Friday, April 20, 2018

Flashback Friday - Bacon Grilled Cheese

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 3, 2013.

I was so pleased with my sample of Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup, I thought I'd play with it a little more. Why not use it as a glaze for bacon, then add that to a simple grilled cheese sandwich? The syrup added just the right amount of sticky sweetness, while letting both the cheese and bacon flavors shine through.

Caramelized Bacon Grilled Cheese

6 slices bacon, cooked through but not crunchy
3 tablespoons Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup
4 slices of bread
cheese of your choice, enough to cover a slice of bread in two thin layers (aka about the size of a slice of American cheese)
softened butter

Coil bacon slices into circles; secure with toothpicks. (It doesn't have to be particularly neat; this is just to help the caramel-stiffened bacon fit on the bread.) Place bacon rings in a cold saute pan and pour the three tablespoons of syrup over the bacon. Put heat on, at about medium. Watch carefully. The syrup should start to bubble in a minute or so, but you don't want it to bubble too quickly, otherwise it will harden. As the syrup bubbles, use tongs to turn the bacon every half minute or so. Cook until the bacon is well-glazed and there doesn't seem to be much syrup left in the pan.

Remove bacon to a plate. Wash pan.

Assemble sandwiches: for each sandwich, arrange a quarter of the cheese on one slice of bread, then add half the bacon. Top with the rest of the cheese, then the second slice of bread. Spread softened butter on outside of top slice.

Turn heat on under saute pan to medium. Add sandwiches butter-side-down. Cook over medium heat until bottom bread is nicely browned and the cheese is starting to melt. Butter the top slice of bread and flip sandwiches. Cook until bottom is browned.

Cut sandwiches in half, diagonally, and serve with your favorite soup or a handful of potato chips. Or both.

* 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.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Homemade Chicken Tikka Masala

Though not entirely authentic, chicken tikka masala is one of the western world's favorite Indian dishes. It's rich, buttery, and tomatoey--rather decadent, if you ask me. But also absolutely delicious. While it's easy to order Indian carry-out or even delivery these days, it's hard to tell if a restaurant's tikka masala sauce includes cashews. That really matters for someone like my brother, who has a nut allergy. And he just looooves chicken tikka masala. Many times he's ordered it only to find that he can't eat it. I end up with it, which is great for me and not so great for him.

Making tikka masala at home is probably the best solution, and I've found a recipe that tastes just like the restaurant version, doesn't contain nuts, and isn't all that complicated to make. Sure, it has multiple steps, but none are difficult. And all of the ingredients are easy to find. All of them are regularly in my pantry, and most should be in yours.

The original recipe makes 6 servings, so I cut it in half. This still made enough to feed two people twice, with a veggie side dish and naan or even flour tortillas to mop up the sauce. Taste the sauce before serving and add more garam masala or cumin if you think it needs a bit more spice (I did). I think next time I make this, I'll puree the sauce with a stick blender before adding the chicken.

Chicken Tikka Masala (adapted from Bon Appetit)

3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 ounces whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 teaspoons ghee (Indian clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati rice (for serving)

Combine first six ingredients in a small bowl. Combine yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture in a zip top bag or large bowl; add chicken and turn to coat. Seal bag or cover bowl and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Refrigerate remaining spice mixture.

Heat ghee in a 12" skillet over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring often, about 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes with juices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the mixture, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes. Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and arrange chicken in a single layer. Broil for five minutes, until chicken starts to blacken in spots, flip pieces, and broil another 4-5 minutes. Chicken won't be cooked through. Cut it into small pieces, add to sauce, and simmer until it is cooked through, 8-10 minutes.

Serve with rice and cilantro garnish.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Flashback Friday - Hakata Tonton

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 16, 2013.
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Regular readers of Minxeats know that I'm a pretty adventurous eater. I also come from a Polish immigrant family who valued what we now like to call "nose-to-tail" eating. My Mom used to rhapsodize about a dish my Grandma prepared long ago called chłódno nogi, or cold jellied pig's feet. While the "jellied" part of the equation never turned me on, I was curious to try pig's feet. I've been a fan of crispy pork skin and collagen- and calcium-rich cartilaginous goodness practically since birth. And lucky me, there's a restaurant in New York that specializes in that very thing - Hakata Tonton.

When I was in New York for the Fancy Food Show earlier in the month, I met up with my regular NY dining companion, David, for dinner. Hakata Tonton is conveniently close to his place of employment and seemed like the obvious choice. For me, at least. Thankfully, David trusts my judgement and is willing to eat adventurously.

The menu at Hakata Tonton is fairly voluminous for such a tiny place. When we were asked if we had a reservation - on a Monday night - I at first thought the restaurant was pretentious. But then when we got inside, I saw that there were only about eight tables, plus six seats at the bar, and all were full. They squeezed us in and made us feel very welcome. After hemming and hawing over what to order - and I wanted most of it - I narrowed my choices down to three: soft shelled crab, a sushi roll, and tonsoku, aka pig's feet. Because one can't not eat the specialty of the house.

My dishes came out in rapid succession, first the crab, which was lightly battered and served atop a delicious ponzu sauce of sweetened dashi and the aromatic Japanese citrus known as yuzu.

Then came a simple maki roll with lettuce and fried shrimp.

And finally, the main attraction - three hunks of grilled pig trotter with scallions and more ponzu. The skin was crunchy/crispy, the little meat on the bones was gelatinous, and overall it was finger-licking-good.

David went for the snow crab croquettes, which had bits of tonsoku inside and sat atop a sweet-ish puree of Japanese sweet potatoes. The croquettes were very soft under the crisp crust, hence the spoon. The flavors were very mild and I wished there had been more actual crab inside.

After quite a wait, David's deep fried chicken showed up. Each of the six blobs of meat were about the equivalent of a de-boned chicken leg. The meat was juicy and perfectly cooked, and the crust was delightfully crunchy. And of course there was more of that lovely ponzu sauce on the plate. Really excellent fried chicken.

We both enjoyed our meal, and I wished that we had been a bigger party with bigger appetites so we could try more things from the menu. Several diners around us were eating hot pots filled with tofu, dumplings, vegetables, Berkshire pork belly, and tonsoku, and it smelled outstanding. I would have liked to try the ankimo (monkfish liver) in yuzu miso, the slow cooked pork buns with spicy mustard, the collagen soup gyoza, scallop fritters, and the okonomiyaki. And...maybe next time.

Hakata Tonton
61 Grove St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-3699
Web site

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Monday, April 09, 2018

Pastabilities

I started following @BaltimoreHomeCook on Instagram last year because I enjoy her photos of homemade pasta. Not just linguine and fettuccine, but fancy stuff made with colored doughs in interesting shapes. I admire her experimentation in the kitchen and wish we had enough space for that sort of thing. Our counter is not much bigger than a desk calendar and it already has several bottles of olive oil and a KitchenAid heavy duty stand mixer in permanent residence. Though I have always known that we could make pasta dough in the food processor and hand-form cavatelli or orecchette at the dining room table, we never got around to it.

I met @BaltimoreHomeCook--Laurie--in person and immediately she volunteered to lend us her KitchenAid pasta attachments. The next day, as I accepted the heavy bag holding the roller and cutting blades, I realized we had no more excuses. We'd be making fresh pasta ASAP, as she had also given us a small bag of 00 pasta flour with which to play. Oh boy. This was getting real.

I didn't want to lean on Laurie for everything--I hate being a pain in the ass, or needy--so I looked up pasta recipes on teh innernets. I found one for dough made in the food processor involving 2.5 cups of 00 flour, 4 eggs, and 2 teaspoons of olive oil that seemed easy enough. The directions indicated that half a cup of flour should be held back and added if the mixture seemed too wet. After pulsing the remaining ingredients, the dough felt good to me, so we put the other half cup of flour back into its bag.

After the pasta dough rested in the fridge for a while, we began the rolling process. I had found a video on YouTube instructing that a blob of dough should be run through the #1 setting several times, folding once before each pass through the roller, and then once through each successively numbered setting all the way to #8. Seemed easy, though looks are usually deceptive.

We ended up putting the pasta through the rollers three times. I broke down the initial 1-pound ball of dough into about 8 smaller sections. As we passed each through the roller, we noticed that it started wrinkling badly at setting #4, becoming a total mess at #5. It happened with each piece of dough, so we tried again, this time stopping at setting #4. I had set out a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper on which to arrange the sheets, but I hadn't realized that the dough would stick to itself and the other pieces without flouring the sheets. (Duh!) We re-rolled each of the 8 pieces of dough for a third time, this time placing them on a light dusting of cornmeal, which stopped the sticking. More sticking ensued, however, when we cut the sheets into fettuccine, and more cornmeal was employed to keep the strands separate. The whole process was a bit of a hot mess.

We cooked the pasta and tossed it with a simple tomato sauce with arugula, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Because we stopped at the #4 setting, the pasta was too thick and chewy, resembling my Polish grandmother's kluski far more than tender Italian flat pasta. We'd have to try again the following weekend.

I posted the photo above on Instagram, and Laurie complimented me on a successful first try. I told her about our problems and she quickly offered solutions. Our dough was too wet, causing it to wrinkle during the rolling process. She offered her recipe, which was a bit different than the one we had used: 2 cups of flour, 3 eggs, no oil. If made in the foodpro, the mixture should be pulsed to the texture of couscous. If the dough still seemed too wet, we should fold some flour into it while rolling. Also, we should let the rolled dough dry a bit before cutting; the texture should be somewhat leathery.

The following weekend, we tried again. We used 2 cups of 00 flour and 3 eggs, which we pulsed to a couscous texture (cooked couscous, I should add). It was a little stiffer and required a bit more kneading, but in a few minutes Mr Minx had worked it into pliability. We let the dough rest in the fridge for about 45 minutes before we rolled it out. It still wrinkled a tad at #5, but we soon realized that the dough needed to be held a bit more tautly at the top as it was being pulled down through the roller. Mr Minx was better at it than I was, so he manipulated the dough while I was in charge of changing the levels on the roller attachment. In no time, we had nine beautiful sheets of very thin dough that were laid atop tea towels on baking sheets.

I had a hair appointment in Hampden, so we covered the dough with parchment and left the house. I figured we'd be back in a bit over an hour, as my hair is very short and takes little time to cut. I didn't take in consideration that there are several levels of "leatheriness" and perhaps Laurie meant the pasta should dry only slightly, to the texture of a supple glove leather. As it turned out, a late arrival before me kept me waiting 30 minutes before my turn in the barber chair. When we arrived home, our beautiful pasta had become more like stiff saddle leather. Not knowing the difference at that point, we unsuccessfully attempted to feed the sheets of dough through the pasta cutting blades, which only crumbled them into uneven bits. Not wanting to waste our efforts, I stacked the stiff sheets and sliced them into pappardelle with a sharp knife. To be honest, wide flat pasta is my favorite anyway.

This thinner pasta cooked much quickly than the thicker stuff we had made the week before, and, despite our issues, was lovely. Not in looks perhaps, because the noodles were of varying widths, but the texture was amazingly silky, with the barest al dente bite. This time, we served it with pancetta and mushrooms, chopped raw tomato, fresh basil, and grated Parm.

The third time's the charm, as they say, so we figured trying it once more would result in perfection. I followed Laurie's recipe again, but the dough seemed stiffer and drier this time. I didn't want to add water in case I accidentally overdid it, so kneaded the dough a little longer before tucking it into the fridge for half an hour.

It rolled out beautifully, but dried too quickly. We had to cut the first sheet of dough immediately after rolling the final sheet. It was almost too dry, but not as brittle as the last time. The final product, however, was lovely, with a silky texture and a gentle bite. Tossed with red pepper walnut pesto, artichoke hearts, and Italian chicken sausage, it was fabulous.

Our next pasta adventure will be with semolina dough, which requires water instead of eggs. We've already purchased the semolina flour so we won't have excuses not to try something new. But I have to admit, even though fresh pasta is amazing, it is a real pain in the ass to make. Kudos to Laurie and to everyone else who does that stuff on a regular basis. And thanks to the manufacturers of dry pasta, because we'll never stop using it.

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Flashback Friday - Mission Chinese Food

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 26, 2013.
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Korean-born, Oklahoma-raised Danny Bowien is one of the hottest properties around. In 2011, Mission Chinese Food, in San Francisco, was named one of Bon Appetit's best new restaurants, and now he's featured in the July 2013 issue of Food & Wine as one of the country's best new chefs.

The New York branch of Mission Chinese Food opened in 2012, and I've read nothing but raves. (Ok, there have been some bellyaching on Yelp, but that's to be expected.) On my recent trip to New York, I planned to be in the vicinity (SoHo) and thought it would make a great spot for lunch.

Turns out lunch is the best time to visit Mission Chinese Food. I got there a few minutes before the opening time of noon and there was already a short line. (At dinner time, the tiny restaurant's line, and, consequently, the wait, is far longer.) After a brief amount of time, I was taken to the dining room and, as I was a lone diner, given a seat at the bar, where all of the servers were incredibly nice and attentive to my needs.

Mission Chinese is famous for their spicy "Americanized Oriental food" with dishes like kung pao pastrami and thrice-cooked bacon. Both of those entrees have two flame symbols next to them on the menu, which according to the legend means "very freakin spicy." It was very hot and humid in New York and I had already done my fair share of sweating, so I figured one-flame spicy was about as hot as I wanted to go. I ordered two dishes from the hot appetizer section of the menu, the shaved pork belly with soy caramel, garlic, and Sichuan pepper, and the salt and peppered soft shell crab with buttermilk ranch dressing.

The menu suggests that the pork belly needs an accompaniment of a la carte rice, so I shelled out the additional $2 for a bowl. I suppose that was a warning to me that the dish was very spicy, but I chose not to heed that warning, instead putting faith in the fact that the dish had only one flame symbol. Dummy.

The dish was served cold, rather than hot, but that did not detract from the flavors and textures of this dish. The shavings of pork belly were meltingly tender. The sauce was a darkly-flavored melange of garlic, caramelized soy, maybe some Chingkaing vinegar, with some raw garlic on top for good measure. And it was full of the sensation the Chinese call ma la - numbing and spicy. There was so much Sichuan peppercorn in the dish, my nose went numb after a few forkfuls. What was worse, the dish was firey as I was eating it, of course, but when I attempted to put out the flames with the rice, it only served to fan them even higher. So the rice was a big bomb. What I needed was a glass of milk. If I drank milk.

The soft shell crab was much milder, provided I didn't eat any of the slices of green chile pepper scattered on top. It was a tad too salty though. I can't fault the crisp texture of the crust, or the ranch dressing, which tasted like tartar sauce, if tartar sauce were made with buttermilk.

There was a large party at the table next to the bar and they ordered a great many delicious-looking dishes. I heard several times, "this is really spicy," and have to wonder why restaurants make food hot just for the sake of making things hot. Some of us enjoy a nice bit of heat, but we're not all "chile-heads."

Senses completely overloaded, I headed out once more into the incredible humidity, in search for something cooling, like ice cream.

Mission Chinese Food
154 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002
http://missionchinesefood.com 

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Monday, April 02, 2018

Muuna Cottage Cheese Comes in Three New Flavors

My favorite cottage cheese, Muuna, has just come out with three new flavors: Black Cherry, Raspberry, and Vanilla. I think the Raspberry is my fave of the three, but I also like the Vanilla. It actually doesn't taste like straight-up vanilla, but more like birthday cake, minus the sprinkles. It's so sweet and tasty, I'm betting this flavor will be popular with kids. And like all other Muuna flavored cottage cheeses, it has only 9g of sugar, so you can feel good giving it to your little beasts darlings. (Some popular yogurt brands have up to 36g of added sugar, which is pretty crazy, if you ask me.)

The Vanilla flavor also reminds me of cream cheese frosting. You know, the insanely good stuff that sits atop a slice of carrot cake. Who else out there eats the frosting first before tackling the rest of the cake? Show of hands? I know you're out there.

It might look a little strange to frost a cake with cottage cheese, but a dollop works nicely on a bowl of oatmeal, like this carrot cake-flavored one I concocted. I didn't add any sugar to the oatmeal itself, because the carrots and Muuna offer plenty of sweetness. The method for making the oatmeal itself is a little unconventional. I didn't eat oatmeal for years because I hate the gluey texture, but I found that if you don't stir it, it doesn't turn into something you might use for household repairs. Simply bring the water to a boil, add the oatmeal, cover the pan, and allow the oats to absorb all of the liquid. If it's not warm enough for you after 10 minutes of sitting, you can turn the heat on for a few moments. Just remember not to stir more than once.

Carrot Cake Oatmeal

For the oatmeal:
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup raisins or dried blueberries (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the carrots:
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
2 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons milk
6 tablespoons sugar

To serve:
¼ cup chopped walnuts
Vanilla Muuna Cottage Cheese

To make the oatmeal: Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. At that point, add the oatmeal, cinnamon, ginger, kosher salt, and raisins or blueberries. Cover pan and turn off the heat. Allow the oatmeal to absorb the water, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

To make the carrots: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the carrots, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve until the oatmeal is done.

To serve: Spoon the oatmeal into four bowls. Divide the carrots evenly between bowls. Garnish with walnuts and a healthy dollop of Muuna Vanilla flavored cottage cheese.

Serves 4.


* 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 30, 2018

Flashback Friday - Sticky Rice

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on April 15, 2013.
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The last couple of times Mr Minx and I went out for sushi, I was disappointed. While both meals featured very fresh fish, they seemed bland overall. Mr Minx says we probably just ordered badly, but I think I was just ready for something completely different. So on a recent excursion to Fells Point, I decided Sticky Rice would be the ideal place for lunch.

The restaurant looks like a dive bar on the outside, and like a dive bar on the inside, albeit one with a beautiful wooden bar and bar back and a gussied-up gold-painted traditional pressed tin ceiling. The classic rock blaring in the background and basketball on the TV belies the menu of traditional and not-so-traditional sushi items.

We vacillated between an appetizer cheekily called "sticky balls" and its vegetarian cousin, "garden balls," before choosing the former. Made with a thin skin of tofu with a pocket cut into it, the balls are stuffed with tuna, crab, and rice flavored with Sriracha before being deep-fried until crisp and topped with scallions, wasabi dressing, eel sauce, and tobiko. They are unlike any inarizushi we've ever had in the past, and I must say - a vast improvement. (Inari skins are typically soaked in a sweet soy syrup before being stuffed with plain rice; I find them to be far too sweet.) We liked the delicate crispness of the tofu, and the balance between the spicy rice and the two sauces.

We also had two rolls. One was a special, the Scorpion roll, stuffed with fried soft shell crab, plus avocado and cucumber. The other was called "Drawn-N-Buttered," an inside-out roll with tempura shrimp, lump crab, cucumbers and scallions. Sounds fairly normal, but it was served with a garlic butter dip. Who knew that garlic butter was such a fine accompaniment to sushi? We found ourselves dipping both rolls into it. Our only quibble is that the butter might have been tastier if it were hot, or at least warm.

A nice touch: the carrots and greens on the platter were not merely a garnish but an actual salad topped with a bit of the usual tangy orange sushi restaurant dressing. It was a nice acid counterpoint to the richness of the butter sauce.

Sticky Rice proved a welcome respite from our sushi doldrums.

Sticky Rice
1634 Aliceanna Street
Baltimore, MD 21231

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Whole 30 Compliant Turkey Sloppy Joe

Like a lot of moms in the 1970s, my mom had to go back to work when I was nine years old to help out with the economic realities that an oil crisis and runaway inflation imposed on our country. No longer could we rely on the kind of complicated and time-consuming dinners we had once enjoyed like pot roast, fried chicken, and meatloaf. By the time my mom got home from the law office where she worked as a secretary (they were still called secretaries back then), she needed some quick and easy meals to get on the table.

One of her go-to meals was sloppy joe, made all the quicker by the ready-made sauce known as Manwich. Brown some ground beef, dump on the Manwich, stir it up and slap it on some hamburger buns. I was more than happy to dig into this salty mess as a kid, but today it doesn't sound all that appealing, which is why I haven't eaten sloppy joe in decades.

Recently, the Minx and I have been on the Whole 30 diet and have been seeing some positive results. In a nutshell, the diet requires that one eat non-processed foods for 30 days, which eliminates a helluva lot of food when you get down to it. This makes coming up with filling meals that are also Whole 30 compliant a bit of a challenge. One day while we were trying to come up with dinner possibilities, the Minx suggested making sloppy joe. While we could make it with ground beef and stay within the diet, she thought it would be even healthier to try to make it with ground turkey.

I liked the idea because it would give me a chance to create a sloppy joe that would taste better than the from-a-can stuff I ate as a kid. The tricky part was that sloppy joe is usually slightly sweet, and you can't use any sugar or sweeteners on Whole 30. We decided to replace sugar with finely chopped dates. They dissolve in the mixture and add just enough sweetness to balance the tartness of the mustard and the acidity of the tomatoes.

Our recipe requires about 15 ounces of tomatoes, pureed to create a smooth sauce. Since it's unlikely you will find pureed tomatoes in a can that small, we used a can of diced tomatoes and whizzed them up with a stick blender plunged straight into the can. You have to be careful not to make a mess, but it does work. Otherwise, some chunky tomato in the sauce is probably fine. (And yes, though canned vegetables are technically "processed," if there are no weird additives they still qualify as "whole" foods.)

Whole 30 Compliant Turkey Sloppy Joe

1 pound ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
Kosher salt
14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes, pureed
6 dates, chopped
1 tablespoon ground mustard
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper

Brown the ground turkey in a skillet over high heat. Once the meat is browned, reduce heat and add the onion and bell pepper. Sprinkle a little salt on the mixture at this point to help draw out the moisture of the vegetables. When the onion becomes translucent, thoroughly mix in the tomato puree, dates, ground mustard, brown mustard, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer covered for fifteen minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.

If you are using this recipe as part of a Whole 30 diet, you can replace the bun one might normally serve sloppy joe on with a baked potato or French fries.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Flashback Friday - Edamame Hummus

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 12, 2013.
I've been on a hummus kick lately, have you noticed? I really do love the stuff and would eat it more often if it wasn't normally made with chick peas. Those little bastards give me such intestinal distress, I can't even look at them without getting gassy. In their place, I've been making hummus with just about every other bean under the sun, mostly with success.

Not long ago, we bought some edamame hummus from Trader Joe's, and man, that stuff was delicious! The best bean yet. So when I decided that our Memorial Day dinner would involve kebabs and various Mediterranean-inspired sauces, I put edamame hummus on the list of must-makes. Coincidentally, I received Louisville chef Edward Lee's new cookbook, Smoke and Pickles, at around the same time and the first recipe I turned to when I opened the book at random was his version of edamame hummus. It was kismet.

Lee makes his hummus chunky and uses it as a side dish. I wanted a more traditional dip/puree, so I added a bit more water to the food processor when I was blending. I also didn't need quite so much hummus, so I halved the recipe. Here's my take on it:

Edamame Hummus (adapted from Smoke and Pickles)

2 green onions, white and light green part, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup frozen edamame
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Saute the green onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook 6-8 minutes, or until beans are no longer crunchy. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Puree the mixture in a food processor until fairly smooth, adding additional additional water to help the process. Taste the mixture and adjust seasoning with more lemon juice, soy, and olive oil, if necessary.

Serve at room temperature with unsalted tortilla chips or pita.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Spotlight on: Hersh's

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.

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When I was much younger, Baltimore was a pizza wasteland. Sure, restaurants touting their nightmarish “fresh dough” pizza were all over the place, and yes, I ate my share of it, always hoping to find a slice that actually tasted good. The whole ‘fresh” dough thing was quite a misnomer; it was made in a factory somewhere and trucked into restaurants around town, so how fresh could it be? Well into the 1980s, Baltimore-area pizzas consisted of these flabby, flavorless crusts topped with bland red sauce and puddles of rubbery salt masquerading as cheese. Though cooked up in mom-and-pop establishments, they were awful enough to make Pizza Hut and Domino’s seem like the good stuff.

There were, of course, exceptions to the rule. My favorite pizza came from a regional chain called Pappy’s, where they served birch beer by the pitcher and gave styrofoam hats to kids. You know, the ones that are modeled after straw boaters and seen on the heads of barbershop quartets and election day candidate-hucksters. I was probably 10 when I had my last Pappy’s pizza so can’t be held accountable for my taste back then. There was also Matthew’s Pizzaria in Highlandtown, Squire’s in Dundalk, and Pizza John’s in Essex, all of which are still in business lo these many decades later. The former has a strong fan base, but I’ve always thought their pies were bland. Squire’s pizzas are anything but, with a very herby and somewhat sweet tomato sauce and a crust that is crunchy rather than crispy. I’ve never been to Pizza John’s, but I hear that they serve thin NY-style pizza and they make their own dough, so I should probably get my ass out there, right? In any case, none of the pizzas of my Charm City youth could hold a candle to most dollar slices in New York. For a while there I decided I didn’t really like the stuff. Fortunately, in the 00s, a bunch of pizza joints opened up in Baltimore, all serving thin-crust goodness with toppings like pesto and arugula. I realized I did like pizza, even craved it, though none of these newer establishments were what I’d call a “holy grail.”

Then I tried Hersh’s.

Hersh’s is on the very end of Light Street, a good mile’s walk from the Inner Harbor. Owned by siblings Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz, Hersh’s serves Neapolitan-style pizza and a whole lotta other yummy Italianate things. But first, the pizza. It’s cooked in a wood-fired oven and is served uncut, like in Naples. The crust is thin with a perfectly blistered cornicione and some leopard-spots of char on the crust and upskirt. While the pizzas look so damn good you just want to pick it up and shove it into your pizza-pie-hole whole, cutting it into at least four slices is probably a better way to approach things. Less hot cheese in the lap. Also as in Naples, you can’t just come in and expect to get a giant pie slathered in shredded cheese and slices of pepperoni perched on a 5-napkin oil slick. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) If you’re really into pepperoni, you can add some to a Margherita (otherwise topped with housemade mozz, grana padano, and fresh basil), but why not put a little more excitement in your life? My suggestion is to order the Tre Porcellini if it’s on the menu. It’s topped with three different pork products–sausage, braised pork, and guanciale–along with provolone, garlic and red pepper flakes, and it will take you to hog heaven. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) The Fumo e Fuoco is my fave, topped with smoked mozz, grana padana, and soft rounds of fried eggplant, all drizzled with a spark of chili oil. Excellent for dinner, even better when eaten cold for breakfast.

But enough about the pizza. While a pie and a beer, glass of vino, or a crafty cocktail can be a perfect meal for some, Hersh’s kitchen magic is not limited to things on crusts. You see, Hersh’s isn’t a pizza parlor. It’s an Italian restaurant. Yet, it’s impossible for my husband and I to eat at Hersh’s and not order pizza. However, we like to make it one course of a multi-course meal and share everything. So we might start off with one of the antipasti, most likely the wood-fired octopus or maybe the meatballs in tomato sauce over housemade ricotta, then move on to a salad. Right now there’s a lovely Autumn Salad comprising escarole, apples, pecans, parm, and gorgonzola dolce in a dijon-apple cider vinaigrette that sounds perfect. And while the more protein-focused of Chef Josh’s main dishes are going to be dynamite, we usually lean toward ordering a plate of his tender housemade pasta, like a classic spaghetti Carbonara, or maybe some roast pumpkin gnocchi with crispy braised pork and arugula-pumpkin seed pesto. (Yeah, I’m drooling too.) Once we’ve demolished those items, then we’ll have pizza. And if we can’t finish it, that’s when it becomes breakfast the following morning. There’s really no losing with this meal plan.

So if you’re in the mood for really great pizza and a plate of pillowy ricotta ravioli or maybe tagliolini with some sort of seafood on top, you definitely need to walk all the way down Light Street to Riverside to eat at Hersh’s. (And if your feet are sore from all the other walking you’ve been doing, jump on the bus. The Silver Line goes straight down Light and stops within a block of the restaurant.

Hersh’s
1843 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
(443) 438-4948

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Flashback Friday - Fabio Viviani's Mama's Meatballs

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 5, 2013.

Everybody loves Fabio Viviani. I know Minxeats readers do, because we still get tons of hits from nosybodies googling "is Fabio Viviani married" on a regular basis. Come on - if you were a real fan, you'd know that he's divorced from his first wife and really doesn't have time for a relationship right now, much to his mother's dismay.

Richard Blais, who competed against (and beat) Fabio in the Top Chef All-Stars season, loves Fab, too. I recently found a brief piece in which the two compliment each other's cookbook. In it, Blais waxes rhapsodic about Fabio's meatballs, claiming that ricotta cheese gives them the "most amazing texture." Now, we just so happened to have a quart of ricotta in the fridge, purchased during a 2-for-1 deal. The expiration date on the package is late June, so there was no real hurry to use it up, but before I forgot about it--lost it in the bowels of the always-full fridge--I thought it should be meatball time at Casa Minx.

I got no arguments from Mr Minx. Spaghetti and meatballs is probably his favorite dish, and he knows I'm always looking for a meatball recipe that is reminiscent of my Aunt Stasia's. Her balls were big and soft, cheesy and evenly-textured. (Ok, who's going to be the first to take that sentence out of context?) A quick online search later and he had Fabio's meatball recipe in hand.

We wanted to make the recipe exactly as written, so a trip to the store was necessary to pick up the cup of grated Parmesan, the shallots, and the panko that we didn't already have in stock. A couple hours later, we feasted. The result was, ah...pretty good. But despite half a cup of ricotta and a whole cup of parm, the meatballs were pretty firm. We blame that on the panko, a super-crunchy Japanese breadcrumb that's best used for coating fried foods. Also, the shallots hadn't melted into the meat, so there were little crunchy oniony bits here and there. Sure, the meatballs were moist, but then, I've never really had a dry meatball.

The recipe seems like a good springboard for experimentation. Maybe substitute a bread-and-milk panade for the panko. Cook the shallot a bit or puree it before adding to the meat mixture. More ricotta. Something.

In the meantime, does anyone out there have a recipe for a soft, cheesy, evenly-textured meatball? No offense, Fabio, but your balls just didn't cut it.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Breakfast and Lunch at LB Bakery

I've popped into LB Bakery from time to time to grab a cup of La Colombe coffee and a flaky croissant to go, but I've never stayed for breakfast. One reason is because I'm always in a hurry in the morning, but also because they didn't serve a hot sit-down breakfast until recently. I suppose that's the most pertinent reason, huh? In any case, this little cafe on the ground level of the Lord Baltimore Hotel now serves both breakfast and lunch in addition to their usual assortment of pastries, macarons, and refrigerated sandwiches. A few weeks ago, Mr Minx and I joined several of our foodie friends at an introductory brunch to sample the new menu.

We started off with the crisp Belgian waffles garnished with fresh fruit and maple syrup, then went on to a super-fluffy, goat-cheese-stuffed, omelette with a side of potatoes. I don't normally do omelettes because I have an issue with browned eggs, but this beauty was so perfectly cooked, I was happy to make an exception.

If you're an everything bagel with smoked salmon kinda person, then this generous platter with all the fixings you could ever want will make you happy. Again, smoked salmon isn't my thing (I am a lousy brunch person, aren't I?), but I truly enjoyed a portion of bagel schmeared with cream cheese and topped with a smoky slice of fish...plus capers, eggs, onions, and a soupcon of dill.

After tasting breakfast, we also sampled some lunch items, like the lump crab cake sandwich with fries and the fish and chips. The fish was so crispy on the outside yet moist on the inside, which is how it should be. Both the crab cake and the fish are perfect choices for a Lenten lunch.

Of course we also had to sample Executive Pastry Chef Mary Elizabeth Plovanich's sweet yummies, including ginormous macarons, chocolate tarts, and key lime bars (my fave). Her desserts never disappoint.

Now when I stop into LB Bakery in the morning before work, I might just have to linger a while and enjoy that omelette again.

LB Bakery
20 W Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

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Friday, March 09, 2018

Flashback Friday - Maryland is for Crabs

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 19, 2013.

It's June, and that means it's time to eat crabs! (True of every other month of the year as well.) Please to enjoy an excerpt from our book, Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore, with the addition of photos.

Here in Maryland, the act of cleaning steamed crabs, along with extracting (and eating) the meat, is known as “picking.” There are two schools of thought. One involves removing the legs before cleaning and the other does not. We like to remove the legs, since any meat that comes off with them is that much less we have to dig for later. Don’t just yank them out—grab a leg up high near the body and bend it downward. You should hear a small snap as it breaks away from the shell. Use a little finesse to gently wiggle the leg away from the body; hopefully there will be a hunk of meat attached to it. In the case of the backfin, there will be quite a bit of meat. If not, all is not lost—the meat is still inside. All crabs are different, so you won’t get lucky every time.

A crab and his legs are soon parted. Stop staring at me!
Next, turn the crab so it’s belly-up. Using a short, nonserrated knife, lift up the slim pointed tip of the flap-like apron (which is much larger on the female) and pull it upward until it’s perpendicular
to the body of the crab.

See the pointed tip of the flap?
At this point you should be able to slide the tip of the knife within the newly revealed gap between the bottom and top shells. Twist the knife and the halves should separate easily; remove the top shell.

Place your knife in that gap under the lifted apron, or use your
fingers if you prefer brute force.
What you have left will be pretty ugly, but stay with us! Use your knife or fingers to scrape off the gills or “dead man’s fingers” from both sides of the body, and remove the squiggly mess of guts
in the center.

Some of the squigglies are in the top of the shell, but you won't eat the shell,
so don't worry about them. The yellow, greenish-yellow, or brownish
pasty stuff, the "mustard," is edible, and actually tastes pretty good.
Some folks think it's fat, but it's actually the crab's hepatopancreas.
Mmmm! Doesn't that sound appetizing? 
Remove the gills, and the face while you're at it so it
won't stare at you anymore.
Whomever was the first to eat one of these was sure brave.
What you’ll have left is two halves of the body, joined by a thin piece of shell. With one half in each hand, bring them toward each other to crack the shell and separate them.

Grab each half...
...and snap the body in half.
Using the knife or your fingers, remove the meat from the various chambers that make up the crab’s body. The shell is quite easy to break with a little pressure, but the going might be slow until you get the hang of it.

When you’ve exhausted the supply of meat within the body, move on to the claws (the legs aren’t really worth bothering with, although there is some meat in them). Bend each “elbow” in the wrong direction to separate the top and bottom pieces of the claw. Grab the edges of the pincer (watch out, they’re sharp) and pull them apart. You should be able to wiggle the “thumb” portion of the pincer away from the shell, hopefully pulling out a piece of cartilage and a chunk of meat. If you only get part of it, use your hammer to crack the shell and remove it the hard way. Use the hammer on the white portion of the bottom part of the claw to crack it in the same way. Some people like to place the blade edge of their knife against the shell and hammer that instead, which can make a cleaner break.

However you do it, enjoy!

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