Friday, May 25, 2018

Flashback Friday - Tea for Two

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on February 20, 2008.
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Did you know that a venti drip coffee at Starbucks contains 480mg of caffeine? Even their decaf has 20mg. Because caffeine tends to give me heart palpitations, I've started to drink more tea (an average cup of tea has between 40 - 60mg), particularly rooibos (caffeine free).

I've always liked a good cup of tea. Ok, I lie - not always. When I was a kid, the only tea we had around the house was that familiar red and yellow box of Lipton's, and it was always served with sugar and lemon, or when someone had a cold, honey and lemon. Lemon was a constant. Now, I think it's fine for iced tea, but I abhor it in hot tea. When my family visited London for the first time in 1976 and tried English Breakfast with sugar and cream, it was a revelation. I could get into drinking tea this way! It was like dessert in a cup, sweet and creamy, but also the tea flavor was bold and not obscured by the strident flavor of citrus. And to this day, that's the way I prefer my cuppa camellia sinensis.

Some teas aren't meant to be had with milk, or sugar for that matter. Over the years I've come to appreciate herbal teas, served neat, and always have tea with Chinese food (jasmine or hurn peen) or sushi (green, preferably genmaicha). It aids with digestion, and somehow just seems right.

I'm drinking more tea than ever these days and have been exploring different brands. Our supermarkets carry the usual suspects: Twinings, Celestial Seasonings, and the ubiquitous Lipton's. I do like some flavors of Celestial Seasonings, particularly the Madagascar Vanilla Red and the impossible-to-find Roastaroma. We keep tins of loose Twinings Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea in the cupboard, but their quality seems to have declined a bit over the years. Lipton has a place on the shelf as well, but only for use in iced tea. Mr Minx and I like to brew up a few plain orange pekoe bags along with several flavored tea bags (usually CS Zingers) in a saucepan of water, and dilute it with enough cold water to fill a gallon jug. This is our usual summertime libation.

As for new and different teas, I stumbled upon the difficult to pronounce Tea Gschwender, a German company that sells its wares here in the US via a shop in Chicago and online. They have a large selection of teas, from black to white and everything in between. I particularly like their red, or rooibush teas. Not actually a tea, rooibos is a member of the legume family, the leaves of which are used to brew a tealike beverage that is completely caffeine-free and full of beneficial phytochemicals.

Another recent discovery is Zhena's Gypsy Teas, an all-organic, Fair Trade product. The rose-flavored Gypsy Love is delicious, with or without milk and sugar.

Mr Minx and I tend to like our tea on the strong side. A tea bag dunked in water just doesn't do it, and we don't mess around with cutesy pots and infusers. Instead, we use our trusty 4-cup Mr Coffee. Two bags in the basket, or a couple tablespoons of loose tea in a coffee filter, brews up quite a nice pot. Several pots, actually. Sometimes I can get two or three out of a single batch of leaves before it starts to taste weak. My current favorite is Winter Magic (pictured above), a rooibos from Tea Gschwender, with cinnamon and almonds bits, cardamom husks, red sandalwood, and cardamom seeds.

I still drink coffee a couple of times a week - decaf - but have really started to prefer a cup of tea most mornings. What's your favorite caffeine-delivery method?

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Monday, May 21, 2018

New Designs at Redbubble

Not only do I write about food and take photos of food, I use those photos to create fabric designs. The four below are some of my latest designs and can be found on everything from travel mugs to duvet covers and more. I particularly like them on scarves, tote bags, and sofa pillows.

Check out the links below every photo to see my whole line, sold by Redbubble.com.

Good Morning

Koreatown

Little Italy

Taco Tuesday

* 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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Spotlight On - Cafe Gia

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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The brick building at the corner of President and Fleet Streets--currently home to the Baltimore Civil War Museum--has seen a lot of action over the years. Originally a train station, it was involved in the Baltimore Riot of 1861, a skirmish that produced the first casualties of the Civil War. President Street Station was also the terminus for scores of Italian immigrants who had originally entered the U.S. through Ellis Island in New York and took the train to Baltimore. They came from all over Italy--from Genoa and Naples on the mainland, Palermo and Cefalu in Sicily--and many settled down virtually at the station’s doorstep in the neighborhood that became known as Little Italy.

So it came to be that multiple generations of the same Italian family lived in the same small rowhouse with hopes to raise future generations in the same place. Today, most of the neighborhood is still of Italian descent, but there are folks of other ethnicities living here and there, drawn to the neighborhood’s warmth and staying power, and its proximity to downtown. The Aquia family are relative newcomers to the area, having only arrived in Baltimore from Cefalu, Sicily, in 1953. Matriarch Giovanna has said, “at a time when no one liked to move around, our family traveled 3500 miles and we haven’t moved 200 feet since.” Gia Fracassetti, Giovanna’s daughter, is first-generation American and the third generation to live in Little Italy. She decided she wanted to own a restaurant that honored not only her family’s long association with the neighborhood, but also with their Sicilian homeland. She and her Mom opened their eponymous restaurant in 2006 in a corner building embellished inside and out with colorful murals, some depicting life in Sicily, including a replica of the wedding portrait of Rosa and Pasquale, the first generation of the Aquia family to settle in Little Italy. Painted images from old advertising posters decorate the interior, and even the tabletops sport colorful illustrations, all done by local artist Yuri Fatkulin who sadly passed away not long after he finished painting those tables.

The chef at Cafe Gia is Gianfranco Fracassetti. Gian, who hails from Lombardy in the northwest of Italy, worked for a few Baltimore restaurants before ending up at Cafe Gia in 2009. After eight years there, he’s a member of the family. Literally, as he and Gia are married and have added a fourth generation to their Little Italy legacy. Chef Fracassetti’s specialty is homemade stuffed pastas, but he’s no slouch when it comes to anything else on the menu. On a recent visit, hubs and I were able to sit outside on their shaded second floor deck and enjoy the pleasant sunny weather without actually coming in contact with the sun. We ordered a special that evening, a flavorful tuna tartare with the crunch of fresh white corn and a healthy dose of garlic from the pesto aioli that bound it together. We also enjoyed a beet salad, which is not to say a green salad with a few token beets on top, but a great mound of tender cubed red barbabietole (a fun word pronounced “barh bah BYIH toh leh”) in the lightest of dressings, with a lacy garnish of finely shaved fresh fennel. I was intrigued by a pork shank braised with beer (a Flying Dog IPA) and peaches accompanied by a risotto with walnuts and broccolini. It was a dish that managed to be both rustic and elegant in all its many flavors and textures, from the porky depth of the man’s-fist-sized shank and the light sweetness of the rich sauce, to the perfectly cooked rice with vaguely asparagus-like broccolini and crunchy nuts. I loved it. My husband went classic; his order of tender veal saltimbocca had a pronounced sage flavor and just the right amount of cheese. It came with sides of roasted multicolored potatoes and green beans slicked with olive oil. A cannoli for dessert (though we were sorely tempted by Giovanna’s delicious tiramisu) and glasses of Sangiovese rounded out our meal.

On past visits, we’ve enjoyed the grilled octopus served with garbanzo beans, the super-tender sous-vide calamari, the beefy Bolognese sauce over house-made fettuccine, and the eggplant Parmesan. Also recommended are the polpette di Luca, meatballs made with ground bison and ricotta. Though bison is a leaner protein than beef, these meatballs are very moist and tender and remind me of the ones my aunt made. She wasn’t Italian, but her father-in-law was, and his recipe made the very best meatballs on the planet as far as I am concerned.

You may, of course, prefer to have a cocktail or a glass of wine with a few nibbles rather than a full meal. Next door to Cafe Gia is Pane e Vino, a sweet little wine bar owned by Steven Blatterman, Gia’s brother, but definitely a family affair. We love their specialty cocktails, our favorite being the Spicy Sicilian, a sprightly combination of pepper vodka, limoncello, kumquat syrup, and lemon, but the vodka/grapefruit/ginger flavors of the Charm City Girl and the tequila, blood orange, and ginger beer concoction called Redheads Have More Fun are tasty as well. The full Cafe Gia menu is also available at Pane e Vino, in case the crispy chickpeas on the bar whet your appetite for more.

Cafe Gia
410 S High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 685-6727

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Flashback Friday - Cantaloupe Gazpacho

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 16, 2013.
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There's nothing like a cold bowl of gazpacho to cool one off on a hot summer day. Ok, maybe an air conditioner does a pretty good job, too, but you can't eat an air conditioner. :)

We had a couple of pretty large cantaloupes on hand and they were ripe. I figured we could eat one as-is, and do something, wasn't quite sure, with the other one. We also had a wilting red bell pepper in the fridge AND a cucumber, so I thought that was a sign to make gazpacho.

I checked the Interwebs for gazpacho recipes and most of them included tomatoes but excluded peppers. Bah - I'd just make up my own.

Cantaloupe Gazpacho

1 red bell pepper
1 medium cantaloupe
1 cucumber
slice or two of bread, crusts removed (optional)
sherry vinegar
champagne vinegar
pinch coriander
toasted pumpkin seeds
mint leaves
black walnut oil

Roast the bell pepper over a gas flame or under a broiler until charred in spots. Put in a paper bag or in a covered bowl and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove as much skin as possible, stem and deseed the pepper and cut it into pieces.

Cut the cantaloupe in half and remove the seeds. Scoop out the flesh into the container of a blender. Add the red pepper pieces. Peel the cucumber, cut it into chunks, and stuff it into the blender with the other stuff.

Puree the fruit and vegetables. If it seems too watery, add some of the bread, broken into small pieces before pureeing, until the consistency is acceptable.

The soup will be sweet, so add as much or as little vinegar as you think it needs. I put in a tablespoon of both sherry and champagne vinegars, but you can use one or the other. I also added a pinch of ground coriander, but that's entirely up to you. If you prefer cumin, go for it.

Serve the soup well-chilled. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, mint if you have it, and either a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or black walnut oil. I like Hammons, which adds a whole new and interesting earthiness and is available at Nuts.com.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Flashback Friday - Sugar Snap Pea Salad

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 23, 2013.
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I love sugar snap peas, especially raw. I've been known to buy a bag of them to snack on during the long train ride to New York - they take care of both the urges for crunchy things and sweet things, and are full of folate, Vitamin C, and fiber. Win-win!

I tossed a bag of sugar snap peas into the grocery cart one week with no plans for them. Eventually, I opened it up and started snacking. Before I got too far, however, I thought I should share their goodness with my loving husband.

After checking the Internet, I found a number of snap pea salad recipes that involved radishes. That made sense to me, because both vegetables have that horseradish-y bite (it's very subtle in the peas, but it's there). I didn't like any of the dressing ideas, and most of them had cheese of some sort, which did not photograph well at all. Then I found one that was Asian-y, with soy and sesame oil. It used fruit preserves too, which I thought was overkill. The peas are sweet already! Instead, I put in the tiniest bit of peanut butter, which helped emulsify the dressing.

The end result was delicious, and we polished off all of it in one sitting.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

1/2 teaspoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
1 teaspoon sriracha
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups fresh raw sugar snap peas
1 cup radishes, trimmed
1/4 cup chopped roasted unsalted peanuts

Put the peanut butter in a small bowl with the soy sauce. Beat with a fork until incorporated. Add the vinegar, ginger, sugar, sriracha, and oils and beat until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. The dressing should be boldly flavored, as the vegetables will water it down.

Julienne the sugar snaps and slice the radishes. Place in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Just before serving, stir in the peanuts. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if necessary.

Serves 2-4

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Monday, May 07, 2018

Brio Tuscan Grille's Seafood Celebration

Though Mr Minx and I have written about Brio Tuscan Grille at least twice, we had never actually eaten there. Oh, we had both been in the space itself many times in the past; it used to be a Friendly's back in the day, before even Harborplace came to be. Needless to say, the place has changed quite a bit. Gone are the banana splits and clam boats--they have been replaced by chops and pasta, a few steps up on the culinary ladder.

Brio is currently offering a special Seafood Celebration menu, so when the restaurant invited us in to have a taste, we were happy to comply.

The prices are right and the portions are huge at this spacious restaurant facing Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (Your local outpost of Brio will offer similarly localized views.) To get to our window table, we walked past the large bar area, scaled to handle happy hour crowds. From our seats, we noted that the ample sidewalk area--much of which is in evening shade--will be perfect for al fresco dining in the upcoming warmer weather.

We started off our meal with three cocktails, variations on a theme, each containing a blackberry infused vodka and black raspberry liquor. The Blackberry Infused Cosmo also contained pineapple infused vodka, lime juice, and basil simple syrup, which made for a refreshing and not-too-sweet drink. The Blackberry Cooler had the basil simple syrup, but also pineapple and lime juices. My favorite was the Blackberry Fizz, which included Moscato and citrus juices. It will be a great summertime sipper with some light snacks.

Then the food started coming. Did I mention that the portions were generous? Huge, even? A plate of calamari with a mustardy aioli and marinara came first. There were also bits of breaded pepperoncini in there, so some bites were fairly spicy. I honestly prefer a lighter breading on my calamari, but this stuff was so fresh and well-cooked, I didn't mind the extra coating.

The Strawberry Balsamic Salmon Salad arrived next. It wasn't on our special menu, so it was unexpected, however, I am glad we got it. A small mountain of baby spinach, strawberries, grapes, bleu cheese crumbles, and spicy pecans dressed in an herb vinaigrette would have been a fine dish on its own, but it was also topped with a small slab of salmon. Keep in mind that Mr Minx and I have been doing Whole30 off and on since the fall, so we've eaten a lot of salmon recently, all of it grossly overcooked. I approached the salmon on this salad with caution, but was pleased to find it was perfect. The outside was lightly crisp, and the inside was super tender and moist. The best restaurant salmon I've had in a good long time. Considering the relative thinness of the filet, cooking it this well took some skill. I'd be happy to eat this salad again, for sure.

When the entrees arrived--three of them!--we were happy to see there was more of that salmon, this time in the Grilled Salmon Fresca, a dish of grilled asparagus, sweet potatoes, spinach, red peppers, feta, and tomatoes, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and a pesto vinaigrette. We also received the Lobster & Shrimp ravioli in a spicy black pepper cream sauce with spinach, roasted grape tomatoes, and a pile of shrimp. Lastly, the Shrimp Mediterranean involved spicy grilled shrimp over a bed of orzo pasta with farro, broccoli florets, asparagus, tomatoes, and spinach, topped with crumbled feta and pesto vinaigrette.

I'm happy to report that the dishes labeled "spicy" were indeed so. The black pepper sauce on the ravioli especially. It was quite rich and hearty, and tasted almost meaty, though the chef assured me that there was no meat stock in it.

We had to doggie bag most of the entrees to eat for lunch later in the week (bonus!) so we could fit dessert. A shared slice of the day's seasonal cheesecake, a rich caramel mascarpone affair, was a nice sweet finish.

Mr Minx and I rarely eat in the Inner Harbor area, though we'd be happy to add Brio to our dining rotation. There's plenty of (expensive) parking in nearby garages, but folks who work downtown have easy access to the restaurant. I think a future happy hour visit will be in order.

* All food items mentioned in this post have been provided to Minxeats by Brio Tuscan Grill However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. 
Amazon links earn me $! Please buy! 

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Friday, May 04, 2018

Flashback Friday - A Trip Around the Mediterranean

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 7, 2013.

Beef kebabs with shakshouky, tzatziki, and tomato and cucumber salad, on pita.
It seems traditional to drag out the grill on Memorial Day. While many people are content with burgers and hot dogs, I think if Mr Minx is going to go to all of the trouble to fiddle with charcoal and have a dirty grill to clean afterward, the food had better be a bit more interesting than the usual.

I've been enamored of ground meat kebabs recently and decided to make two types - lamb and beef - based on recipes from Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean. Pictured above are the beef kebabs, flavored with cumin, paprika, allspice, and cinnamon, (this recipe, minus the herbs, fruits, and nuts, plus 1/2 teaspoon cumin). The lamb kebabs were based on this recipe, minus the cumin and pistachios.

To accompany the kebabs, I made four sauces/dips that I like to make, and it struck me that they came from different countries along the Mediterranean Sea. There was Romesco from Spain, Tzatziki from Greece, and Shakshouky and Hummus, popular in various North African countries. I also chopped up a seeded hydroponic cucumber and a pint of cherry tomatoes, dressed it with salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar and called it a salad, and there was feta cheese, too.

The recipe for shakshouky is linked above, and there will be a post next week on the hummus. The other two sauce recipes follow.

Romesco Sauce

I cheat when I make Romesco. Rather than roasting the vegetables myself, I use jarred roasted red peppers and canned fire roasted tomatoes. Here's the recipe I usually use. I didn't have almonds in the house, so I used 2 tablespoons of Trader Joe's almond butter instead. Worked like a charm.

1 small onion, chopped
2 jarred roasted red bell peppers, torn into chunks
1 15-oz can chopped fire roasted tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup blanched slivered almonds
1 ounce white bread, toasted, crust removed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish sweet paprika)
olive oil
salt

Sauté the onion in a bit of olive oil until lightly browned. Place in blender or food processor with the next seven ingredients and purée, drizzling in olive oil until a thick sauce is formed. Add salt to taste.

Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

Very Simple Tzatziki

1 hydroponic cucumber
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
kosher salt

Cut the cucumber in half and scoop out the seeds. Puree the flesh in a food processor, then dump it into a tea towel and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Put the cucumber back into the food pro with the yogurt and garlic and puree until well combined. Season with salt.

Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

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