The prize? A year's worth of Keystone Meats.

Enter at or on Facebook at

The deadline is May 31st, 2017.

To learn more about Keystone Meats, visit or follow and vote on Facebook @KeystoneMeats.

* 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, April 24, 2017

B&O Brasserie Spring Menu

When Chef Scott Hines took over from his predecessor Mike Ransom, there was a bit of a transitional period in terms of the B&O Brasserie menu. With the new spring menu, Chef Hines has revamped the entire lineup. focusing on familiar favorites with sophisticated refinements and getting back to the true mission of a brasserie. To that end, you will find the burgers, steaks, and salads that you would expect in a brasserie alongside more adventurous items like sweetbreads and quail. Also, the daily specials--fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf--have a homey quality that should attract diners looking for comfort foods.

We were excited to get an opportunity to try out some of the new offerings.

Of course, we always have to start with an exotic cocktail from the wildly creative mixologist Brendon Dorr and his crew. Rabbit's Revenge, with flavors of gin, carrot, and beet, is reminiscent of a Bloody Mary, and would be lovely with a big fat shrimp or two perched on the rim. The Rook's Return is a refreshing cocktail using Ford's Gin; it reminded us of pickle brine with a floral aspect. That description might turn some people off, but it's actually delicious.

I certainly experienced a flash of nostalgia when I ate the salmon tartare. It reminded me a bit of the salmon mousse that my Aunt Kay always served for holiday parties. While salmon mousse is typically made with canned salmon, the tartare, a simple yet elevated dish, is made with fresh raw salmon mixed with tiger sauce (mayo and horseradish). The feather-weight, crispy salt and pepper crackers provide the perfect vehicle for the tartare. Even the Minx liked it and she is not a fan of raw salmon.

For some reason that escapes us, many people are turned off by sweetbreads. I think it's just the idea of eating the glands of an animal, but going on taste alone, they are tender and mild. (The Minx likes to think that the phrase "tastes like chicken" came about because of sweetbreads.) At the B&O, they are drizzled with a completely unexpected ancho and bourbon barbeque sauce with some straight-off-the-grill smokiness. The dish also has a scallion cornbread for a contrasting texture.

Chef Hines's sous chef Tyler Johnson once worked at Wolfgang Puck's Italian restaurant, so he has quite a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to Italian cooking. He has strong influence over the pastas and sauces at the B & O and his rich Sunday gravy is excellent. It has great depth of flavor, as if Grandma was cooking it all day, and is the perfect accompaniment to the tender beef, mortadella, and foie gras meatballs. Now it might seem odd to add fancy bologna and duck liver to meatballs, and I couldn't really taste them specifically. They're mostly there to add unctuousness. The Minx was all over this dish and would love to make it at home.

The lamb rib appetizer is braised in gin for a long time, and the constant reduction of the sauce coats them in a rich glaze that shines like glass. The apricot yogurt accompaniment cuts the meaty intensity with its fruity sweetness and the pea salad brings acidity and crunch.

The Minx loves carrots for some reason, so she was insistent about having the smoked carrot agnolotti with morels, onions, and peas in a simple butter sauce as her entree. This dish of tender pasta filled with a cream-enriched puree of mesquite-smoked carrots may be the vegetarian entree on the menu, but we carnivores found it immensely satisfying. The combination of smoke and mushrooms made up for the absence of meat. More restaurants should offer such well-thought-out meatless options.

As a pasta person, I really wanted to order this too, but we had to try as many dishes as we could so....

My entree was the crispy black sea bass in a spicy boullabaisse with potatoes and confit tomatoes. Crusty bread with rouille is a traditional accompaniment to a fish stew like this, and the B & O doesn't skimp with their coating of the garlicky sauce. Be careful with this; the flavors of garlic and saffron are pretty intense and can linger in your mouth for some time, so if you don't want so much rouille, feel free to scrape it off. As for the bass, it was perfectly cooked with a lovely crisp skin and silky smooth flesh, and the broth was spicy but mellow.

As if that wasn't enough food, we sampled three desserts.

The B&O Oreos, chocolate cookies sandwiching creamy marshmallow filling, are served two to an order. That would be plenty, but it also comes with a large bar of peanut butter mousse encased in chocolate along with several dots of creme anglaise on the plate. It's almost like one dessert to eat there (the mousse) and one dessert to take home (the cookies).

If not a trend, elevated versions of humble s'mores have become a frequent feature on many dessert menus. This particular version takes the unique approach of sandwiching toasted marshmallow flavored ice cream in between house-made graham crackers. A pool of chocolate sauce and some actual toasted marshmallow completes the flavor profile. The ice cream is really subtle, and I recommend that you try a few bites without the cracker to notice its toasty flavors.

Possibly our favorite dessert of the evening was the buttermilk pie with blackberry jam ice cream. The sweet lemony pie has the consistency of thick custard, and the blackberries provided a tangy counterpoint. The ice cream is served on a bed of feuilletine bits, which keep it from sliding all over the plate and also add a crisp texture.

It's a special treat to go to the B&O Brasserie because, while the food has evolved over time, it's always inventive and offers new taste sensations. I think Chef Hines is on an especially smart track with this new menu, blending the familiar with the exotic and evoking taste memories while creating new ones at the same time.

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

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Date, Walnut, & Nutmeg Cake

I am not a baker, although I love eating baked goods. I also love watching the Great British Baking Show and have really been enjoying the "Master Class" addendum series with Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood demonstrating their recipes. It's actually more fun for me to watch people baking than to do it myself. In fact, the thought of making something more complicated than a bundt cake or brownies is more than a bit intimidating. How those people--amateur, home bakers--can make such incredible fantasias with meringue and gum paste and multiple layers of cake and icing is incredible to me. Also time-consuming and potentially kitchen-messing.

Sometimes I do go into the kitchen to bake, and sometimes it goes well. Normally when I cook, I alter recipes like crazy, but I can't do that with baking. Baking is science, and therefore shouldn't be messed around with because it could end badly. So I rely on cookbooks most of the time. Like The Cardamom Trail, by former British Baking Show contestant Chetna Makan. Chetna was known for using unusual flavor combinations in her baked goods, which is one of the things that endeared her to me. But she also liked to bake straight-up British favorites, like Victoria sponge and lemon drizzle cake. The recipe I've included in this post is for a cake somewhat similar to sticky toffee pudding in that it uses dates as a main ingredient. There's also a sauce component, which I have omitted, that would make this dish even more like STP. (And I would have made it, had we double cream on hand.) Without it, this cake is somewhat like a quickbread in flavor and texture, and it is lovely with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a cup of coffee or tea.

Date, Walnut, & Nutmeg Cake (from The Cardamom Trail)
You need a kitchen scale for this one. Also, you can make your own self-raising flour by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a cup of flour. For this recipe, you'll need about 2 cups of flour. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and then measure out the 10 1/2 ounces.

4 1/2 ounces pitted dates, chopped
1 cup water
5 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
5 1/2 ounces light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
10 1/2 ounces self-raising flour
1 3/4 ounces walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan and set aside.

Bring dates and water to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add the baking soda and the flour and mix well. Fold in the dates and any leftover liquid, the walnuts, and the nutmeg.

Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes before unmolding cake. Allow to cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wit on the Water Patio Opening Party

On April 26th, join the party at Wit on the Water, Wit & Wisdom's patio. The season opening celebration will feature a new all-crab-themed menu, plus new frozen cocktails, local beers, and live music.

The party runs from 5pm - 8pm. Advance tickets are $35 ($45 at the door), including tax and gratuity, and include unlimited food and a welcome drink. Get your tickets via Eventbrite.

If the weather looks bad, the party will still go on, it'll just be moved to Wit & Wisdom's indoor lounge.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Meatballs a la Smitten Kitchen

The Minx has been a long time fan of Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen blog and recently purchased her cookbook aptly titled, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. She had bookmarked several recipes she wanted to play around with and one meatball recipe (or meatloaves as they are referred to in the book) sounded particularly interesting to me. Since I had a day during the week when I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner, Minxy suggested that I attempt this recipe. After all, she had already procured all the necessary ingredients on our last trip to the grocery store. I agreed and, in a break from my usual routine of using a recipe as merely a guide and coming up with my own riff on it, I was determined to cook the dish exactly as it was written in the cookbook.

Well, "best laid plans" and all that! It turned out, we didn't have precisely all the ingredients we needed. The glaze called for four tablespoons of tomato paste and the meatballs needed one tablespoon. I only had three tablespoons in the fridge and no spare can in the pantry. so I substituted two tablespoons of tomato paste and two tablespoons of ketchup in the glaze. Since ketchup already brings sugar and vinegar to the party, I reduced the honey and cider vinegar by half. Oh, actually, the honey in the pantry had solidified, so I replaced honey with agave syrup. The finished product turned out just fine.

Having successfully riffed my way around the glaze, I was totally prepared to make the meatballs exactly as described in the book. Trouble was, because of a peculiar layout choice in the book, three of the meatball ingredients were printed on the following page in a corner by the mashed potato recipe. I didn't notice them until after I had already assembled the balls. Since two of the ingredients were milk and eggs, I thought for sure the meatballs would be dry. Thankfully, they too turned out great.

All I had left to do was make the mashed potatoes. Whoops, I couldn't find buttermilk at the store, so that was out. Also, I thought Ms. Perelman's technique was overly fussy, so I just made mashed potatoes they way I normally do, but keeping the brown butter element since it sounded too delicious to pass up. The mash also turned out just fine, and the brown butter provided an added nuttiness that was quite wonderful.

So here it is: my intended-to-be-faithful-but-actually-not-so-faithful take on the Smitten Kitchen's Meatloaves and Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes.

Tomato-Glazed Meatballs with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes (adapted from Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon table salt

To make glaze: Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Whisk constantly while bringing to a simmer over medium heat.The glaze should come together in a couple minutes. Put it aside for later.

2 slices sandwich bread
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
olive oil, for cooking
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

To make meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whiz the bread in the food processor until it becomes crumbs and set aside. Roughly chop the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot before adding to the food processor. Pulse it until the vegetables become a finely chopped pulp.

Pour a little olive oil into a skillet and heat for a minute over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add the vegetable mix. Add salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently. When the mixture starts to brown, take off the heat and add to a large bowl with the breadcrumbs.

Add the remaining ingredients to the veg and breadcrumbs and mix the ingredients together with your hands. Once everything is incorporated, form twelve similar-sized meatballs. Arrange them in a baking dish, making sure they are evenly separated. Coat each meatball with a thin layer of the glaze. Place in the oven and bake until thoroughly cooked, about 20 minutes (160 to 165 internal temperature).

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

To brown butter: Melt the butter in a pot over medium-low heat. Stir regularly and keep a close eye on it. Once the milk solids have cooked away and the butter is a clear golden color, the butter will start to brown and take on a nutty aroma. As soon as it starts to brown, take it off the heat so it will not burn. Put aside for later.

To make the mashed potatoes: Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a medium saucepan and cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat so that it maintains a steady boil without boiling over. Cook the potatoes until they feel tender with a fork, about 15 minutes.

Drain the water. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add the browned butter and milk and incorporate with the potatoes until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve: Place a layer of the mashed potatoes on the plate and set two meatballs on top. Drizzle the meatballs with some of the leftover glaze.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Gazpacho

I've been buying Muuna Cottage Cheese ever since I tried it last year. It makes a good quick snack that's a bit different from yogurt, but, like yogurt, it can be used for more than a grab-and-go meal.

I've been playing with different ways to use Muuna; the cheesecake recipe linked above is a no-brainer, but I thought why not use it in place of yogurt or heavy cream? For instance, in a dish that calls for a creamy element, but not the tang of yogurt. Heavy cream might seem like the answer there, but that stuff has 411 calories per half cup, with 2g of protein. Classic Plain Muuna has 110 calories per half cup and 14g of protein. If you smooth out the curds in a food processor (I like to use a mini-prep for this) Muuna falls somewhere between yogurt and cream in thickness, making it ideal for use in soups or pasta sauces.

My favorite warm-weather food is gazpacho, and while there are days still cool enough to deal with putting the oven on, I like to make it with roasted vegetables. In this recipe, I've roasted peppers and tomatoes plus onion for extra flavor. Muuna adds a lovely creaminess, but also protein, making this soup nice for lunch or a light supper with some crusty bread.

I'm in Baltimore, and I've found my Muuna pretty much everywhere I regularly shop: Giant; Safeway; Shoppers; Weis Market. If you're elsewhere, check out the store locator on their site.

Creamy Roasted Vegetable Gazpacho
If you're not into the whole idea of putting on the oven to make this lovely chilled soup, then by all means, do cheat with a can of fire-roasted tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers. Omit the onion, and use the jalapeno and garlic raw. The soup will be just as delicious.

2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
1 red onion, cut into thick slices, rings separated
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, cut in half and seeded
2 cloves garlic, skins on
1 1/2 pounds cherry or grape tomatoes
Olive oil
3/4 cup Muuna Cottage Cheese classic plain 4%
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco to taste
Pinch smoked paprika
Diced cucumber and tomato, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil.

Place the peppers, onion, and jalapeno on one baking sheet and the garlic and tomatoes on the other. Drizzle all veg with olive oil and salt and toss with your hands until everything is coated.

Roast for 40 minutes until soft and blackened in areas, turning pieces once halfway through. Remove from the oven and allow to come to room temperature.

Slip off the garlic skins. Place the roasted veg in the jar of a blender and puree. Add the cottage cheese, cucumber, and vinegar and puree until smooth. Season with smoked paprika, pepper, Tabasco, and salt to taste. If soup seems too thick, add a little water or some extra virgin olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to meld.

Serve in cups or bowls, garnished with a little of the cucumber and tomato dice.

Serves 4-6

* 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, April 10, 2017

Blood Orange Chicken

As we've already established, northern Baltimore County isn't exactly the best place for Chinese food. Area restaurants are pretty mediocre, so when we have a craving for kung pao and aren't prepared to drive across town (or to another county), we make it at home.

The cookbooks of Fuchsia Dunlop are a real inspiration and we can't recommend them enough. Not only are the recipes great, particularly in Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, but the backstory for every recipe is fascinating. After reading all of her books, we sort of have an idea of what Chinese ingredients to keep on hand at all times. Two of those are Chinkiang black vinegar and doubanjian, which I employed in this tangy and sweet orange sauce for chicken. You could use it on pork or beef as well.

If you like your sauce a bit sweeter, use more brown sugar. If you like it hotter, use more doubanjiang. You can, of course, use plain rice vinegar in place of the Chinkiang, but you'll be missing out on the lovely caramelized flavor that black vinegar provides. The same for the doubanjian--sriracha will work, but it doesn't have the same mellow heat. It's also more acid-y than the broad bean paste, so you may want to cut back on the lemon juice or vinegar. A good rule of thumb to use when cooking: taste everything at every stage.

Blood Orange Sauce
This makes enough sauce for 3-4 boneless, skinless thighs or 2 boneless breasts. You can also use it as a glaze for chicken wings. In that case, omit the cornstarch and, depending on the number of wings you make, you may wish to also double the recipe. (Minxeats baked wings recipe here.)

2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Vegetable oil
Juice of half a lemon
Zest and juice of 1 blood orange (can use regular orange)
3 teaspoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon spicy broad bean paste (doubanjiang)
3 tablespoons brown sugar

Saute the shallots and onion in a few teaspoons of oil and a pinch of salt until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Cook chicken to your liking - baked, poached, stir-fried, etc. If they're not already in one, put chicken pieces in a saute pan. Pour over the orange sauce and bring to a boil. If sauce needs thickening, make a slurry with a few teaspoons of cornstarch and twice as much water in a small bowl. Drizzle some of the slurry into the sauce and stir. If not thick enough, add more. Toss the chicken pieces in the sauce to completely coat them, regulating the heat so the sauce doesn't boil away in the process.

Serve with rice and a green veg like sugar snap peas, snow peas, or broccoli.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Tea Cake

Right after Christmas I purchased a holiday tea sampler from my favorite tea purveyor, David's Tea. It's a Canadian company with a handful of outlets in the US; I hit up the Bleecker Street branch just about every time I'm in NY. It used to be that I blew all my money on perfume when I went to NY, now it's tea. I order from their web site on occasion, but only when I need enough to qualify for free shipping ($50 minimum purchase)--not very often. But after the holidays, they had so much good stuff on sale for half off, I couldn't resist buying everything. One of those things was a star-shaped box with wee 3-tablespoon tins of several of their holiday teas. I figure that while I would drink some of them, others I would use to flavor ice cream (you know I love making ice cream with tea). And one weekend afternoon, when I had some rare free time, I decided to use one in a cake.

After sniffing all of the tins three times, I settled on "Coffee Cake." The web site description reads thusly: "There’s nothing more nostalgic than a classic coffee cake. Just picture it. That dense, yellow cake, dotted with fruit and topped with crumbled brown sugar." The list of ingredients includes pineapple, cranberries, and cherry juice. Huh? I suppose Canadian coffee cake is a bit different than the version I grew up eating. I don't recall any fruit in my cakes. And while the tin of tea did have what appeared to be a tiny piece of dried pineapple, it did not smell fruity at all. More maple-y, I would say (and Mr Minx concurs). In any case, it smelled lovely and it tastes great in this cake, too.

It would be quite the coincidence if you had the same tea at home, so use whatever tea you like. Something with warm spices, like a chai, would be lovely, I think. Earl Grey would work as well, or something with hints of chocolate or berries.

The glaze is optional. A dusting of powdered sugar would be just fine.

Tea Cake

2 tablespoons of your favorite loose tea, divided use
1/2 cup whole milk, plus additional for glaze
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar
Cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a standard bundt pan and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon of the tea to the milk in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with plastic and nuke at high power 30 seconds at a time until the milk is boiling, 1 minute to 1 1/2 minutes. Set aside to steep. After about 10 minutes, strain out the tea leaves and reserve.

Grind the remaining tablespoon of tea to a fine powder in a coffee grinder. Set aside.

With a stand mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and the ground tea until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream, beating until well blended. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the tea infused milk. Stir in the vanilla and, if desired, some of the tea leaves left over from soaking the milk.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs.

Make a glaze with 4 tablespoons or so of powdered sugar, and 1 tablespoon or so of cocoa. Dribble in enough milk and stir to make a thick but pourable glaze. Drizzle over cooled cake and allow to set before cutting.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Local Easter Celebrations

If you're not up to cooking on Easter, there are plenty of Baltimore-area restaurants that are willing to do it for you.

Cinnamon Tree Restaurant at the Hunt Valley Inn is offering an Easter Champagne Brunch including Fresh Maryland Crab Claws on Ice with Lemon, and Pan Seared Filet of Sole with Mornay Sauce. An Herb Roasted Prime Rib and Roast Pork Loin station with side dishes "provides the comfort of a home cooked meal for the family." For dessert, try their specialty Cinnamon Tree Cinnamon Rolls or Easter Cookies.  (Adults: $35.95 / Children under 8: $16.95)

Citron at Quarry Lake is offering both brunch and supper on Easter Sunday. Brunch runs from 12-3pm, supper from noon to close.

Cosima is offering a one-off a la carte Easter brunch, from 10am - 2pm.

The Turn House in Columbia is having a brunch buffet from 10 - 3, including lamb and ham carving stations, oyster bar, plus all of your breakfast/brunch faves. ($45 adults, $20 children 12 and younger.)

Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons Baltimore is offering breakfast, brunch, and dinner on Easter Sunday. Breakfast will run from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Brunch starts at 9 and runs until 3pm. There will be live music, a carving station, make-your-own omelets, a sweet & savory crepe station, roast-your-own s'mores, raw bar and a decorate your own Easter Egg cookies station for the kids.
($69 per person, $29 per child under 12. Bottomless Mimosas are also available for $14.)

An à la carte dinner menu will be available from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. as well as a full tavern menu from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

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Monday, April 03, 2017

Pen & Quill

Not all that long ago there weren't any good places to eat around the Charles Theater. (Before you start to argue, even the 80s doesn't seem all that long ago to me.) Once the theater expanded in the 90s, we got Tapas Teatro. Eventually Sofi's Crepes came along. And a couple of years ago the Cheapeake Restaurant re-opened to great fanfare after being closed for over two decades. And then it closed right back up again. Thankfully, Helmand Karzai, whose family owns Tapas Teatro, the Helmand, and b Bistro, came in to make the historic space really work. The new restaurant became Pen & Quill, after the original Chesapeake's cocktail bar. Helmand's wife Naomi became bar manager while her sister, Bella Kline, took over the kitchen as executive chef. These changes have made the northeast corner of Charles and Lanvale the place to be once again .

We were invited to partake of a media dinner to taste Chef Bella's food. Though young, she's got serious French technique and the creativity to pair it with unusual ingredients. Some of the items we tasted were on the winter menu, but there were also some dishes she was trying out for spring. No matter the season, all were enjoyable.

We started off in the lounge with three kinds of oysters on the half shell, accompanied by a charcuterie plate boasting a terrific house-made sausage of pork spiced merguez-style with cumin, coriander, and chiles. We continued our meal in the cute private dining room that would be perfect for a large family dinner or a small party.

The first course included house-made burrata, a mountain of mozzarella filled with mascarpone and cream. Marinated mushrooms cut the richness, and a thoughtful spoon of salt was included so diners could adjust seasoning to their liking. We thought it was perfect as is.

One of the dishes for spring is the hamachi crudo, a plate of clean flavors including radish, mango, serrano pepper, and avocado. The serrano and tuna are a match made in heaven, at least to The Minx's palate. This dish would be a refreshing choice for a warm day.

An example of Chef Kline's ability to mix classic technique with unusual ingredients is her dish of perfectly seared scallops accompanied by banana ketchup. While nobody in their right mind would put tomato ketchup anywhere near a scallop, the banana-forward sauce was only lightly sweet and added a nice taste of the tropics to this dish, which also boasted grilled scallions and a soy glaze. We also had a lovely dish of fried polenta with baba ganoush, fresh artichoke hearts, and marinated feta over baby greens. A salad yet not a salad, hearty but light, a dish sure to please most vegetarians.

Another vegetarian dish was the smoked beet reuben. It's is exactly what you would expect: the traditional elements of braised sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread, but with smoked beets replacing the usual corned beef. It sounds strange, but somehow it works quite well. The Minx was crazy about it.

The beef tartare was unctuous and very fresh-tasting, served with soft brioche toasts and a broken gribiche (traditionally, a gribiche is a mayo-based sauce reminiscent of a remoulade or tartar sauce, but with hard cooked egg in place of raw egg). The chef's "everything" spices brought a great deal of flavor to the plate as well.

A creamy take on a green gazpacho included "all the green vegetables" and was delightfully smooth and flavorful.

We also tried the parsley Parisian gnocchi--bright green pillows of parsley and Parmesan goodness topped with Serrano ham. The green soubise was rich and possessed a strong onion flavor, which was reinforced by the addition of smoked Vidalia onion.

As if we weren't already quite full, we were presented with a lamb and garlic pie filled with vegetables and topped with a savory pepper crust. In addition to the tender lamb, it was fun to decipher the selection of veg inside, which included Brussels sprouts and potatoes. I love this kind of rustic cooking and found this to be my favorite dish of the meal.

We were really impressed with Bella Kline's dishes and are happy that the old Chesapeake Restaurant building is finally being put to good use. The bar looks like a fun place to hang out, and the drinks list includes local brews, a careful selection of wines, and some creative cocktails. We only tried a gingery Pimm's cup, but would love to go back for more. We'd also like to try Bella's steamed buns and amazing-looking fried chicken sandwich.

Pen & Quill
1701 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 601-3588

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