Monday, August 13, 2018

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar

Last year's Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament winner Fabio Mura is a busy man these days. Not only does he run the kitchen at Grille 620 and River Hill Grill, he's also in charge of food at the new Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar. Located in the same Turf Valley Town Square shopping center as Grille 620, Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar has the same casually elegant vibe as its two sister restaurants. But while the menu at Grille 620 has more of a steakhouse vibe and River Hill Grill has the elevated bar food thing perfected, the food at Mad Chef Kitchen has a bit more of an international flair. Evidence of Chef Mura's Sardinian roots peek in here and there, too.

Full disclosure: we've worked with Chef Mura in the past. He was featured in our book, Baltimore Chef's Table. That doesn't prevent us from speaking about his food honestly.

Between consulting with our waitress and the Chef, we decided on two small plates, one shared entree, and two desserts.

Mura drew inspiration for his Sardinian fonduta (the Italian version of fondue) from several things: a recent trip to Italy; the Sardinian honey and cheese pastries known as seadas; even fajitas. These elements became melty broiled provolone cheese drizzled with honey, citrus zest, and almonds, served on a hot cast iron plate with crispy rustic bread on the side. The flavors of the dish played well against each other, with the orange zest being an especially welcome addition. The cheese was also hot and somewhat gooey, but unlike melted mozzarella which tends to stay soft and traditional fondue which has a more liquid quality, the provolone was a little more solid and needed to be cut with a knife before manipulating it onto bread. Still, a flavorful start to the meal. I couldn't help think that this combination of ingredients would be killer on a pizza crust.

We didn't order the empanadas because we didn't want to be greedy, but Chef Mura sent them out anyway. The pastry was light, crisp, and greaseless, with a flavorful ground beef and onion filling. The accompanying salsa had a nice kick to it, but the empanadas were moist enough not to need a sauce other than their drizzle of lime crema.

We're a sucker for lamb ribs and are happy to see them pop up on menus more and more frequently. These were billed as "Korean barbecue" but didn't strike me as being from any one particular area of Asia. The sauce was light and sweet, but not cloying. The ribs themselves were very meaty, extremely tender and easy-to-eat, with a nice lamb-y flavor.

The luxurious paella for two included shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, lobster, and sizable chunks of scallop. I've made paella at home, but it was nowhere near as good as this stuff. The short-grain Bomba rice, redolent of saffron and seafood stock, was perfectly cooked, and the various sea creatures adorning it were tender. The scallops in particular were delightful, and I did my best to bogart all of them for myself.

Then there was dessert. Chef Mura himself said we must order the zeppole and his tiramisu, which had "a new twist." The twist turned out to be pretty innovative; rather than coffee-soaked ladyfingers topped with a mascarpone cream, the cream was layered between crepes. The dish had all of the flavors of the original, but with a completely different texture. Pretty clever, Chef!

While the tiramisu was delicious, the zeppole were fan-freaking-tastic. The sugar-dusted orbs of fried dough were impossibly fluffy and moist on the inside; pretty much perfect on their own. But a drizzle of the accompanying dark chocolate hazelnut orange sauce made them absolute heaven. A must-order.

Mr Minx and I very much enjoyed our meal at Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar. The restaurant was comfortable, the staff friendly, knowledgeable, and on-the-ball, and the food was very good.

A shout out to the young man who refilled our water glasses. His reply of "my pleasure" to our "thank you" was a refreshing change from the current usual reply of "no problem." It shouldn't be a problem to serve a paying guest, and indicating that possibility could exist tends to make guests over a certain age uncomfortable.

Mad Chef Kitchen & Bar
Turf Valley Towne Center
11085 Resort Road, #404
Ellicott City, MD 21042
(410) 203-0327

* 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, August 10, 2018

Flashback Friday - Pesto Mac

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on July 20, 2012.
I had leftover roast chicken. I had pesto. I wanted to make something interesting, inspirational. Fabulous at the very least. Something worth blogging about. But my brain just wasn't cooperating. I almost made a risotto, only I didn't have any short-grain rice. I did have a box of cavatappi, that fun spiral pasta that's like a conga line of elbow macaroni, and realized there was plenty of cheese in the fridge, so my lazy brain went there.

Mac and cheese. But with pesto and chicken. Not exactly a life-changing dinner, but it was very good, and rather easy. I used Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac recipe as a guideline, switched up some quantities, and added sauteed onions for more flavor. You could skip the onions to make an even quicker version.

Macaroni with Pesto and Chicken (adapted from Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese)

1 cup onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound cavatappi
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 5-oz cans evaporated milk
6 ounces milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
16 ounces shredded cheese (we like a combination of sharp cheddar, Swiss, and pepper Jack)
3/4 cup pesto (home-made or store-bought)
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until very soft and starting to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain water, return pasta to pot, and add butter.

Whisk together the eggs, milks, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese, the onions, and the pesto. Cook over medium heat until cheese melts and pasta is well coated. Stir in chicken and fresh basil and taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary.

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Monday, August 06, 2018

Ludlow Market Bar & Bottle Shop

I must admit never having visited the Wine Market Bistro, the precursor to Ludlow Market Bar & Bottle Shop in Locust Point. No particular reason, we just don't venture down to South Baltimore very often. Not long after the opening of the place, we were invited in to taste some of the small-plates style items that are ideal pairings for drinks at the bar or as a starter for a multi-course meal.

We had to try some drinks, too.

My taste in cocktails leans toward bold, unusual, and perfume-y, so I was happy with Ludlow's complex creations. The slushie Crush a Lot was far better than any of the typical insipid vodka-based "crush"-style drinks I've had. I normally avoid them entirely, but the promise of an icy drink comprising strong black tea and bourbon was hard to resist. It was strong and juice-forward, but also bourbon.

The Deluxe House was also quite nice. Mezcal drinks can sometimes be too smoky, but the agave liquor was tempered nicely by the addition of Spanish vermouth, dry curacao, and Baltimore Whiskey Company's fab 1904 Ginger Apple liqueur.

Room Service: Hamilton Rum, Demoiseau 110 Rhum, pineapple shrub, Jamaica #2 bitters
Chef Christopher Audia's creative menu borrows from various world cuisines. The Beef fat fries are a riff on British chef Heston Blumenthal's famous triple-cooked chips. They're super crisp on the outside and very tender on the inside, like no fries you've ever tasted, and they come with a trio of dips including mustard greens mustard, curry ketchup, and a malt vinegar aioli.

Beef fat fries, mustard green aioli, malt vinegar aioli, curry ketchup
Greens are a recurring theme on Audia's menu. The black eyed pea fritters are served on a nest of positively addictive marinated collard greens and topped with a dab of smoked mayo. The fritters themselves remind me of falafel and the whole plate would be pretty great stuffed into a pita.

Black eyed pea fritters, marinated collards, smoked aioli
The shrimp toast topped with radish salad and chili oil is a nod to everyone's favorite puu puu platter staple, only with much more flavor and no grease. I only got a piece of this (though I bogarted the fritters) and wished I could have savored more.

Shrimp toast, radish salad, chili oil
We also sampled a rockfish crudo with bright and refreshing cucumber and jalapeno flavors...
Rockfish crudo, cucumber, jalapeno, agua verde
...and the hangar steak with grilled broccoli, bacon lardons, and a mimolette cheese sauce. It's shown portioned for sampling but comes as a main dish.

Hangar steak,  grilled broccoli florets, mimolette fondue, lardons
What I really wanted to try, after seeing photos on Instagram, were the lamb ribs. They were fall-off-the-bone tender and came with a chunky hazelnut harissa, not too spicy but full of flavor, and the spark of pickled red onion. Another dish I had to share but really didn't want to.
Lamb ribs, hazelnut harissa, herb salad
Ludlow Market is strong on both the food and the drink sides of things, which I hope will make it a very popular dining destination. Mr Minx and I might even venture down into Locust Point more often.

Ludlow Market, Bar & Bottle Shop
921 E Fort Ave #135
Baltimore, MD 21230

* 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, August 03, 2018

Flashback Friday - Summery Couscous Salad

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on July 27, 2012.

This summer, we planted four kinds of mini tomatoes and one larger yellow tomato, and a plethora of herbs (Greek oregano, Thai, purple, and sweet basil, lemon balm, tarragon, and thyme to go with the perennial chives and mint). Despite the heat and relative lack of rain, everything's been growing like crazy and I find myself harvesting a pint of tomatoes a couple times a week.

I'm not complaining!

One can only eat so many Caprese salads, so the basil and tomatoes need to be put to other uses. I found some tri-color pearl couscous at Shop Rite recently and thought it would make a nice variation on a pasta salad. It was also a good way to use up some of the garden's bounty.

Couscous Salad

1.5 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pearl or Israeli couscous, cooked according to package directions
salt & pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley, mint) plus more for garnish
1/2 pint tiny tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup diced cucumber
3 tablespoons roughly chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion

In a medium bowl, stir together the mustard, honey, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the couscous and mix well. Season with salt and pepper, and add more olive oil if the consistency seems dry. Stir in fresh herbs, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, pistachio and green onion. Chill before serving. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Guan Fu

I have always loved Chinese food and can still remember the taste of my very first shrimp in black bean sauce. I was on a "date" with my Dad. My mother had shooed us out of the house so she could have some quiet time with my newly-born baby brother; this makes me about 5 at the time. I had already eaten plenty of American-style Chinese food by that age, but the piquancy of the fermented black beans was a new flavor to me. And I liked it.

Sichuan food appeared on my table sometime in the late 70s, and though may palate was not yet accustomed to heat, I appreciated that the flavors and ingredients used were a bit different from the usual celery, onions, and starchy sauces used in familiar dishes like moo goo gai pan and chow mein. Though the Sichuan and Hunan dishes I ate in my youth were quite different from the ones I ate as a small child, they were still fairly Americanized.

In 2018, there doesn't seem to be as many Chinese restaurants in Baltimore as there used to be. Certainly no good ones (I am sure someone will be happy to argue that point). I've had a hard time finding even mediocre food in my neck of the woods. Thankfully, there is some really good Chinese food to be had outside of Baltimore. I've spoken here many times of my love for Grace Garden in Odenton, and for Hunan Taste in Catonsville. Asian Court in Ellicott City is my place for dim sum. And of course there are plenty of places in Montgomery County, which is a bit of a hike. Chinese food has gone from being a regular weeknight meal to something for a special occasion, but that makes me appreciate it all the more.

New Yorkers, however, don't have to struggle to find really fine Chinese food from many different regions of that vast country. There's a Michelin-starred Sichuan restaurant in Midtown, for god's sake, not to mention the five locations of Xi'am Famous Foods! Flushing, Queens, a half hour subway ride from Midtown, is rife with Chinese restaurants, which made it a bucket list destination for me.

My friend Daisy knew I wanted to eat good Chinese food when I was in NY, so she took me to Guan Fu, in Flushing. The New York Times gave it three stars, which normally doesn't happen to non-European ethnic restaurants. It had to be good, right?

And it was.

The restaurant is full of dark wood, with large tables to hold ample feasts. There are also comfortable wide chairs--which easily accommodate ample posteriors, like mine. The menu has photographs of every dish, which is nice, but only makes one's choice more difficult. Everything looks great.

Daisy had eaten at Guan Fu before, and had tasted a good deal of the menu. I was happy to let her decide what we would eat. Or over-eat, as the case may be. We ordered five dishes, and did a pretty good job of finishing almost everything. It helped that only two of the dishes contained meat, and only one as the star of the dish, but none of them were small.

Dishes were served family-style, arriving at the table in the order in which the kitchen finished preparing them. The bean jelly noodle salad is served cold, so that came to the table quickly. It was spicy yet refreshing, the gelatinous texture of the noodles holding a chill quite well--much appreciated on a day that had reached 98°F.

The Guan Fu style fried yolk corn was perhaps the most intriguing and unfamiliar dish. It was also the largest. The giant plate contained a mountain of fried corn kernels dusted in dried egg yolk; they were both sweet and salty, with a crisp-tender texture that made them a perfect snack. Except eating this dish was slow going, as chopsticks made it difficult to pick up more than one kernel at a time.

Speaking of chopsticks, Guan Fu has a novel approach to them. Rather than using coarse wooden disposable chopsticks, or plastic ones that require washing, they use chopstick handles with replaceable wooden tips. The tips come in little paper packages, which the diner removes before screwing the tips into place. This way they use much less wood and paper than traditional disposable sticks, and there's no doubt that the tips are sanitary.

We also ordered Chinese black fungus in Guan Fu sauce, a quite spicy (three chile peppers, according to the menu) dish of snappy-textured mushrooms (also called wood ears, commonly used in moo shu preparations) with raw onion and chiles in a clear, ginger-forward, sauce.

Our lone meat dish was a stir fry of chicken with Sichuan prickly ash. Prickly ash is a member of the citrus family, which explains why Sichuan peppercorns--which are actually buds--are somewhat lemony in flavor. Oh, and they have a numbing quality, too, with which those who have tried them are familiar. The combination of Sichuan pepper numbing and chile pepper heat is known as ma la, and this chicken dish was loaded with it--but not in an uncomfortable way. There were also bits of crispy potato and even crispier lotus root in the dish, which added some textural contrast.

My favorite dish was the dumplings, which, oddly enough, appeared in the dessert section of the menu. I have been looking for a dish of dumplings in hot chile oil like the one served at a place called Szechuan Best, in Randallstown. We went there semi-regularly in the 80s, and I had to get the dumplings every time. The sauce was hot and oily and redolent of five spice. I think. It's been a long time, but I would know the flavor if I tasted it again. The dumplings at Guan Fu were not the same, though the delicate wrappers filled with pork seemed somewhat similar. The sauce, however, was its own thing. No five spice, and actually quite mild to my palate, but eminently slurpable. Now that I think back on it, I can understand how their relative mildness (only two chile peppers) might be a relief after eating an otherwise highly-spiced meal.

Overall, I liked Guan Fu. I think it's on par with Grace Garden and Hunan Taste, and I'm happy to have been able to compare them so favorably. However, each restaurant has its own personality. I'd definitely like to go back to Guan Fu and get to know it better.

Guan Fu
39-16 Prince St g01
Flushing, NY 11354

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Flashback Friday - Manor Tavern

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on October 22, 2012
On a rainy night in early October, our 12th wedding anniversary to be exact, Mr Minx and I drove the long and winding road to the Manor Tavern, in Monkton. The restaurant, though not new, has been going through some changes recently, at least in management, and, from that, one might surmise that the kitchen has some new tricks up its sleeve. Or not. The tavern is currently owned by the partners of Au Poitin Stil and the Kooper's restaurant group, along with Jim Franzoni of nearby Verdant Valley Farm; however, Chef Travis Szerensits has been in the kitchen since before the current owners took over. The menu that results from this combination of old and new guard is a curious mix of favorites like crab cakes, a nice selection of burgers, very expensive steaks, and things that might appeal to a (somewhat) hipper crowd like truffle fries and pork belly sliders.

What passes for decor at the Manor Tavern is a mishmash of large saws, framed racing silks, old toasters, and assorted oddball flea market items that hovers somewhere between "granny" and "quaint." I had hoped for "old money horse country," but neither being from old money nor particularly horsey, I probably wouldn't know it if I saw it. Perhaps crosscut saws and antique toasters are indeed involved.

The restaurant was fairly quiet on the evening of our visit, with a few tables of retirees here and there, but the roaring fireplace was welcoming, as was the staff. Our waitress was particularly solicitous, keeping our glasses full and the plates coming in a timely fashion.

The temperatures had plummeted during the day, so Mr Minx thought a steaming hot bowl of gumbo would make a nice appetizer. It didn't have enough of that dark roux deliciousness for my taste, but Mr Minx liked it just fine. Because I had the cozy fireplace at my back, I didn't need to fill my belly with a bowl of warmth. Instead, I chose the eggplant napoleon. The eggplant was admirably crisp, and the goat cheese was a lovely creamy counterpoint, but both the eggplant and the tomato could have used some salt. The mixed greens on the side appeared to be elderly arugula with unpleasantly hard stems, but I liked the tart dressing. There was a miserly drizzle of pesto infused olive oil on the dish (and some balsamic syrup), which really perked up the flavor of the tomato; I wish there had been more.

I had checked out the menu in advance and once I saw scallops on offer, my mind was made up. I really need to stop craving the things, but I'm having a hard time finding satisfaction. My most recent experiences with scallops have led me to believe that they are the biggest rip-off on a restaurant's menu. At Pierpoint, four tiny specimen were a whopping $29. At Manor Tavern, four similarly-sized ones were $26. (So why were the three slightly-larger scallops at Earth, Wood, and Fire only $12? Perhaps scallops aren't as pricey as restaurants would like us to believe.)

Anyhoo...Manor Tavern's menu advertised their scallops as being accompanied by a grilled corn puree, basil pesto, crispy hazelnuts, and shaved chow chow. In theory, that sounds great. In practice - not so much. Yes, the scallops were perfectly cooked, seared on the outside, tender and lightly translucent on the inside, and fairly aggressively seasoned. The corn puree - which was so sweet I mistook it for a butternut squash preparation - was silky and buttery. The kitchen could have stopped right there and I would have been pretty happy. (Happier still if it were half the price or had twice as many scallops.) But the rest of the items on the plate just didn't need to be there. The "pesto" was dry and crumbly, as if the maker forgot to add the all-important olive oil, and the seven naked hazelnuts added nothing to the dish. The "chow chow" was just a tart cole slaw with a faux country name applied to it. It had neither the sweetness nor the variety of spices found in the green tomato and/or cauliflower relish with which I am familiar.

Plus, the symmetrical plating was borderline silly.

Mr Minx fared much better with his entree, the beer can chicken. A whole chicken, Natty Boh can still stuck up its keister, was brought to the table along with a carving knife and a separate plate bearing the side dish - horribly overcooked broccoli. Broccoli aside, the chicken was very good, the skin charred in spots, redolent of thyme and cumin, with juicy meat underneath. We put a real hurtin' on that bird before designating the few remaining parts to a doggie bag.

Finally, we tried dessert. Mr Minx had the brownie sundae, which came in a mason jar for no particular reason. The brownie was served warm, but it was too sweet and seemed more like a flourless cake sort of thing than a brownie. My flourless chocolate "pie" (it did have a strip of uninteresting crust along the top) was marginally less-sweet. It was served with a dollop of Prigel Creamery's cinnamon ice cream that, disappointingly, tasted more like red hot candies than the spice. I encountered pebbles of ice, which spoke of improper storage.


A meal this uneven suggests the kitchen is still trying to find a balance. The simpler, more homey, dishes were more successful than the two that involved fancy plating; while they weren't bad, they were far from perfect. If I'm going to shell out good money, I expect perfect, or at least very close. However, the table of old timers behind us seemed to enjoy their crab cakes (which were so lightly broiled as to appear raw, and I have to wonder how close the accompanying "Tidewater slaw" was to my "chow chow") and the couple to the side were making yum-yum sounds over their steaks. Obviously there are people who think that the Manor Tavern does some things right. And they do. Just not everything.

Manor Tavern
15819 Old York Rd
Monkton, MD 21111
(410) 771-8155

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Dining in NY: Summer 2018 Edition

One of things I look most forward to every year is the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. Not only do I enjoy going up and down the aisles of the Javits Center looking for new food trends and tasting everything from liege-style Belgian waffles to goat cheese, from maple syrup to ice cream, I also love eating all of the various things the city has to offer. And it has a lot.

I usually stay in Koreatown, where one can indulge in Korean bbq and soondubu jigae 24 hours a day. While I don't always partake in a full meal at one of the many restaurants around me, I usually stop somewhere for a snack and always for pastries.

This trip, I popped into Mandoo Bar for a snack of goon mandoo, or crisp fried dumplings stuffed with pork and greens. I wasn't sure I could eat all ten dumplings, but they were so good, light and greaseless, I dispatched them without much effort at all.

There are two pastry shops that I frequent, Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours. The first is great for flaky pastries, like this danish-like creation of crisp glazed croissant-style dough filled with cheese and topped with toasted almonds. Paired with an iced milk coffee, it was a good start to my day of perfume shopping. I didn't stop for lunch until about three that day, and when I did, it was to grab one of the several weirdly delicious hot-dog-filled pastries at Tous Les Jour. Imagine a cheese danish, but savory, with a hot dog stuck in the middle and a drizzle of ketchup and onions.

Yes. Exactly like that.

I also bought several donuts for Mr Minx and a couple of the sausage-looking chewy rice sticks for me to eat when I got home.

More sweetness was had at Spot Dessert Bar in Flushing. (There's one on 32nd Street in Koreatown, too!) They serve trendy, perfectly Instagrammable desserts, like the Harvest: layers of berries and soft cheesecake topped with oreo crumbs served in a small flowerpot, with black rose milk tea for "watering," and raspberry sorbet. So cute and also a nice combination of flavors and textures.

My partner in crime, Daisy, had the baked Alaska cone, which they bruleed at the table in order for her to film the action.

I had been to Besfren before for a cookie. It was February, and I wasn't into the idea of eating ice cream at that moment. This time, however, it was hot as hell and a frozen treat was very welcome. I had seen this matcha taro soft serve ice cream on Instagram many times, and can say it's as tasty as it is pretty. The texture could be more creamy/thick though, IMHO.

A few doors down from Besfren is Keki Modern Cakes, home of the famous Japanese "bouncy" cheesecake. Another Instagram darling, this cheesecake isn't the most photogenic thing in the world, but it is delicious. My roommate Dara and I put a hurting on one while having a serious conversation about life; I took another home to Mr Minx, and that one didn't last long, either.

My trip to NY wasn't all sweet. I also popped into the branch of Tacombi in the Empire State Building two blocks north of Koreatown for some taco snacks. The tacos are smaller than average, and they only use one tortilla, so two tacos make for a light lunch. I tried the al pastor and the chorizo con papas. Next time I think I might go for a tostada.

315 5th Ave
New York, NY 10016

Keki Modern Cakes
315 5th Ave
New York, NY 10016

Mandoo Bar
2 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001

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

Spot Dessert Bar Flushing
39-16-39-98 Prince St
Flushing, NY 11354

Tacombi Empire State Building
23 West 33rd Street
New York, NY 10118

Tous les Jours
31 W 32nd St
New York, NY 10001

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Crabcakes and Coke Life

Soul Food Sessions is a non-profit out of Charlotte, North Carolina, with the goal of acknowledging and supporting people of color in the culinary arts. One of the ways they do this is by organizing pop-up dinners that not only showcase the diverse talents of the chefs involved, but also bring people together to discuss equal opportunity in the food industry. They've partnered with Coca-Cola Consolidated for their current pop-up series, The Table is Set; A four-city tour served with a Coke. The tour started in Charlotte, hits DC next week, followed by Baltimore that weekend, and finishes in Charleston, SC. Yes, I did say Baltimore was a stop on the tour, and I know you want more details on that.

When: July 29th, 5:30pm
Where: The American Brewery, 1701 N Gay Street, 21201
Tickets can be purchased here.

One of the dishes that will be featured at the event is an appetizer created by Charlotte, North Carolina Chef, Jamie Barnes. The recipe features crisp-coated crab cakes loaded with summer vegetables and topped with a fresh and creative watermelon rind slaw. As fellow Marylanders know, crabs and crab cakes are a way of life in this state. People here are very opinionated about both, but especially crab cakes. One filled with as much vegetables as crab and without crab seasoning of any kind, plus sugar, is going to raise some eyebrows. However, I was excited to recreate this dish at home--because I'm always up for trying a new twist on familiar foods--and to serve it with the pop-up's official beverage pairing, Coca-Cola Life.

I went shopping at my local Harris Teeter store to buy all of the ingredients for the recipe: white corn; lump crab; scallions; and a cute little watermelon (that did double duty as dessert). I also picked up some Coca-Cola Life, the low-calorie, Stevia-and-sugar-sweetened Coke with a green label. The Coke Life paired well with the natural sweetness of the watermelon rind and brought out the more complex flavors of the crab cake. I also used the cola to make the dressing for the slaw (recipe below).

If you can't make it to the event, you can still make the Charred Corn Crab Cakes with Watermelon Rind Slaw at home, just as I did. A word of advice though: be careful of projectiles while standing near a pan containing hot oil and crab cakes that are full of corn. I had a couple of kernels leap out at me with a loud bang! If popcorn hadn't already been invented long ago, I'd have something great on my hands (and in my hair)!

Sweet Red Pepper Vinaigrette

1/3 red bell pepper, cut into small dice
1 8-oz bottle of Coca-Cola Life
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the bell pepper and the Coke Life into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, watching carefully, until most of the cola has evaporated and the bell peppers are coated in syrup, about 10 minutes. Remove peppers to a medium bowl and set aside to cool.

Once cool, add the remaining ingredients and season to taste. Use as dressing for watermelon rind slaw.

* 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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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Atelier de Culinaire

Rack of Lamb
The Stratford University School of Hospitality & Culinary Arts in Baltimore has officially opened its own restaurant, Atelier de Culinaire, which translates to "culinary workshop." Located in Little Italy, the restaurant is an off-campus vehicle for their students to have hands-on, real-life, restaurant working experience. 

Atelier de Culinaire is running a grand opening special: three courses, plus a non-alcoholic beverage for $25 (plus tax & gratuity). The menu includes starters such as chilled lobster salad, beef carpaccio, steamed mussels, or spinach salad. Main dishes include halibut, wasabi ginger-crusted salmon, rack of lamb, crab cakes, duck, pork chops, and a whole sizzling catfish. Finally, indulge in a sweet third course; all dessert selections are made in house and vary from day to day. There's a full bar and a la carte menu as well.

This special will run through Friday, August 3rd. Be sure to mention the soft opening special when making your reservations and upon your arrival.

Margarita Tart
Additionally, Atelier de Culinaire will serve the public Wednesdays through Saturdays from 6pm-10pm. They will be adding a Sunday Champagne Brunch as of August 12th from 11am-4pm.

Lobster Salad
Along with food and beverage choices, the menu includes a rather unique option, “Atelier de Culinaire is proud to showcase a staff of Stratford University students about to finish their internships and seeking employment opportunities. If you are interested in speaking with any of our interns about future employment, please let us know.”

Atelier de Culinaire
806 Stiles Street
Baltimore MD 21202
Reservations: 410-528-2710
Open Wednesday – Saturday (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Twitter & Instagram: @Atelier_806

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Chez Hugo

While walking through downtown on my way to meet Mr Minx after work one evening, I noticed that Chez Hugo was on the way to his office. We hadn't yet been there, so I suggested that its convenient location to our already-parked car meant that we needed to check the place out. 

Chez Hugo bills itself as a seasonally inspired, farm-driven bistro, featuring classic French dishes by Chef Steve Monnier. Baltimore has never been a hotbed for French fare, so rarely has there ever been more than two French restaurants in the city. Petit Louis in Roland Park is usually quite busy, so it seems the need is there. However, I was disappointed to find that Chez Hugo was quite empty when we arrived for our 5:45 reservation. Granted, we eat early, but when we left after 7pm, there was still only one other diner. Give the place some love, people!

We deliberated over the menu for a bit before deciding on the duck liver pate and the server-recommended tarte aux courges.

The pate was rich and smooth, with a flavor a bit more refined than that of chicken liver pate. It came with tangy red currants and lovely grilled bread.

Our server was so enthusiastic about the zucchini tart, we felt we couldn't pass it up. But we should have. It's still on the menu, so someone likes it; personally I thought it was bizarre. The crust was crumbly and sweet, somewhat like the graham cracker crust on a no-bake cheesecake. Then came a layer of onions, which the server said would be perfectly caramelized. They appeared to be cooked only a few notches above sweated (you can see they're still pretty white). Finally came a topping of thinly sliced zucchini that were only barely grilled so they still seemed raw. I love the combination of onion and zucchini, which if cooked together slowly can be fairly sweet. Plop that into a savory tart shell, perhaps with a smidge of cheese, and I'm sold. Chez Hugo's version though, not so much.

Things improved considerably with our entrees. I had the Thursday plat du jour (the daily plates aren't on the menu as of this writing) of merguez sausage with a cous cous salad and black garlic naan. The merguez was fab--salty, lamb-y, spicy, juicy. And generously portioned, so I got to take a bit home for breakfast the next day. The black garlic naan was swoon-worthy fluffy and tender on the inside, with a faint garlicky-ness and extra flavor provided by the aggressive charring.

Mr Minx ordered the leg of lamb, which was succulent and well-seasoned. He said it was the most tender lamb he's eaten in a while. Though the farro and pea accompaniments weren't exactly camera-ready, they also were tasty and fulfilled the starch and veg components required by my husband.

Though the entrees were very good, dessert is really where it's at. I had always wanted to try a Paris-Brest, named for a bicycle race from Paris to Brest and back to Paris again. A donut-sized ring of choux paste filled with decadent hazelnut pastry cream, this dessert was a sweet-lover's dream.

The tangy tarte au citron with tiny dollops of crisp meringue, fruit, ice cream, and even squares of fruit gelee, was a less-sweet but still delectable finish to our meal.

I have heard that Chez Hugo can get noisy, but I have to assume this happens later in the evening or on the weekends, as it was as quiet as a tomb on our particular Thursday night. I'm looking forward to going back; perhaps one day I can sneak over for lunch....

Chez Hugo
206 E Redwood St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(443) 438-3002

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Flashback Friday - Okra

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on October 19, 2012.
Okra is a very maligned vegetable. People who have never even tried it will make a face and say, "eww, it's slimy!" Oh grow up. Give it a chance before you judge it.

I find the texture of lightly-cooked okra is better-described as "creamy." It's really only slimy if you slice it while raw and then rub your fingers in it as it oozes on your cutting board. (Oh, just toss it into a hot frying pan, you wuss.) Yes, okra does contain a bit of goo that binds the seeds together, but so do tomatoes and cucumbers and I've never heard anyone complain about them. Plus, okra isn't eaten raw; once it's cooked, any of the ickiness that makes adults flap their hands in distress completely dissipates.

"But how does it taste?" ask the okra virgins. I think the earthy green flavor is like a combination of mushrooms and corn, both of which rank among my favorite things to eat. Your mileage may vary (I know there are mushroom haters out there, too).

There's no better way to eat fresh okra than to sauté it in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil and butter until the pods are tender (five minutes or so). Add salt and pepper and eat 'em hot. Okra's also good dipped in flour/egg/bread crumbs and shallow-fried until brown and crispy. Stewed sliced okra, cooked with tomatoes and spices is also nice, as is the classic okra-enriched gumbo. And a good gateway experience for some people might be okra pickles. (I've seen Talk of Texas brand in most area supermarkets.) They're crunchy and garlicky and great in a vodka martini.

Besides tasting good, okra is low in calories and high in fiber, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins C and B6. So really, there's no good reason *not* to eat okra.

Okra season might be over (or close to it) but whole and sliced pods can be found in the freezer section of many area supermarkets. Give it a try; you might find yourself liking something new.

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Monday, July 09, 2018

Avenue Kitchen & Bar

I've eaten at Avenue Kitchen and Bar several times by now, so it's high time I said something about the place.

I love it.

Now, I haven't really had an entree-ish meal there at all, just small plates/appetizers/tacos. But everything I have eaten has been wonderfully fresh and georgeously plated. Just look at these carrots I enjoyed early this year.

The plate was a work of art, both rustic and refined, and the flavors were just as lovely. I am crazy about carrots, and I was bananas about these.

The roasted brussels sprouts I ate on the same visit were just as good, nicely crispy but also tender on the inside.

And the tuna tartare with avocado was similarly delicious. And beautiful.

On another trip, we had dinner with friends. Mr Minx and I shared this burger, which was pretty darn good. It wasn't crowded with toppings, which let the nice beefy flavor shine. The fries were particularly tasty, which is something coming from a person who isn't all that into potatoes.

I tried the octopus with scrapple hash twice. The first time, the scrapple was much more noticeable, and both times the octopus was super tender. It's nice to find more restaurants serving octopus--and doing it right.

(Almost) every restaurant in Baltimore has a crab cake, and Avenue is no exception. And on Wednesday nights, their crab cake is half price, which means $15. It's generously sized, quite lumpy, and easy on the filler. They could broil it a little longer for my taste (I like 'em crispy), but I gotta say it was pretty damn fine.

I happened to be in Hampden one recent afternoon and planned to try a new eatery for lunch. Unfortunately, it didn't open until later in the day, so I skipped over to the Avenue instead. I happily chowed down on these shrimp tacos with a salad of beets and avocado over arugula and was kinda glad I missed the other place (but will get there eventually).

Avenue Kitchen & Bar has become my go-to restaurant if I find myself in Hampden. It's the fourth restaurant to take over that space in the last 10 years or so, and I hope it's the one that stays.

Avenue Kitchen & Bar
911 W 36th St
Baltimore, MD 21211

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