Friday, August 18, 2017

Flashback Friday - Black Bean Ragout

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on March 21, 2013.
I cook most weekends and sometimes I just don't feel like dealing with meat. Especially if everything we have in that department is frozen into a giant block in the freezer. That's when I turn to canned beans, which we usually seem to have in great quantities. My favorite is black beans, which I find to be very versatile. I've used them to make hummus, veggie burgers, and even beans and franks. This time, I was feeling especially lazy and decided on a simple ragout of beans and tomatoes, flavored with chipotle.

We had a huge jar of pickled red bell peppers in the fridge; I had bought them by mistake, thinking they were an unusually-reasonably-priced jar of regular roasted peppers. The sweet vinegar tang of the peppers worked perfectly with the beans and tomatoes, and I didn't really need to use very much other seasoning, apart from salt and pepper and a bit of smoked paprika to reinforce the smokiness of the chipotle.

I topped the ragout with poached eggs made with Kenji's technique, as seen in this video I posted the other day. They were pretty gorgeous, as evidenced by the photo above.

Black Bean Ragout

1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 canned chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced
1 15oz can chopped tomatoes and their juices
2 15oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup chopped pickled red bell pepper OR 1/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper OR 1/4 cup chopped fresh raw red bell pepper + 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar + 1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper

In a 2 quart saucepan, cook onion in olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until the onion is translucent and just beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, chipotle, tomatoes, beans, red bell pepper, and smoked paprika. Stir, raise heat and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover pot, and simmer until beans are very tender, about 45 minutes. If there seems to be too much liquid left, turn the heat up for a few minutes to allow it to evaporate. Smash mixture with a potato masher until it's a very chunky puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top each serving with a poached egg or two, or eat as a side dish. Makes a nice burrito filling, too.

Serves 4

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Farm to Chef 2017

If you've never attended a Farm to Chef competition, you're missing out on a good time. This year's event will be the 8th annual, and I can say from experience, the food gets better and better every time. Last year's contest was so dynamite, I had a hard time choosing a favorite dish.

Farm to Chef 2017 will be held on Monday, October 2, from 7:00pm - 9:30pm at the B & O Railroad Museum at 901 Pratt Street. Tickets can be purchased here. If you sign up by September 5, "early bird" tickets are $90.00 per person, after that, the cost goes up to $110.00. Attendees must be 21 years of age or older.

100% of funds raised by Farm to Chef goes to TasteWise Kids. TasteWise Kids, including their flagship program, Days of Taste, educates children about the relationship between food, farm, and the table, and the benefits of fresh foods. Last year's event had record attendance and raised well over $34,000!

If you need enticement, here are some images from 2016.

Chef's Expressions & One Straw Farm Pork Tortelloni filled with pork and ricotta topped with eggplant zalook and a frico chip  (WINNER Savory Dish Second Place AND People's Choice Best Dish First Place)

Copper Kitchen & Whistle Pig Hollow Toluca green chili chorizo, smoked egg, tomatillo salsa (WINNER Best Savory Dish First Place AND People's Choice Best Dish Second Place)

Elkridge Club & Prosperity Acres Smoked Goat Taco

Ida B's Table & Rettland Farm Pork Neck Osso Buco

Laurrapin & Third Way Farm Beet Dumpling

 Alma Cocina Latina & Three Springs Fruit Farm Watermelon Wagyu

Woodberry Kitchen & Grand View Farm Chicken Sausage Banh Mi

Alexandra's American Fusion & Prigel Family Creamery Sweet Pumpkin Lassi

The Charmery & Baltimore Orchard Project "Grow A Pear" - Brandy poached pear ice cream, pear bread pudding, pear-amel sauce (WINNER - Best Sweet Dish First Place AND Best Farm + Chef Pair)

The Corner Pantry & Cherry Glen Farm Banoffee Bar - goat cheese shortbread, banana cream, goat cheese caramel, caramelized banana, goat cheese tuile  (WINNER Best Sweet Dish - Second Place)

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Tomato Pie

I made the most beautiful tomato pie with bounty from our garden. So many tomatoes ripened at once, I had to do something that would use up more than one or two at a time. Pie seemed to be the answer.

I was prepared. I had refrigerated pie crusts, frozen puff pastry, and filo dough on hand. Using the refrigerated option seemed the easiest way to go, but that sort of crust would require blind baking, so the pie wouldn't turn out soggy. Invariably, when I blind bake a crust, it shrinks in the pan and is barely tall enough to hold the filling. I got clever this time and used a tart shell, which is already shorter than a standard pie pan. Rather than crimp the pastry or trim it while it was raw, I just let the excess dough overhang the top of the pan, which cut back on the shrinkage. I also don't have pie weights to prevent the crust bottom from puffing up. I had used rice for a while, but after several uses it started to smell bad so I threw it out. This time, I used a springform pan bottom wrapped in foil that fit perfectly within my pastry shell. It worked like a charm.

For the topping, I sliced my tomatoes and salted them and left them to drain on several thicknesses of paper towel. I also blotted them periodically to get off as much moisture as possible. While those were draining, I made a filling using various things I had on hand. Now, you won't be able to duplicate my filling exactly, but you can probably approximate it easily enough. I knew I wanted to use cheese, so I combined cream cheese and feta. I wanted a savory element, so I added a few spoonfuls of bacon jam (you can use finely crumbled cooked bacon and a bit of sauteed onion), and then for balance, some vinegar. But not actual vinegar. I have a bottle of Crafted Cocktails blackberry shrub in the fridge. It has a flavor somewhat like a very sweet balsamic vinegar, so I added a couple teaspoons to the filling for a touch of acidity. You can add balsamic, but start with a teaspoon and taste before adding more, as it's more tangy than the shrub.

Once the pie crust had cooked and cooled, I smeared it with the filling and topped it with the tomatoes. Into the oven it went for 35 minutes until the tomatoes had shriveled somewhat and the filling was bubbling. I let it cool completely before removing it from the tart pan and garnishing it with fresh basil.

It was delicious. And beautiful.

Tomato Pie

2 lbs tomatoes (I used a combination of Black Krim, Tie Dye, and Roma)
Salt
1 refrigerated pie crust
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese (or flavorful cheese of your choice)
2 heaping tablespoons bacon jam (or 1 tablespoon of crumbled bacon + 1 tablespoon caramelized onion)
2 teaspoons Crafted Cocktails Blackberry shrub (or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar)
Freshly ground pepper
Fresh basil for garnish

Slice tomatoes about 1/4" thick and place in one layer on a double thickness of paper towels. Salt liberally. Allow to drain for at least half an hour, blotting occasionally with more towels.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Fit the pie crust into a 10" tart shell with 1" sides and a removable bottom. Do not trim the crust, just allow it to hang loosely over the top of the pan. Prick crust all over with a fork. Line the crust with aluminum foil and weigh down with raw rice or beans, or pie weights if you have them. If you don't have any of the above, take a 9" springform pan bottom, cover with foil, and place within the crust. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust starts to turn golden. Remove the pie weights or pan bottom and foil and bake an additional 5-8 minutes. Remove pie shell from oven and cool on a rack. Once cool, use a knife to trim the excess crust flush with the top of the pan.

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, feta, bacon jam, and shrub. Stir well to combine and add freshly ground pepper to taste. Smear onto cooled crust and top with drained tomatoes.

Bake for 30-35 minutes,  until filling is bubbly and the tomatoes have shrunken a bit. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. Garnish with fresh basil, cut into wedges and serve.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Flashback Friday - Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on September 4, 2013.

The other day, I found that I hadn't made adequate plans for dinner so had to whip something up from ingredients on hand. There were two fried chicken thighs and some baby spinach in the fridge, but that's not enough for two people for dinner. At least, not these two people.

I poked around in the cupboard and found a bag of pearl couscous, which made me think of the chicken salad with pistachios and couscous at Donna's. Only we didn't have pistachios. No worries - any nuts will do, really. The combination of chicken, greens, pasta, and nuts is earthy and satisfying.

Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

2 leftover fried chicken thighs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
pinch crab spice (or salt and pepper)
1 cup pearl couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 cups mixed baby greens per person
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Remove the coating and skin from the chicken thighs and place it, skin side down, into a large skillet. Cover pan and cook over medium-high heat, turning skin pieces once or twice, until dark brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.

While the skin is crisping, remove the chicken meat from the bones and tear into shreds. Mix the mayo, mustard, honey, lemon zest, and crab spice in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pearl couscous and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and stir to coat the grains with oil. Set pan aside and allow couscous to cool.

Blend together the three tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon and maple syrup to make a vinaigrette. Toss the baby greens with the vinaigrette until the leaves are lightly coated.

For each serving: Place a bed of baby greens on a serving plate. Top with a mound of the couscous (you might have to stir it with a fork, first, to break up any clumps) and a mound of the chicken salad. Arranged sliced avocado around edge of salad. Garnish with the pecans and some of the crisp chicken skin.

Serves 2-4

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament 2017 Finale

After many weeks of competition, the ranks have been whittled down to two chefs who will battle it out on Sunday, August 13th, to become this year's champion. The finalists, Fabio Mura of Grille 620/River Hill Grill and Damon Hersh from the Inn at Brookeville Farms, are seasoned veterans, so this should be a great show for all who turn out to cheer them on.

Get your tickets at http://www.masondixonmasterchef.com/purchase-tickets/. The price for this special finale battle is $65 per person, which include all taxes, a wine tasting by Boordy Vineyards, passed hors d’oeuvres, the competition, dessert, and coffee. New this year, ALL Tickets for the competition are "Judging Experience" tickets, which allow all guests to taste each of the six courses the chef teams produce and be part of the voting to decide the winner. Believe me, being able to taste the chefs' dishes really adds to the experience.

The competition will be held at Points South Latin Kitchen in Fells Point. Doors open at 5:30, the action starts at 6pm. Hope to see you there!
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Monday, August 07, 2017

Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz

I've always had a fascination with Hawaii, probably because as a child I spent many hours watching Hawaii 5-0 with my grandmother. And while traveling to Hawaii still remains one of those bucket list items, I was excited to find out that a new Hawaiian restaurant called Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz had opened in Fallston. Oahu native Kaiman Chee, grand prize winner on Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen, is the chef/owner of this casual dining restaurant. Along with his partner, Fallston native Kosmas “Tommie” Koukoulis, Chef Chee is bringing the flavors of Hawaii to Maryland while sourcing his ingredients locally.

Recently, The Minx and I decked ourselves out in Hawaiian shirts and visited the restaurant to see what Hawaiian cuisine was all about.

Since poke (pronounced poe-kay) is becoming a trend in this part of the country, we started off with the poke boat, featuring four different styles of poke. Both the Queen Street Tuna and Walu Poke had bright, fresh flavors thanks to elements like lime, ginger, and avocado. The Minx does not like raw salmon, but she enjoyed the salt-cured Lomi Salmon, which was enhanced by the addition of tomato, scallion, onion, and "firecracker" aioli. The biggest surprise, however, was the deep fried tofu poke which uses tofu sourced from the Eastern Shore. The tofu is tossed in red pepper flakes and citrus shoyu before being battered and deep fried. Anyone who says they don't like tofu will be converted by this dish.

Since WWII, Spam has been beloved in Hawaii, and a sushi-like dish called musubi is a staple on the Islands. Uncle's Spam Musubi is teriyaki-marinated Spam wrapped in rice and nori, served atop a combination of kabayaki glaze and Uncle's secret sauce. Although I ate Spam regularly as a kid, I could not stand the saltiness as an adult. However, this Spam was surprisingly mild and the overall texture of the musubi was quite pleasant.

One of that evening's specials was a pineapple corn fritter, which was both unusual and delicious. The pineapple flavor was subtle, and somehow lent a bit of lightness to the fried dough ball.

Kalua pig is a Hawaiian preparation in which a whole pig is wrapped in ti or banana leaves and buried in the ground where it is slow cooked. To simulate this preparation, the restaurant invested in a special $17,000 oven that somewhat approximates the conditions of a traditional underground oven, or imu, producing moist, succulent pork. The Kalua Pig Lumpia appetizer mixes the smoke-braised pork with carrot and cabbage and stuffs it inside a spring roll wrapper before frying. The delicate, crunchy wrapper is the perfect vehicle for the sweet pork and veggie mix. There's additional sweet sauce on the side if you like it extra sweet, but we didn't find it necessary.

For our entrees, we thought we should try one of the mixed plates so that we could experience several menu items at once, and also select one of the sandwich offerings. We went with the Uncle's Mixed Plate which had Huli Huli Chicken, Shrimp Shack Skewer, and Beef Teriyaki, along with an Asian stir fry of mixed vegetables. We also added the Kalua Pork to the plate so we could try the meat on its own. Unlike the full entree version of the Huli Huli Chicken, which is a full half chicken, the sample on our plate was a shredded pile of flavorfully brined meat. The pork and beef were also boldly seasoned, and the grilled shrimp had that wonderful briny flavor that we love so much. It was a delight to sample each type of protein in a rotation and get a different bite with every forkful.

Macaroni salad is a big thing in Hawaii, so it is served family style, along with white rice, for the entrees. The macaroni salad was creamy and mild, and surprisingly not as sweet as typical picnic-style mac salad.

Sandwiched within a large King's Hawaiian sweet bread bun, the Chicken Katsu-wich features a crispy fried chicken breast topped with bacon lardons, baby swiss, and shredded cabbage. Firecracker aioli oozes from this spicy, unctuous sandwich that is at once exotic and familiar. The sweet potato fries were a great accompaniment, but you can get regular fries if you prefer.

Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz has a varied list of tempting Hawaiian-inspired desserts, but after all the food we had already eaten, we didn't think we could indulge any more. Tommie Koukoulis insisted that we at least partake of one of their lighter desserts, the Whipped Otai. Fresh mango, pineapple, and shaved coconut are mixed into a whipped coconut cream, then topped with crushed macadamia nuts and fresh mint. Light and refreshing, and very fragrant, it's a perfect dessert for a hot summer evening (or any time really).

Before we went to Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz, I wanted to find out what the word "grindz" meant. As I discovered, it simply means "good food." In that case, the restaurant certainly lives up to its name.

Uncle's Hawaiian Grindz
2315 Belair Rd Suite 2B
Fallston, MD 21047
(443) 966-3999

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Flashback Friday - Dumplings

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on April 10, 2013.

On one of the final episodes of that Food Network classic, "Worst Cooks in America," the worstcooktestants are tasked with making dumplings - Chinese siu mai and wontons and Japanese gyoza. As I was watching, I thought to myself, "if those mostly-incompetent people can make an edible dumpling, a mostly competent person like me can, too!" Honestly, they made it look very easy, right down to the little pleats on the gyoza.

Gyoza, or jaiozi, in Chinese, has been my family's favorite Chinese restaurant appetizer forever. No Chinese meal was complete without them. And they had to be fried. Potstickers, they're called. One can, of course, steam them, but my favorite part of the dumpling is the crisp bottom part of the wrapper. Mmm.

I recall making jaiozi with a friend some years ago, and it seemed like a huge production. She had made the filling in advance, so it was the dumpling-forming and cooking that were intimidating to me at the time. But now that I look back, vaguely remembering that she insisted on boiling them in a large pot of water before frying, I see that we made them incorrectly. Especially since many of them fell apart before they even made it to our mouths.

I think she was mostly paranoid about using raw ground pork in the filling, but she needn't have been.

A quick online search brought up myriad variations on that filling. Some used cabbage, some didn't. Some added shrimp. Bobby Flay's recipe (found in his Throwdown cookbook) called for hoisin, chile paste, 5-spice powder and allspice. No wonder he lost. I decided to go with a more simple combination of ingredients: ginger, garlic, cilantro, and green onions. I did borrow an ingredient from Chef Flay's dipping sauce: black vinegar. The result was interesting, but the slightly molasses-y flavor of the vinegar was a bit overpowering. Much better was a more traditional sauce made with soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and scallions. I've supplied the recipe for both; you may decide you like the vinegar sauce. Flay uses hoisin (and a thousand other ingredients) in his, in place of the sugar and soy, which may work better than my substitutions if you don't mind a thicker sauce.

In any case, dumpling making was much simpler than expected. The round wrappers are pre-made and sold in 12- or 16-oz packages at your neighborhood Asian grocer. If you can only find square won ton wrappers, you can cut them with a large round cookie cutter.

Potstickers

1.5 lb ground pork
1 T chopped scallions
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 t chopped garlic
1 t finely minced cilantro
salt
1 16-oz package round dumpling wrappers
oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine pork, scallions, ginger, garlic, and cilantro, plus a generous pinch of salt. You can taste for seasoning by cooking a bit of the meat in a little hot oil. Remember that the dipping sauces contain soy and will be salty, so don't overdo it.

Prepare your area for dumpling assembly: have a clean cookie sheet or two covered with parchment, a Silpat, or a clean tea towel nearby, plus a small ramekin of water, the bowl of filling, and a teaspoon.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place it into your left palm (right, if you're left-handed). Dip a finger in the water and use it to moisten the edge all the way around. Use the spoon to place a blob of meat into the center of the wrapper, then fold the wrapper into a semi-circle. If there's too much meat, take some out at this point. Pinch the middle edges of the dumpling together and then make a pleat to one side of the middle using only the side of the wrapper facing you. (In other words, the dumpling is pleated only on one face.) Add another pleat or two (if they fit) to that end, then repeat the pleats on the opposite end of center. Gently squeeze the edge of the wrapper to make sure it's closed and that there are no air bubbles, and place it on the cookie sheet. Repeat until all wrappers and/or meat are gone.

(For a visual aid to pleating dumplings, check out this video of Chef Anita Lo doing just that. Dumpling making starts at about the 2 minute mark. Before that time, she demonstrates making the dumpling wrappers themselves. She's a bit fancy; I found it easier to pinch the wrapper closed in the middle and make 2 or 3 pleats on either side.)

To cook dumplings: Add a tablespoon or so of neutral cooking oil to a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add a layer of dumplings. You can fill the pan, but don't crowd it; the dumplings should not overlap. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes, until the bottoms of the dumplings are a nice golden brown. If the pan seems to be getting too hot, turn the heat down a bit. Once the dumplings are brown - don't turn them! - add a quarter cup or so of water (more or less, depending on the size of your pan and number of dumplings). Cover the pan and cook until the water has evaporated. At this point, the dumplings should be shiny and somewhat translucent on the top (non-browned) side. If you're concerned about the pork being cooked, cut a dumpling in half and check. If they're not cooked, add a few tablespoons more water, cover the pan, and cook until additional water has evaporated.

Remove cooked dumplings to a plate and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce 1

3 T black vinegar
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T light soy
1 T light brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

Dipping Sauce 2

2 T light soy
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 T chopped scallions
1 t toasted sesame oil

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to make sure sugar dissolves. Allow to sit for 15 minutes or so for flavors to combine.

If you've made more dumplings than you can eat at one sitting, put the remaining dumplings, still on the cookie sheet, in the freezer for a few hours. When frozen solid, transfer to plastic bags and store in the freezer. When you cook them, you'll need to leave them on the heat for a bit longer.

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