Friday, March 23, 2018

Flashback Friday - Edamame Hummus

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This post originally appeared on 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.


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.

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 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 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 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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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sante A Culinary Odyssey

I'll be a celebrity judge at Santé, A Culinary Odyssey next Thursday. This fun foodie event benefits the National Kidney Foundation; tickets can be purchased by clicking here.

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Monday, March 05, 2018

MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza Co. at The Avenue in White Marsh

There's been a real push toward Neapolitan-style pizza in the last few years and I am so happy for the trend. The thin but pliable crust with a scattering of tasty scorch marks has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. When the trend shifted to fresh dough pizzas in the 80s, I lost interest in pizza altogether. Now we have several places in the Baltimore area that are embracing Neapolitan again, like Paulie Gee's in Hampden which imported wood burning ovens from Italy. MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza Company, with a brand new branch on The Avenue in White Marsh, is the first chain that I'm aware of that's attempting to spread this style of pizza nationwide on a large scale.

The Minx and I were recently invited to check out their space and sample their food and drink offerings. The space is clean and inviting, with a curving bar that runs along most of the dining room. The design allows patrons to watch the pizzas being prepared and cooked in their authentic wood burning ovens, just behind the bar. The menu itself is stripped down and very much reflects Northern Italian cuisine. Instead of crab pretzels and sliders, the appetizer menu has a selection of meat and cheese plates and several pairings with fresh burrata. There's also a nice selection of salads, but the main focus is the pizza.

Of course, diners do not live by pizza crust alone, so there is a wide selection of beer, wines, and specialty cocktails. The Minx and I sampled a few, including the Angel Margarita and Devil Margarita. The Angel is a fruity and refreshing concoction flavored with blackberries, while the Devil has some serious heat thanks to the whole Fresno pepper floating in the drink. We also sampled an Italian variation on the whiskey sour that incorporates an herbal liqueur known as amaro, and a Tequila Mojito that has a bright, citrus kick.

In addition to the meat and cheese boards, MidiCi offers an appetizer of meatballs with fresh mozzarella. The meatballs are made with angus beef and are a bit firmer than the meatballs you might get at a red sauce Italian place, but I'm fine with that. The dish is accompanied by their house-made wood-fire toasted bread with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Speaking of meat boards, the one we tried featured prosciutto, spicy Italian salami (calabresi), Neapolitan salami, and rosemary ham. The board included two types of mustard and a smattering of kalamata olives as well. This and a nice glass a wine is perfect start to a lively evening with friends.

Okay, let's get down to business. MidiCi offers about 15 different specialty pizzas as well as five classic Neapolitan pizzas that can be modified with a selection of toppings. The Minx and I tasted several, with the shrimp scampi pizza being a particular favorite of mine. The Minx enjoyed the Egg 'n Bacon pizza which also included Italian sausage and fingerling potatoes in addition to applewood smoked bacon and a freshly cracked egg on top. While I typically do not go for margherita pizzas, the freshness of MidiCi's ingredients made theirs quite appealing; the version with prosciutto and arugula was even tastier.

While eating all that pizza can be quite filling, MidiCi also has a selection of desserts to finish off the meal, including gelatos and sorbettos. If you're more into the concept of a cheese plate as a perfect end to a meal, there's also burrata with pear and honey. Their signature dessert, however, is the Nutella calzone with fresh berries. Made from the same dough as their pizza, the calzone is filled with Nutella and fresh berries, topped with more of each, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. 

MidiCi is a rapidly growing franchise, but they haven't skimped on the details, like the choice of ingredients, the design of their restaurants (even the bathrooms are special), and the quality of their wood-fired ovens that make all the difference in preparing Neapolitan-style pizza. I'm looking forward to trying more of their specialty pizzas and diving into their wide selection of salads.

MidiCi The Neapolitan Pizza Company
The Avenue at White Marsh
8139C Honeygo Blvd.
Nottingham, MD 21236
(443) 725-5456

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Friday, March 02, 2018

Flashback Friday - Viente de Mayo

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This post originally appeared on on May 20, 2013.

After seeing several Internet items extolling the virtue of making one's own corn tortillas, I thought I'd give it a go. Why not try it to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that means nothing to most Americans but, like St. Patrick's Day, is a good excuse to drink?

But we had a pack of corn tortillas in the fridge already, and, truth be told, Mr Minx isn't all that fond of tacos made with soft corn tortillas. (I know!) So instead of tortillas, I figured I'd make some other sort of fried thingy with my newly-purchased bag of masa. 

I noodled around online and found recipes for things called sopes, which appeared to be thick fried tortillas with a rim around the edge. But some of those recipes were similar to the rimless gorditas, which may or may not be split open and filled, depending on the recipe consulted. This blog (and others) calls them Salvadoran enchiladas, but if there's no chiles on them, etymologically speaking, how is that even possible? 

If I did call them sopes or gorditas and, heaven forfend, topped or filled them with something non-traditional or not from the proper region, the spirits of Mexican grandmothers will haunt me forever. Or so my research led me to believe.

I decided that the best--and safest--technical term for fried corn thingies made by a gringo like me would be Fried Corn Thingies. Then I would be able to top them with whatever my little heart wanted to top them with, without fear of repercussions from the Great Beyond. For our Cinco de Mayo dinner, that was a combination of chicken and chorizo, plus refried black beans and various condiments. On the side I served my version of esquites, and we washed everything down with passionfruit margaritas. Well, the original intention was to have passionfruit margaritas, but the Ceres brand passionfruit juice I purchased didn't taste very much like the tangy fruit in question. They were ok, but not anything to write home about. Especially if home is Mexico. Everything else, however, was muy bueno.

Fried Corn Thingies with Assorted Toppings

Thingies (recipe below)
Refried Black Beans (recipe below)
Chorizo Chicken (recipe below)
Chipotle Sauce (recipe below)
Easy Salsa (or your favorite salsa) (recipe below)
crumbly cheese, like feta or cotija
sliced avocado
fresh cilantro

Layer beans, chicken, chipotle sauce, salsa, and cheese on a Thingy. Top with avocado and cilantro. Devour and repeat.

Fried Corn Thingies 

2 cups masa
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for frying

Mix masa, water, and 1/4 cup oil into a smooth dough. Divide dough into 10 pieces. Form each one into a flattened disk about 1/4" thick.

Heat a griddle or large frying pan. Add disks a few at a time and cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, until it starts to brown lightly. Flip the disks, cook 2 minutes more on the other side, and remove from heat. Set aside until ready to eat.

When ready to serve, cook the thingies about 2 minutes per side in a bit of oil to crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Refried Black Beans

1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

Put beans and water in a saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently and vigorously, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the beans are mostly mashed. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chorizo Chicken

1/2 cup chopped onion
vegetable oil
pinch salt
2 links Mexican chorizo
3 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook onion in a bit of oil and a pinch of salt until softened. Remove chorizo from casings and add to onions, breaking up sausage with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, until sausage starts to darken. Add the chicken thighs, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer chicken about thirty minutes until tender.

Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool for a few minutes. With your fingers, two forks, or a knife and a fork, shred/chop the meat into small piece and add back to the pan. Turn up heat and cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid has evaporated, skimming off most of the red oil that rises to the top. Stir in the garlic, brown sugar, and vinegar. Cook an additional minute or two and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chipotle Sauce

1 canned chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch sugar
pinch salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Easy Salsa

2 large or 4 small tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 tablespoon lime juice
pinch cumin
salt and pepper to taste.

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.

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