Monday, November 19, 2018

Raw Spice Bar #sponsored

Fall is apple season, and all I want to do is bake them up in some delicious way. Like good old baked apples, for example, peeled and cored apples stuffed with butter, spices, and brown sugar and baked until tender. I like to serve them warm with a dollop of whipped cream, or--even better--a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. And whipped cream. Apple pies, too. Mr Minx made a fab apple galette a couple of weeks ago, mounding sliced apples seasoned with a little lemon juice into a pie crust brushed with apricot jam and baking it until golden brown.

I normally only season apples with cinnamon, but when Raw Spice Bar sent me a selection of their freshly ground spice mixtures to try, I found myself using a far more exotic blend on my fall apple creations. Their Apple Pie Spices contain not only cinnamon, but also nutmeg, allspice, ginger, green cardamom, star anise, grains of paradise, and rosemary. Yeah, those last four are pretty out of the ordinary for apple pie, especially the grains of paradise. It's an African pepper that while not as spicy as the usual black peppercorns, still has a kick. Somehow, though, the disparate spices all work pretty harmoniously with apples. I'm thinking this blend would work well with other fall-ish creations, too, like pumpkin pie or bread and in oatmeal cookies.

Rather than a typical two-crust apple pie, I decided to try my sample of Raw Spice Bar spices in an open-faced apple tart. I used a removable-bottom tart pan that doesn't get nearly enough love, and a grand total of five ingredients. (If you want to make your own pie crust, that will add a few ingredients to the list, but not many.) the result was pretty darn good, if I do say so. And pretty, in a rustic sort of way (I am not a perfectionist).

Raw Spice Bar has several interesting spice blends, along with individual spices. I think I want to try the Ethiopian Berbere, Persian Advieh, and their salt-free chili powder when I place an order, also the Bourbon-smoked New Mexico smoked paprika, and the Hatch and Urfa Biber chiles. Their spices are sold in small portions so they're always fresh, and their subscription service means you will get a new fresh batch on a regular basis. Check them out.

In the meantime, here's the apple tart recipe. Enjoy!

Apple Tart

1 refrigerated pie crust
4 large apples, like Cortland
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Raw Spice Bar Apple Pie Spices
2 tablespoons apricot jam

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Unroll pie crust into a 9" tart pan with removable bottom. Carefully press crust into all of the pan's nooks and crannies and trim the excess dough at the top. Refrigerate the crust for 15 to firm up.

Peel and core the apples. Cut each into quarters and cut the quarters into 6-8 slices. Toss the apple with the sugar and spices.

Remove the crust from the fridge. Starting from the outside and working in, arrange the apple slices--curved side up--in concentric circles. Don't worry if it's not neat or perfect. Once you have filled in the entire tart, take some of the remaining slices (you will have plenty) and insert them in between the pieces already in the pan. If there are leftovers, eat them.

Bake the tart for 15 minutes at 400°F, then turn the temperature down to 350°F and bake an additional 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Melt the jam in the microwave for a few seconds, then use a pastry brush to top the tart with a thin layer.

Allow to cool completely before slicing. Remove the sides of the pan to make slicing easier. If you want, you can also slide the tart off the pan bottom, but I always leave it on. It makes life easier.

Serves 8.

* 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!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Flashback Friday - Lamb unKebabs

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on May 13, 2013.

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My favorite flavor palettes come from China and Thailand and I find myself using them pretty frequently in my weekend dinner-making. Despite the vibrancy of seasonings like Sriracha, star anise, and Thai basil, eating similar flavors over and over can get, well, boring. So one recent weekend, I mixed things up a bit and prepared a meal with origins in the Mediterranean. And I don't mean Italy or Greece - Turkey's there too, along with Egypt and Syria, Albania, and Bosnia.

Lamb is a popular protein in that part of the world, and it is often flavored with what we might otherwise consider "sweet" spices. You know, the seasonings most familiar to us in pumpkin pie - cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Combined with cumin and paprika, these sweet spices both camouflage and accentuate the characteristic "gamy" flavor of lamb.

These rather sausage-like lamb patties, borrowed heavily from a kebab recipe found in chef Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean, would be perfect skewered and cooked on the grill, but they were also quite tasty when pan-fried and served with a sprightly salad of tomato, feta, and olives.

Lamb unKebabs (adapted from Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume)

1.5 lbs ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
pomegranate molasses (optional)

Mix all ingredients except molasses thoroughly. Form into eight small patties. Refrigerate on a covered plate for at least one hour and up to overnight to allow flavors to meld.

Cook patties in a bit of olive oil in a hot pan until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Serve with tomato salad and a drizzle of the pomegranate molasses.

Tomato Salad

2 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and cut into large dice
1/4 cup chopped black and green olives
1 tablespoon minced chives
splash balsamic vinegar
splash lemon juice
splash agave syrup or honey
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cubed feta cheese

Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl. Allow to rest at room temperature for at least half an hour so flavors can meld. Add cheese when ready to serve.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Chipotle Catering Giveaway #sponsored

The holidays are rapidly approaching, and along with them come the requisite parties. In my office, we tend to do potluck, but after umpteen years of eating the boss's rubbery warehouse store shrimp cocktail, my co-workers and I greet the idea of our annual holiday party with something less than enthusiasm.

Sometimes a couple of us go in for catering from a local fast casual restaurant. Like Chipotle. Everyone's eyes light up when they see the spread of meats, beans, and toppings that they can use to customize their meal. It's so much better than Rhonda's cop-out big box store potato salad and Phil's crudite plate!

Chipotle can cater a party as small as 6 guests and as large as 200, and with only 24 hours notice. Chipotle's burritos, bowls, and tacos are familiar to everyone. They've always used real ingredients, prepared by hand, without added flavors, colors, or additives. And who doesn't love a taco? #tacotuesday is a thing for a reason.

Doesn't your party deserve goodies from Chipotle, too? You know it does! Learn more at Chipotle's Catering site. Once you pick up your order, all you have to do is unpack the boxes, and it's ready to go. Bowls, forks, napkins, serving spoons, and tongs are included.

You can try Chipotle Catering for FREE, cuz I am hosting a giveaway! The winner will get a card good for a spread of food to feed 20 people. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post telling me where you plan to serve your free feast. I'll pick a winner on Monday, November 19th and contact you via email for your address so I can put your prize in the mail ASAP. Catering cards expire on Dec 31, 2018, but that's plenty of time to let Chipotle cater your party.

More rules (mine, not theirs):
Continental US only.
Must be 18 or over to participate.
Deadline: November 18th
You must include your email address in your comment so I can contact you!

Questions? Leave a comment and I'll try to answer you ASAP.

* 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!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Gypsy's Truckstaurant

I have been a big proponent of the Baltimore food truck scene since Day 1. I am fortunate enough to work near an officially city-sanctioned food truck hub, and if I wanted, could have a truck lunch every day. Many trucks have come and gone over the past several years, some I have liked very much. But my favorite is the long-running, award-winning, Gypsy Queen Cafe. Twice a week, one of their two trucks would park right in front of my building. I soon found myself spending a bit of time every Friday with Annmarie at the black truck known as "Little Gypsy."

Full disclosure: Annmarie provided recipes for each of our three books. We are friends, but it was the truck that brought us together.

Eventually, the so-called food truck hub in my area began to be overrun with renegade trucks. Trucks that didn't even have signage. Trucks that served mostly fried foods that were likely purchased in bulk at a kitchen supply store. They'd get to the hub at 7am and leave no room for the regular trucks that served more interesting and house-prepared foods. Little Gypsy stopped coming around, though I do see the original truck once in a while.

Food Trucks in Baltimore seem to be going strong, as seen by the recent Food Truck Week and various festivals. But I rarely bother to get a truck lunch anymore.

Now if I want one of Annmarie's crab cakes, I can go to the Gypsy Queen Truckstaurant. While it's not convenient to work, the hours are longer, so I can have dinner as well as lunch. Or both.

The Truckstaurant is situated in a former garage on Clipper Mill Road. If you're trying to find the place while heading south on Clipper Mill and have driven as far as Birroteca, you've just passed it. Turn yourself around and go back a few hundred feet; you can definitely see the sign when approaching the restaurant from that angle. Eventually there will be a sign on Clipper Mill, which will make finding the place much easier.

The restaurant is much like a Tardis--it's far bigger on the inside than it seems on the outside. Annmarie and Tom did most of the work themselves, including painting and decorating. The result is a fun and eclectic space that feels like its been around for ages. It's homey and comfortable, with booths, a back lounge, and a long bar. There's also a dining space with tables on the other side of a clever partition made from empty wine bottles donated by restaurants and friends.

The menu includes all of the food trucks' greatest hits, including various items stuffed into waffle cones. My favorite is the crab cone. Annmarie's crab cakes are "saucy," that is, very moist, which is the way I prefer them. They're also topped with her dynamite chipotle aioli, which is good on just about everything. Possibly even chocolate cake (though I haven't tried that yet).

There are all manner of other goodies on the menu, including chicken wings and fat dates stuffed with bleu cheese and wrapped in bacon.

One of the advantages of a brick-and-mortar version of Gypsy Queen is a liquor license, so one can have beer, wine, or cocktails with their noms. Additionally, GQ Truckstaurant has a ridiculous 7-hour-long Happy Hour Tuesday - Friday from 11am to 6pm, which seems like a damn fine excuse for day drinking.

Gypsy Queen Truckstaurant
3515 Clipper Mill Rd
Baltimore, MD 21211
(443) 869-5602

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Flashback Friday - The Food Market

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on December 12, 2012.

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After being urged by several different people to try the Food Market, we did, with some delicious results.

The place is popular. Seriously. We eat dinner early, partly to miss the crowd, partly because we're old. By 6pm on a Saturday, the place was hopping, and getting louder by the minute. The music was loud, the people were louder, and the restaurant has no sound-absorbing materials at all, apart from the barely-padded banquette seats. So bring earplugs and a hearty appetite because there's lots to try.

The menu at the Food Market has categories like "little," "small," "big," and "in-between," which translates as "finger food appetizers (plus a soup)," "appetizers that require a fork," "entrees," and "sandwiches." (You're welcome.) Absolutely everything sounded like something we wanted to eat, so it was a bit hard to narrow down our choices. Eventually we settled on two littles, two smalls, and one in-between to share.

The Amish soft pretzels were less the stereotypical salty twists and more like buttery bread fingers (think Aunt Annie's). The generous portion of beer cheese fondue was spiked with jalapeno and had a nice kick. It was so good, we hated to waste it; even after the pretzels were gone, we kept the cheese sauce as a dip for french fries and the tasty foccacia that was brought to the table when we arrived.

Amish soft pretzels, beer cheese fondue
The meatloaf fries were fat little fingers of very good, very moist, homestyle meatloaf, dipped in tempura batter and deep fried. Complete overkill, but quite tasty. I think I might enjoy the meatloaf more if it were served in a more traditional manner.
Meatloaf fries crispy tempura
ketchup & black pepper beef gravy
At this point, after only two courses, I was getting full. The next two dishes that arrived were thankfully somewhat lighter. Yes, the pork belly seemed lighter than the meatloaf, probably because it hadn't been deep fried. Not that there's anything wrong with deep frying....

There was a nice ratio of fat to meat on the chubby chunk of belly, which can sometimes seem too fatty. (Not that there's anything wrong with fatty....) The brown sugar topping added a perfect amount of sweetness and married well with the toasted pecans. My favorite dish of the evening.
Brown sugar pork belly, petite greens, toasted pecans,
cherry tomatoes, bangin’ honey mustard vinaigrette

We also ordered the chopped salad, which the kitchen thoughtfully split for us. It wasn't quite a chopped salad, as the lettuce was whole and the sprouts were cut in half, but it was an interesting combination of flavors, and quite autumnal. I thought it was odd that the sprouts were warm, and everything else was at room temperature, and felt the macadamia nut crumble was merely a texture and not a flavor, but Mr Minx gobbled it up. And he's not a fan of either beets or cooked carrots.
Chopped salad lemon cream cheese, roasted brussels, beets, 
carrots, mac nut crumble, cranberry vinaigrette
Finally, we shared the Pat LaFrieda burger, which the kitchen again split for us. The saltiness of the bacon predominated, rendering even the pickles mute. But the meat was perfectly cooked, and the bun held up to the large amount of filling. The crinkle cut fries on the side were a touch of nostalgia.
Pat LaFrieda Burger diced bacon, lettuce, tomato, 
onion, sesame bun, cheese, pickles
And then we ordered dessert. I was tempted by the sound of pumpkin cannoli, but would have preferred a single large cannoli to the three small ones. I'm more about the filling than the shell, which was a bit dry and dense.
Pumpkin Cannoli
Mr Minx ordered the Heath bar bread pudding, which was lovely and moist, but far too sweet for my taste. The plain whipped cream was a welcome relief from the sugar overload, although it's probably odd to look to a pile of what is essentially whipped fat to lighten anything.
Heath bar bread pudding
I have mixed emotions about the Food Market. I love the concept, always love small plates, but think it really takes some advance knowledge of the dishes to put together a meal that feels like a meal, rather than a sundry combination of snack foods (granted, we did perhaps order oddly). Several of the diners around us were ordering big plates only, which might be the way to go. And speaking of other diners - the tables are fairly close together, so it's easy to overhear conversations. For instance, the table of annoyingly giggly female 20-somethings to our left threw out a few bons mots, my favorite being, "ooh...the Baltimore Club looks really good. Except for the shrimp salad." (A Baltimore club is generally a crabcake paired with shrimp salad. Without the shrimp salad, it's a crab cake sandwich.)

That said, I'd like to go back and try a few more things. The pork belly was seriously good (everything was, in its own way), and both the cracker fried oysters and lil' lamb porterhouses seem like items I'd really enjoy. And they have scallops, which almost always turns me on.

The Food Market
1017 West 36th Street
Baltimore, MD 21211
(410) 366-0606
thefoodmarketbaltimore.com

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Snacks from the Great White North

Okay, so...the topic today is snacks, eh? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

A couple months ago, we had some friends travel down from Toronto to vacation in New York and Washington DC. Since DC is so close to Baltimore, a dinner date was arranged to meet up with them at Founding Farmers DC. Sadly, The Minx had to go solo because I had to work, but she brought back presents in the form of Canadian maple syrup and a couple of savory snacks that we don't get in the States.


One was a potato chip from Ruffles called All Dressed (or Assaisonnées in French). I guess the idea is to combine all the condiments you would typically associate with potato chips into one super flavor. The primary flavors for All Dressed are barbecue, ketchup, salt, and vinegar. In reading the ingredients, there's also a bunch of chemicals I'm not familiar with, but I have to assume they contribute to that weird sour cream taste that permeates all the Frito-Lay chip flavors (even the sweet ones, which is really gross). That said, it's a pretty tasty chip that's a nice balance of savory and ketchup-sweet.

The other snack was Hickory Sticks (or Juliennes à L'Hickory in French). I always loved potato sticks as a kid, so I was especially looking forward to these. The extra crispiness of such tiny slivers of potato really appeal to my texture-conscious palate. This version has a pleasant smokiness and, while they're a little too salty, I can enjoy them in small doses. The Hickory Sticks are branded as being made by Hostess, but both snacks are products of Frito-Lay Canada.

I suppose there's some special marketing reason why Frito-Lay would want to have some Canada-centric snacks, but I think Americans would enjoy these just fine. I hope we'll start seeing these in US supermarkets in the near future.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Flashback Friday - A Quick Trip to NYC

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on December 18, 2012.

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I like to visit New York a couple of times a year, mostly to sniff perfume, but also to eat. I hadn't been up there since January, so it seemed like a good idea to visit the big city during the Christmas season. My train was getting in to Penn Station just before 11am, the time when Shake Shack opens, and I felt that would be a good way to start my day.

Shake Shack has been generating long lines and tons of good buzz since it opened in Madison Square Park in 2004. There are now six locations in New York, two each in DC, Connecticut, and Florida, one in Philly, and two in the Middle East (with London coming soon). The world is apparently obsessed with burgers. I love them myself and wanted to know what all the fuss was about. As with the Five Guys' hoopla, I find it's mostly much ado about nothing. The Shack Burger is a fine, tasty burger. The edges are slightly crisp, the cheese is melty, and the bun is properly squishy. It's a good fast-food-style burger. Nothing orgasmic, earth-shaking, or life-changing. I'd eat it again if it were in front of me, but I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to do so.

Single Shack Burger
Later in the day, I hoofed it from 5th and 58th to the Time Warner Center at 8th and 59th. Why is it that a three block walk across town feels like 10 blocks? Up several escalators, I found A Voce. (You may remember that the restaurant's executive chef, Missy Robbins, cut her finger so badly in the first episode of Top Chef Masters season 4, she had to leave the competition.) I had tried to make a reservation the day before, but was told by Open Table that no reservations were available for that evening. I decided to walk in and take a chance. If they had nothing for me, I'd head up another floor and try Chopped judge Marc Murphy's Landmarc. But the hostess was able to seat me at a two-top facing the bar, where I was attended to by a handsome and charming young waiter. The service was really quite fantastic at A Voce - attentive, yet casual. At one point, my waiter wanted to know how I was doing with my appetizer, but he couldn't get close enough to my table to speak to me, as a water boy was in the way. He merely raised a questioning eyebrow and gave me a thumb's up. I nodded in affirmation, he smiled and walked away. I didn't even have to stop chewing.

Funghi al forno: roasted trumpet mushrooms, fonduta, mache, hazelnuts
The meal started off very well. There were a number of appetizers I wanted to try, but I settled on the funghi al forno. The roasted mushrooms were almost meaty in texture, and indeed required a steak knife to slice into manageable pieces. The fonduta - a truffled cheese sauce - was incredibly rich, yet not overly so. Once the mushrooms were gone, I found myself reaching for a piece of focaccia to sop up the remaining sauce. The hazelnuts added a toasty nutty crunch to round out the dish. Really lovely overall.

Speaking of lovely, that focaccia came with a dish of whipped ricotta with fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil. Good thing there wasn't a spoon with it, otherwise I might have embarrassed myself by eating it straight from the container.

Pici: cocoa pasta, duck bolognese, golden raisins
While the first course was successful, the pici that I ordered for my entree was a total disappointment. Pici is a hand-rolled pasta, somewhat like a thick spaghetti. Imagine making a snake of modeling clay by rolling it between your palm and a table top, and you've got pici. Because they're somewhat thick and about  4" long, picking them up with a fork is like wrestling with a bowl of tarantulas. They're not easily twirled, so a fork full had random ends hanging out in each direction, some of which were happy to slap me in the face as I brought the fork to my mouth. Eventually, I used my knife to cut them into shorter bits. In any case, awkwardness was the least of the dish's problems. The sauce was a bolognese in name only. It had an agrodolce (sweet and sour) thing going on that could have been quite delicious had the sauce had any other thing going on, too. The tiny nubbins of ground duck (which could have been any meat - turkey, rattlesnake) served as a textural element only, and I couldn't taste the cocoa in the pasta. After three or four bites, I was bored with the dish. Thankfully, it wasn't a large portion, so I pushed on and finished it, knowing that a doggie bag wouldn't safely survive the three-plus hours it would take me to get home.

On the side, I had a generously-portioned bowl of beets. I suppose it was sized for the table, but I love beets so a mess of them is fine with me. They were served chilled and topped with finely chopped pistachios. Some of the beets tasted citrussy, others tasted slightly pickled - there was definitely more flavor in the side dish than in my entree.

Since I had a glass of wine with dinner, I passed on dessert. It was just as well, as I was presented with a mignardise of two very soft, house-made, limoncello marshmallows. One bite was enough sweetness for me.

I love New York. I love dining in New York. Sure, I'm disappointed sometimes, but I am always happy to have the opportunity to try popular restaurants and formulate my own opinions about them.

Shake Shack
300 W 44th St
New York, NY 10036
646-435-0135

A Voce Columbus
10 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019
212-823-2523

Posted on Minxeats.com.