Friday, October 20, 2017

Flashback Friday - Ma Po Tofu

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on November 9, 2012.

Mr. Minx here. It's been a while since I've reported on one of my weekday dinner adventures, so Ms. Minx thought this would be a good time for me to attempt a recipe she found in Fushia Dunlop's book, Land of Plenty. It's a Sichuan dish called ma po dou fu, or ma po tofu for us uncultured sorts. A spicy concoction using tofu and ground beef, the dish looked like it would fulfill our desires to have something healthy and flavorful. To add to the healthy nature of the dish, we replaced the ground beef with ground chicken.

At this point, I think it is important to bring up an issue that has daunted me since I started preparing our evening meals Monday through Friday. That issue is timing. Minxy takes the bus home from work, and the bus system is notoriously unreliable. Just when I get used to my beloved walking through the door at a certain time for several days in a row, she will unexpectedly be 15 minutes late. Although not necessarily a big deal in the vast scheme of things, it can be lethal for the taste and quality of a stir-fry or pasta dish. Therefore, I've taken to getting as much prep work done as possible before she arrives home, and then starting the final assembly after I've kissed her hello.

When I looked at the recipe for ma po tofu, it was clear there was a lot of quick sauteeing with the overall cooking time amounting to a scant 10 minutes or so. I decided to be clever and do all my chopping and measuring of ingredients first, and then wait to do the actual cooking. Setting about the prep work about a half hour before the expected cooking time, I ran into my first snag. The recipe called for leeks and, as anyone who's cooked leeks knows, they have to be thoroughly washed because they can often be filled with sand. Sometimes I get lucky and the leeks are pretty clean. This was not one of those times. I chopped the leeks into rings and soaked them in a bowl of cold water. Once the sand settled to the bottom of the bowl, I drained the water and washed them again. And again. And again. I had just started, and I was already falling behind.

I started assembling the other ingredients. The recipe called for fermented black beans. After scouring the pantry, I came up empty. Then I remembered that I had purchased a container of Korean fermented black bean paste a while back which I was going to use for some undetermined experimentation at a later date. This seemed like as good a time as any, so I guesstimated how much paste might equal the required quantity of black beans. Another crisis averted.

Next step was to cook the ground chicken. This is when I realized that I hadn't thoroughly defrosted the meat, which had lingered in the freezer waiting for some good use. I decided to start cooking the meat right away and hope for the best. The meat is supposed to be crisped up over a high flame, but a chicken popsicle doesn't exactly crisp up; it stews in its own moisture and becomes a crumbly soup. I tried not to panic. I figured I still had just enough time to cook it. Then I hear the Minx walk through the front door 15 minutes early.

Seeing that I was clearly in the weeds, she jumped in to help, but I could sense her disappointment in my lack of planning. Anyway, we forged ahead. Although the recipe is not exactly complicated, there are several steps, adding each ingredient separately and allowing them to cook for short, but specific amounts of time. Chili bean paste, black bean paste, ground chiles, tofu, and leeks are all added to the meat and cooked for short intervals. Fine if you know what you're doing, but a little crazy for me as I ran back and forth to the cookbook, fumbling with my reading glasses, trying to make sure each step was properly executed.

In the end, the ma po tofu turned out to be a wonderful dinner choice. The tofu, ground meat, and black beans provided sufficient heartiness, while the clean spiciness so prevalent in Sichuan cooking made it seem somehow light. I'm sure the use of ground beef would've given it a more savory flavor, but the ground chicken worked just fine for my palate, and I could feel better that is was less fatty. It's a dish I would like to attempt again when I have more time and properly thawed ground meat.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Spotlight On - B & O Brasserie

Not sure if anyone knows, but I've been writing a restaurant column for the City Walker App Blog. The purpose of the app itself is to give visitors a local's-eye-view of a city, so they are able to experience it in the same way residents do--on foot. (Not that anyone actually walks anywhere anymore.) The blog offers a bit more detail; I have endeavored to take users on a stroll through the city while pointing out restaurants along the way. In addition to the walking posts, I have been writing others that put certain favorite restaurants of mine in a spotlight. I thought I could share those here with you.

A high school project that required seeking out mythological iconography in architecture is what originally led me to the B & O Railroad Building in downtown Baltimore. This H-shaped Beaux Arts structure features a larger-than-life-sized figure of Mercury, Roman god of many things including commerce, communication, and travelers. He’s holding the caduceus, a short staff wrapped by two serpents and topped with a pair of wings. You’ve seen it before, as it’s commonly used as a symbol for healthcare. Except that’s wrong. The symbol of medicine is actually the Rod of Asclepius, a staff wrapped by a single snake, no wings. But considering the expense of health care in this country, perhaps the symbol of commerce is more apt these days, huh? But I digress. Mercury and his snakes are hanging out with an allegorical figure called Progress of Industry. Allegedly, there is a locomotive up there with them, but it looks to me like Prog is holding a double-dip ice cream cone. Mercury is definitely looking at the cone, as if thinking, “damn, why won’t he share with me?”

Look up at those figures and tell me I’m wrong. They’re still hovering above what is now the entranceway to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco at 2 North Charles Street.

Thus ends the architecture and mythology tour for the day.

To the right of the hotel entrance, up a few steps, is the doorway to the B & O American Brasserie, the hotel’s restaurant. But it’s not a typical hotel restaurant in that it’s really really great. (My apologies to hotel restaurants everywhere, but you know that some of you are, shall we say, meh.) Just beyond the front door is the restaurant bar, where you will find the cocktail stylings of multi-award-winning Head Bartender Brendan Dorr and his crew. Honestly, I’ve never been disappointed with any of the drinks Mr Dorr has invented, all complex masterpieces. I am a fan of niche (read: expensive) fragrances, and some of Brendan’s concoctions have reminded me of fine perfumes with their intricate combinations of flavors and scents. I love the Galavanter, made with rye, elderflower liqueur, and dry vermouth, and the Cardamom Daiquiri made with apricot-infused rum and cardamom bitters. Oh, there’s wine and beer too, of course, but the cocktails are too good to pass up.

Before you get too distracted by the drinks, take a look at the restaurant menu. The B & O serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and brunch on the weekends), but dinner is my favorite. The current Executive Chef is Scott Hines, who took over the kitchen when Michael Ransom went back home to Michigan to open his own restaurant, Ima, in Detroit. (I mention this because I feel Chef Ransom is one to watch.) Hines, like Ransom and the chefs before him, is wildly creative but without being weird. Case in point: he makes a gremolata out of marjoram and orange, rather than the usual parsley and lemon--a traditional accompaniment to osso buco, or braised veal shank. He puts this highly aromatic and somewhat offbeat condiment atop a dish of house-made pappardelle with slow-braised veal sugo and shaved Pecorino pepato. The dish--pappardelle with a tomato-and-meat sauce--is familiar and comforting, but it has the added zing of that rustic, peppery, cheese and the somewhat piney-oregano flavor of marjoram...and orange. Pow!

Another dish I really enjoyed recently was the oxtail marmalade. It’s like rillettes (cooked shredded meat preserved with fat and served as a spread for bread) meets bacon jam (bacon cooked down with brown sugar to a thick condiment for spreading on everything). It is beefy and unctuous, especially when eaten with a little of the bone marrow schmaltz that comes on the side (to mimic the fat topping of rillettes). A garnish of peppercress and pickled shallots adds touches of green and acidic flavors to offset the richness of the dish.

I now want to apologize, as I’m probably being a little mean by going into such detail. After all, the menu at the B & O changes a few times a year, and Chef Hines is likely working away on his Spring menu as I’m writing this. Rest assured, however, that it will be full of similar delights using ingredients of the season, and I cannot wait to taste everything on it.

As much as I love the B & O Brasserie, I do have one negative thing to say about it. However, it will not affect you, Dear Walker, because you are smart enough to be on foot. It’s this: if you linger more than a couple of hours at the restaurant or bar, the valet parking charge is enough to cause stomach (and wallet) upset. Better to park on the street somewhere nearby. Or, just walk.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Flashback Friday - Coconut Curd

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This post originally appeared on on October 17, 2012.

I love lemon curd. And lime curd. Especially if it's homemade. And it's so easy to make, there's really no excuse to buy ready made curd from the store (plus, the jarred stuff just isn't creamy/custardy enough). Basically, any fruit juice can be made into a curd (but I wouldn't try pineapple or papaya, in case their special enzymes do weird things to eggs), so why not coconut milk?

Turns out, it works beautifully. The result is like a jam version of coconut custard pie, terrific on everything from toast to oatmeal, but perfect eaten directly from a spoon.

Coconut Curd

4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup coconut milk (or one 5.5oz can)
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined. Place in a saucepan and stir in the coconut milk. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, about eight minutes. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, until each piece is completely absorbed.

Store in a covered jar. Eat within 2 weeks.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bacon Jam at Power Plant Live!

Baltimore-area Bacon lovers should love Bacon Jam, a festival featuring gourmet bacon and pork dishes from local vendors (like Clark Burger and Towson Hot Bagels) plus live music from regional jam bands. (See what they did there?)

Tickets range from $10 (admission to the event) to $60 (a VIP package that includes early admission, a BBQ buffet, unlimited Bacon Bloody Marys and mimosas from 12-1pm, a t-shirt, and vouchers for sampling two bacon dishes and two bacon cocktails), but if you use the promo code BACONJAM5, you can save $5! A portion of the proceeds benefits Volunteering Untapped, Power Plant Live's nonprofit partner.

Tickets for the November 11 event can be purchased via Ticketfly:

Check out the event page on Facebook, and the Power Plant Live! web site for more details.

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Monday, October 09, 2017

In Bloom

In November of 2012, Chef Kevin Perry and his wife Cecilia Benalcazar opened Liv2Eat to high praise from local foodies and restaurant critics, even winning the 2013 “Best New Restaurant” award from the Baltimore City Paper. In just a few short years, Perry and Benalcazar shuttered their restaurant....but only briefly. They opened a few weeks later, in August 2017, as In Bloom, a joint effort with new partners Chef Cyrus Keefer and Angela Keefer. Chefs Perry and Keefer had worked together at Sotto Sopra, a popular Italian restaurant north of downtown in an area known as Cathedral Hill. Keefer had been looking to open his own place for a few years now, and thought the partnership with Perry made sense for both of them. Though the adage “too many cooks spoil the soup” comes to mind, it certainly will not be true at In Bloom, where Keefer and Perry will essentially be cooking every meal themselves.

The restaurant itself got a bit of a face-lift--not that it especially needed it--in the form of fresh paint and new lights for the patio. I’ve always thought it was a pretty space, not fussy, with nice details like the inlaid pebbles on the bar and the aluminum chairs, both of which are still around.

When the restaurant was known as Liv2Eat, the menu was short and to the point. At In Bloom, it still has a welcome brevity, but incorporates more of a melting pot sensibility to go with its established seasonal focus. On a recent visit, the menu showed the influence of both chefs. Chef Perry’s fabulous risotto fritters, wee crispy clouds of creamy rice served with lemon chive creme fraiche and shavings of Parmesan, were a highlight of our meal.

We also tried the gem lettuce Caesar with caramelized lemon and toasted bits of torn bread. The dressing was presented on the bottom of the plate so diners can use as much or as little of it as they like.

The roasted bone marrow is a rich concoction involving frizzled mushrooms and artichokes and a slick of aioli. The accompanying toasts are not only for topping with marrow, but also for mopping up the luscious fat that has dribbled all over the plate.

Chef Keefer makes some of the most tender calamari you’ll ever eat, and we’ve enjoyed it at various of his other gigs. Currently at In Bloom, it’s served with Thai basil, chili, and pinenuts; doubtless that combo will change with the seasons. Both chefs’ enjoyment of rustic Italian food shows in dishes like the ultra-light potato gnocchi in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce with hazelnuts (inspired by a recent trip to Italy), and the eggplant caponata.

One thing that struck me about the food at In Bloom is that while some dishes definitely swing toward the fine dining end of the spectrum, other items, particularly among the entrees, seem far more casual. The bacon burger, made with local Roseda beef, is a riff on a classic fast food burger, stacking two 4-ounce patties with bacon and cheddar and adding a sauce more “fancy” than “special.” Though a beef kabob sandwich with peppers, mushrooms, and garlic sauce sounds like street fare, it’s been elevated to sit-down status with a pillowy pita made from brioche dough, cooked to order.

For those folks more interested in knife-and-fork food, there’s also an elegant airline breast of chicken stuffed with a truffled chicken mousse. Because it’s Baltimore, crab cakes are on the menu from time to time. Currently, they’re Chef Keefer’s creation, a completely gluten-free cake bound with shrimp mousse. (Chef Perry makes some dynamite traditional crab cakes, too, which hopefully will pop up in the future.) . This mix of casual and somewhat more formal dishes should help make In Bloom a neighborhood staple as well as destination dining.

While there is a bar in the space, In Bloom only serves wine and beer. The handful of cocktails they serve are wine-based, like the Bamboo Mule, which gets its kick from sake. But the wine list is so interesting, who needs cocktails? I enjoyed a glass of the bright and sweet Pamplemousse Rose, a rosé with a strong grapefruit aroma and flavor that is all the rage in France. I followed that with a glass of Maui Blanc, a 100% pineapple wine that’s weird and slightly funky and delicious all at the same time. There are flights available for those who can’t make up their minds about which wine to try first.

There are desserts too, my favorite being the plate of warm, fresh-from-the-oven, chocolate chip cookies presented with a ramekin of cream for dunking. The cookies are small, making them the perfect size for the end of a meal.

In Bloom
1444 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

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Friday, October 06, 2017

Flashback Friday - Apple Crisp

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This post originally appeared on on November 16, 2011.

It's Fall, and Fall means apples, apple pie, apple butter, apple cider, and especially apple crisp. There's almost nothing more comforting to me than a big bowl of hot apple crisp topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or maybe a drizzle of cream.

Just typing that sentence makes me want some right now.

I tried Top Cheftestant Robin Leventhal's Quickfire-winning apple crisp recipe a couple years back. It was good, but it had too many extraneous flavors. I prefer apples+cinnamon+maybe walnuts. My mom made a great version, very plain, but I have no idea where she got the recipe. Her beloved Better Homes & Gardens book only has apple brown betty, which just isn't the same. So I poked around teh innernets and found a simple recipe from Betty Crocker.

It was good, but not perfect. I used half Granny Smith and half Fuji apples, which at the end of the recommended 30-minute cook time were still somewhat crunchy. We ate it anyway. It was much better a couple of days later, when I popped the casserole back into the oven for a while. The apples grew more tender and the crumble got crustier, but there was this third somewhat gooey texture from where the topping got saturated by the apple liquid. I think it was my favorite part.

If you want that version, follow the recipe below. Either eat part of it or just stir it up a bit so some of the crisp topping can get soggy. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate. The next day, put it into a 350F oven for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes. (Yes, an additional 30 minutes seems like a long time, but remember it's now cold from the fridge.) Enjoy with ice cream, whipped cream, or a drizzle of heavy cream or half-and-half.

Betty Crocker's Apple Crisp

4 cups of sliced apples (Granny Smith and Fuji, or Golden Delicious)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cream or Ice cream, if desired

Heat oven to 375ºF. Grease bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan with shortening.

Spread apples in pan. In medium bowl, stir remaining ingredients except cream until well mixed; sprinkle over apples.

Bake about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm with cream.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Food and Fabric Design

The holidays are coming in just a couple of short months, and I have some gift ideas for you!

I may have been inspired by the annual "make a garment with fabric you design yourself" challenge on Project Runway when I started toying with repeating designs. The spring flowers were also pretty inspiring, so my first patterns involved lilies, ranunculus, daisies, poppies, and other posies. Then I realized food could make equally decorative patterns, so I went on to hamburgers, donuts, ice cream, and dim sum. But what to do with them? is a company that puts prints onto just about anything your heart desires: phone cases, laptop bags, notebooks, t-shirts, scarves, even duvet covers. Find all of my designs on both garments and knick-knacks at my Redbubble store:

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Monday, October 02, 2017

Pasta, Pizza, and Burgers in NYC

Regular readers of Minxeats know that I love going to New York. I love getting lost in a sea of people who are not like me, people of various ethnic origins speaking languages I do not understand. I love the hubbub, the vibrancy, the museums, the shops, and especially the food. So it's not surprising that the thing I most want to do when I get to New York is eat, even if I am there for Fashion Week.

Earlier in the summer, I received an email invitation to various shows taking place on September 8, 9, and 10. The invite read something to the effect of  "let me know what shows you want to attend, and if you want to bring a guest, let me know that person's name." I invited my friend Daisy to accompany me to two shows on the 8th, both featuring former Project Runway designers.  A couple of weeks before the show I received a confirmation email, and the day before I received another. We were set.

Daisy and I had the day planned out. I would get into the city at my usual 10:45, walk a few blocks from the train station to check into my hotel, then meet her at Eataly downtown by the World Trade Center around 12:30. Only my train was seriously delayed. It got to Baltimore late, and to NY even later, which frustrated me to no end. I like being timely, and this train wasn't playing nice. I ended up meeting Daisy only 45 minutes later than planned, but the delay killed my good mood and made me a real crank for pretty much the whole day.

I hadn't been downtown to the WTC site since 2002, and a lot has changed. I managed to locate Daisy in the Oculus--a fucking huge shopping mall and transportation hub--without too much trouble, and from there we walked. We had an agenda: eating, Eataly, perfume sniffing, more eating, fashion, more eating, more fashion, possibly more eating.

We started off at Eataly, Mario Batali's Italian-themed food court/market. Lunch was at Le Stagioni where we were briefly tempted by the prix fixe menu before deciding we didn't need multiple courses at that point in the day. Daisy ordered the hamachi crudo with sea beans, lemon, and lots of Sicilian EVOO. There were also pomegranate seeds that added an intriguing tangy-sweet crunch. A side order of rosemary fried fingerling potatoes was lovely and crisp.

I ordered the cannelloni con pesto, because it's rare to see cannelloni on a menu in Baltimore, and they are one of my favorite pasta dishes. Stuffed with spinach and ricotta and topped with bechamel, pesto, and pine nuts, they were light yet filling and full of intoxicating fresh basil flavor. Quite delicious. We each also had a glass of delicious Bastianich Vini Orsone Sauvignon Blanc that I wouldn't mind drinking on a regular basis.

We then wandered to the Hermes boutique to smell their latest fragrance, Twilly, which was a complete bore. We also hit the Penhaligon's shop and the new Saks Fifth Avenue. Unlike the Saks uptown, this one was quiet and uncluttered, which allowed us ample room for chatting and sniffing. We spent quite a bit of time at the L'Artisan Parfumeur/Penhaligon's counter, despite having been to the stand-alone Penhaligon's store. The sales associate was very knowledgeable about both lines, so we were quite surprised she had been repping Penhaligon's for only 3 days at that point. We didn't buy anything, but may have fallen in love with a couple of scents before we left.

Wandering around such a large space as the Oculus takes up time, so we made the executive decision to skip the first show, scheduled for 6pm, and have a snack instead. I had wanted to go to Uncle Boon's, in NoLiTa, but it was packed, with a line out the door. I was still a bit grumpy from this morning and was not in the mood for a line. At this point my feet and knees ached. Also my back, because I was carrying several pounds of dry pasta around--a gift for Mr Minx. There are tons of places to eat in NoLiTa, though grumpy people just want to be grumpy. Daisy knew the perfect antidote: pizza and beer at Pomodoro.

We each had a vodka slice, which was perfect. Sweet tomatoes, crisp crust, the perfect amount of cheese. I guzzled a Stella, which was refreshing. Also, I was very thirsty.

After a trip to my hotel to change, we walked over a couple of blocks to the 9pm show. Despite the exchange of emails, they didn't have us on their "list" for a seat, so we stood. That was fine, even though my feet were screaming at that point. Afterwards, it was time for more food. Daisy thought the NoMad bar a few blocks away would be a good choice. The restaurant had a 45 minute wait, and the bar only 15, so I suppose it was. However, places like that--all hard surfaces, tons of trendy young people yelling at each other to be heard over the din of other young people yelling at each other to be heard over the din--are not my scene. I'm old. I like carpeting and padded banquets and quiet. Especially the quiet. If there is a hell, mine would be a room full of fashionable and drunk Millennials discussing the work week while hipster bartenders blend $18 cocktails that are mostly ice. In other words, the NoMad Bar.

That said, the food was fine, and we even got to sit upstairs somewhat away from the loudest of the noise. We started our meal with Scotch olives, which are like Scotch eggs, but much smaller and more expensive. The olives were stuffed with a sheep's milk cheese and covered with a layer of lamb sausage. They were pretty damn good, and I found an olive to be preferable to a boiled egg.

We both ordered the chicken burger. I normally wouldn't do such a thing because I find poultry burgers to be dry and uninteresting but our waitress was emphatic about the deliciousness of this particular sandwich. She said the chicken breast was ground, mixed with foie gras, and packed into its own skin before being fried and topped with black truffle mayo. It was indeed very juicy and quite good. We ordered a side of fries to go with. They were nice and crisp, but they didn't bowl me over.

For dessert we had the "cookies and cream." I didn't include a photograph because in the dark restaurant they looked like a bowl of turds. They're not much for garnishing at NoMad Bar--the olives were four small turds in a bowl, and the dessert was a larger version of the same. Thank jebus it all tasted really good. I suppose when one is drinking a $35 cocktail for two that is served in a giant brass rooster or a $14 beer, you're not really there for the food. The cookies and cream were quenelles of ice cream that had been coated in a thick Oreo cookie-like crumb that was miraculously crispy. I normally skip restaurant desserts because they are often too heavy, but this was just right, and perfect for sharing.

I had an early train to catch the next morning so for breakfast I strolled up 5th Ave to Maison Kayser for a scrambled egg and bacon sandwich in a dried- out top-split bun. It looked better than it tasted.

But these croissants from Paris Baguette, right next door to my hotel, were as crunchy and lovely as they appear. I bought several of them to take home and enjoyed one on the train about halfway through the ride.

This time, the train was right on time, which put me in a much better mood. Also the clouds were amazing. Take out that ugly building (which is probably a jail) and the power lines from the photo above and that's a great shot, no?

A shout-out to Daisy at CoolCookStyle for putting up with me. She is a gem.

Le Stagioni
4 World Trade Center
101 Liberty Street
Floor 3
New York, NY 10007

Pomodoro Ristorante & Pizzaria
51 Spring St
New York, NY 10012

NoMad Bar
NoMad Hotel
1170 Broadway at 28th Street
New York, NY 10001

Maison Kayser
400 Fifth Avenue at 36th Street
New York 10018

Paris Baguette
6 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001

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