Friday, June 14, 2019

Flashback Friday - Memorial Day Tapas

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on June 01. 2009.


I don't know why I got it my head to make tapas for Memorial Day. Not exactly traditional, is it? I thought it would be a good excuse to get out the grill and cook up the leg of lamb that's been in our freezer for a while. Not that lamb needs excuses. Nor is tapas the most popular way to accompany it. But once I get something in my head....

Since Mr Minx had to fiddle with charcoal and all that, I thought it would make it worth his while to toss some chicken breasts on it too, to eat later in the week. Then I invited my brother, which killed the leftovers idea.

The spread consisted of grilled chicken and lamb (mingling on the same plate, both marinated in lots of garlic and soy, with tomato paste on the chicken and brown sugar on the lamb), grilled shrimp, potatoes and chorizo (from José Andres' tapas cookbook), endive salad with bleu cheese, tomato and herb salad (herbs freshly-plucked from the freshly-planted garden) with goat's cheese, marinated mushrooms, and "crab" balls. There was also some red pepper mayo for dipping, bread, and Marcona almonds. Oh, and a pitcher of sangria!

Cheap sangria: 1 bottle Sutter Home "white Cabernet Sauvignon" ($5.99), 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1/4 cup leftover cheap brandy, 1/4 cup cheap Triple Sec. Fruity and boozy and a fine accompaniment to my selection of eats.

I tried to get a good combination of textures, flavors, and temperatures going and think I was pretty successful.

The endive salad was pretty basic: sliced Belgian endives, bleu cheese crumbles, balsamic vinaigrette. I usually add walnuts, but bro is allergic to them, and anaphylaxis is a real buzz kill. The tomato herb salad had pineapple mint; sweet, Thai, and variegated basil; French tarragon; chives and chive blossoms; and some store-bought cilantro (it refuses to grow in my garden). And a couple gobbets of goat's cheese. The tomatoes were the "on the vine" type, which I've been having roaring success with recently. Don't know where in the world they were grown (nobody will ever accuse me of being a locavore) but they have been juicy, red, and sweet.

The potato recipe called for Spanish chorizo, which I could not find at Giant. Go figure. However, I always have Mexican chorizo in the freezer so used one of those. Being raw, they have a very different texture, and are flavored primarily with annatto. Unfortunately, the pimenton called for in the recipe was quite masked by the annatto. The potatoes were tasty anyway, but I will endeavor to make them with the proper chorizo next time.

The marinated mushroom recipe came from a little tapas cookbook called Tapas Fantasicas that I got for Christmas a couple years back. Sherry vinegar is I was worried that the mushrooms would be too tart. I used a combination of baby bellas and shiitakes, and it really was quite delicious. I'd make them again.

Marinated Mushrooms

1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T water
1/2 t dried tarragon
1/2 t brown sugar
dash Tabasco
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until softened. Add mushrooms and stir to coat with oil. Continue to cook for another minute or two. add vinegar, water, tarragon, sugar, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Cover pan and simmer on low for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Remove from heat. Cool mushrooms in marinade. Eat at room temperature.

As for the "crab" balls.... Remember the fish tacos I made earlier in the week? Weirdly, after I washed and dried the fish, my hands smelled like crab meat rather than fish. So I saved a piece of the cooked fish, for experimental purposes. I flaked it, added crab cake ingredients (Old Bay, bread soaked in milk, mayo) and made three small balls which I fried up for tapas. They fell apart, as my crab cakes usually do, but they tasted reasonably crabby. Because it had been sauteed, he meat was a little tough; if I try something like this again, I think I'll poach the fish so it stays soft.

Gotta admit - Mahi from Trader Joe's is far cheaper than crab meat, and it's no less crabby than the flavorless non-blue-crab "jumbo lump" they sell at the supermarket.

Posted on

Friday, June 07, 2019

Flashback Friday - Pho Dat Than

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on June 24, 2011.


With the recent demise of one of the few Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Saigon Remembered, I decided we need patronize the other Viet joint in town to make sure that one stays around for a while. Pho Dat Than, an offshoot of a Columbia restaurant of the same name, is located just below the annoying traffic circle at the crossroads of York, Joppa, Dulaney Valley, etc., in Towson. Luckily, the circle can be avoided by parking in the lot behind the Recher Theatre, accessible via either Joppa Road or Towsontown Boulevard.

Pho Dat Than's decor is pleasant enough - it's simple and tidy, with mint green walls, high-backed booths, and tables arranged in neat rows. On the early Friday night we were there, the restaurant had a decent number of diners, and I could see carry-out orders lining up on what used to be a sushi bar in the back. That boded well for weekend traffic.

I had already perused the somewhat messy online menu and knew what I wanted us to try. But first, we ordered some iced coffee. The Vietnamese version differs from the more familiar Thai in that rather than receiving a glass of ready-made coffee, a cup of sweetened condensed milk topped with a metal brewing device full of coffee grounds and water, along with a glass of ice, is brought to the table. I was afraid that I'd spill the coffee all over the place while transferring it from cup to glass, but with judicious use of the saucer (and assistance from our waiter), it was easier than it appeared. The coffee was rich and dark and sweet - everything a good iced coffee should be, except cold, since the ice melted on contact with the hot coffee.

We started our dinner with an order of Bò Lá Nho (grilled beef in grape leaves). I recalled having this dish at Saigon Remembered and liking it very much. Pho Dat Than's is different in that the grape leaf rolls are larger, with less of a smoky flavor than those at SR. However, the juicy chopped beef (rather like a succulent meatball) and slightly charred bits of grape leaf were a lovely combination of flavors and textures, and much more to my liking than the usual rice-stuffed Middle Eastern/Greek version.

Next came an order of Muc Rang Muoi (crispy spicy squid). The only dish that didn't come with a small bowl of nước chấm, the ubiquitous fish-sauced based accompaniment for many Vietnamese dishes, it still benefited from a drizzle. The calamari was not as crispy as I'd have liked, possibly because it was served on a bed of roughly-torn iceberg lettuce, nor was it spicy, but it was pleasantly chewy and otherwise tasted fine.

Bún Thit Nuóng Cha Giò (grilled pork & cha gio vermicelli) was a huge bowl of slender rice noodles topped with thinly sliced grilled pork, beansprouts, carrots, shredded lettuce, cilantro, plus crushed peanuts and scallions. It was very similar to the other noodle dish we tried, the Bánh Uot Cha Lua Thit Nuóng (plain rice crepe with Vietnamese ham and grilled pork), which only differed in that the noodles were thin and sticky sheets - similar to the wrapper of the Chinese dim sum dish cheong fun - and the inclusion of steamed pork roll, which I suppose was the "Vietnamese ham."

The combination of smoky pork and bland noodles, sparked with additions of nước chấm and cilantro, was delicious. I preferred the vermicelli over the crepes, which were too gelatinous even for me. The pork roll (which I initially took for chicken or turkey) provided nothing but texture to the dish, as the flavor was nearly nonexistent. I could detect a vague peanut aura and maybe nuances of wet newspaper, but that's about it. Stick to the grilled pork.

Overall, the meal was pleasant and the quantity of leftovers made for a tasty supper a couple days later. I'm looking forward to going again, to experiment with different meats and definitely try the pho, which seemed to be on quite a few tables while we were there.

Pho Dat Thanh
510 York Road
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 296-9118

Posted on