Friday, August 30, 2019

Flashback Friday - Miguel's Cocina y Cantina

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This post originally appeared on on September 28, 2011.


MinxEats is a proud supporter of Dining Out for Life and we did our part this year by dining out at Miguel's Cocina y Cantina, which offered 50% of their take to Movable Feast. We are big fans of Mexican food and Mr Minx and I looked forward to sampling chef owner Michael Marx's authentic fare from the moment I made our reservation.

Miguel's is in the hideous new Silo Point complex and is a bit hard to find, so thank goodness for the well placed signs and arrows. Once inside, we were taken to a tiny table across from a large bank of windows in the bar area. It was dark and gloomy outside, so unfortunately, it was rather dark and gloomy inside as well. And a bit noisy, despite the few other diners partaking of our normally early dinner hour.

While perusing the menu, we nibbled on a basket of freshly fried corn tortilla chips accompanied by two salsas - a tangy bright tomatillo and an almost creamy roasted tomato. I had a bad day and was in the mood for a margarita - the Miguel's, with Espolon Silver, Gran Gala, Miguel’s mix (simple syrup + fresh lime juice) really hit the spot. Mr Minx tried the Agave wheat beer, which was light and mild.

Chips and salsas and the Miguel margarita
While my mood was gloomy, the food definitely was not. Because the prices at Miguel's are reasonable and we wanted Movable Feast to get as much money as possible, we ordered three appetizers - the guacamole for two, the shrimp corn cakes, and the birria Guadalajara. The guac and corn cakes came out first, competing for space on the table with the basket of chips and salsa, and our beverages. The guac was nice and chunky, had a nice kick of heat, but was perhaps a tad too acidy for me. It came with fried flour tortillas, which were flaky and brittle and didn't work as well with the thick dip as corn chips did. The corn cakes were terrific - three delicate and fluffy discs topped with a scattering of very flavorful shrimp, some salsa fresca, and a drizzle of crema.

Shrimp with corn cakes
Guacamole for two
Our third appetizer, the birria, arrived with our entrées - enchiladas de pollo, and carne asada. My two large enchiladas were filled with pulled chicken bound together by a bit of cheese and were topped with a lake of molé negro. The molé was surprisingly mild and sweet, redolent of Mexican chocolate. Under the enchiladas were black beans and an arroz verde made with a pesto-like mixture of cilantro, basil, and pumpkin seeds that gave it a lovely nutty flavor.

Enchiladas de pollo
The carne asada - which also came with arroz verde and a pile of sliced zucchini cooked with achiote and a good dose of cinnamon (weird, but it really worked well) - was very tender and full of flavor. The molé Amarillo reminded me a bit of New Mexican red chile sauce, but with a brighter flavor. The components of this dish really worked well together - it was meaty, creamy, nutty, spicy, and tangy, all at the same time.

Carne asada
The birria had yet another, completely different, sauce, this one primarily tasting of dried chiles and cumin. Combined with the very tender, very lamb-y lamb, it seemed almost like an Indian dish. It was topped with a garnish of toasted almonds, which lent a pleasant crunch to the dish.

Birria Guadalajara
Finally, we ended up with two desserts, the churros, and a chocolate bread pudding, both accompanied by Taharka Brothers vanilla ice cream and a puddle of cajeta (goat's milk caramel - if you haven't tried this stuff, go find some NOW!). The bread pudding had a rather loose consistency, and was very moist and fudgey, but not overly chocolaty. The churros were even better, with super crisp, cinnamon sugar-dusted outsides and an almost creamy middle. Both were large enough to share.

Chocolate bread pudding
We were pretty happy with the goodies we sampled from the limited menu offered for Dining Out for Life and look forward to a return visit to taste some flautas, carnitas, and maybe a taco or two.

Miguel's Cocina y Cantina
1200 Steuart St
Baltimore, MD 21230
(443) 438-3139

* 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 23, 2019

Flashback Friday - Silver Spring Mining Company

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This post originally appeared on on August 17, 2011.


Before last week, Mr Minx and I had eaten at Silver Spring Mining Company exactly once - in the late 90s. Back then, before we got married, we spent most Friday evenings in the company of married friends who were on the Atkins diet. These two were the kind of people who could and would talk endlessly (and of course didactically) about their diet, as if it was the most important, interesting, and indeed, only topic of conversation on Earth. Certainly the only diet. They loved SSMCo because they could get a steak and a cup of onion soup without the crouton and be in high protein-and-fat heaven. Bored by all of it, I'm afraid I remember absolutely nothing about that meal apart from having to wait for a table, and watching our friends greedily slurp up hot onion soup.

Our friends lost weight, divorced, got fat again, and are now completely out of the (our) picture. Without the distraction of their snooze-worthy dinner conversation, Mr Minx and I revisited the Mining Company one recent weekday because 1) we happened to be in the area; and 2) it was dinnertime.

Because it was early, we had the place pretty much to ourselves and were able to take in the scenery. Despite having been open only since 1995, Silver Spring Mining Company has the look of a far older and more established restaurant, with sun-faded photos on the walls and worn carpeting. The bathrooms, however, sported sparkling-clean, vividly purple-and-white checkered floors, which I can imagine are rather hard to take after partaking in a couple of signature cocktails or a pitcher of sangria.

The menu is rather chaotic, with too many photos and colors to distract from too many lists: "Starters;" "Fajitas;" "Specialty Sandwiches;" "Burgers;" "Chicken Sandwiches;" "Chicken;" "Wings;" "Silver Sides;" "Seafood;" "Salads;" "Soups;" "Miner Joe's Favorites;" and "Steaks." After spending several minutes perusing this mess, we decided to start with the fried pickles, because they were new to us. And who doesn't like fried food?

Fried pickles
While the idea was good, the flavor was very commercial. The pickles were from a jar, the breading was very thick and crunchy but rather flavorless, and the "country mustard sauce" promised on the menu was actually a Thousand Island-style dressing, presented in one of those lidded to-go cups used for tartar sauce or salad dressing. The real kicker was the price - a whopping six whole spears for $6.99. For that much they could have bothered to put the sauce in a non-disposable container.

On to our entrées.

Baltimore Reuben
After going back and forth, trying to decide if I wanted to be pedestrian and order a crab cake in order to take advantage of the $14.99 soup/entree/dessert "complete dinner" deal, or order one of the interesting-sounding sandwiches, I opted for a sandwich. The Baltimore Reuben looked good on paper, certainly better than it looked in person: two stacked slices of marble rye spread with Thousand Island and topped with a big ol' blob of mostly shell-free shredded crabmeat, a couple of nicely-cooked (probably steamed) shrimp, three slices of bacon, a slice of tomato, and some Cheddar Jack cheese. The only resemblance to an actual Reuben sandwich was the bread and dressing.

I had forgotten how the combination of crab and bacon can sometimes I remedied that problem by peeling off the cheese and tomato (oh, that tomato! a razor-thin slice of nearly-white supermarket blandness that is a sin even during the Winter, but worthy of eternal damnation during tomato season), eating the bacon, then replacing the cheese. Without the bacon, the sandwich was...ok. There was a generous amount of crab, but I would have preferred a smaller amount of higher-quality meat, so the texture wouldn't be as...squishy.

All sandwiches come with fries, but I opted for a substitution of cole slaw. It was ok - a little mayonnaisey, but not bad. I probably should have chosen the garden salad or fresh zucchini medley to add some color to the dish. That is, color in addition to the sprinkling of whatever it was sprinkled clumsily around the edges of the plate. So Emeril Lagasse, ca. 1998, not to mention completely unnecessary on a plate containing a sandwich and a side dish that comes in a small bowl. It's not like dust is going to make things look more appetizing.

Despite knowing full well that jambalaya is a rice dish, not a sauce-over-rice dish, Mr Minx went for SSMCo's version anyway. The "jambalaya" was pleasant, if not authentic, and contained a generous portion of chicken breast chunks, shrimp, and slices of spicy Andouille sausage in a tomato-based creole sauce, with garlic toast on the side. It was certainly better than my choice.

While I wasn't exactly happy with our meal, Silver Spring Mining Company has many fans - enough to support locations in Hunt Valley and Bel Air, as well as the flagship restaurant on Belair Road in Perry Hall. While we were eating, a party of six or so came in to celebrate a birthday and judging by their familiarity with the menu, they were regulars.

I'm pretty sure that's not a label that will ever be pinned on me.

Silver Spring Mining Company
8634 Belair Rd
Nottingham, MD 21236
(410) 256-6809

* 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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Monday, August 19, 2019

The Orient Perry Hall

I have often lamented the lack of good Chinese food in the Baltimore area. Oh sure, there are several carry-outs and smaller restaurants serving up Americanized food, but how many of them are actually good? As far as I'm concerned, Grace Garden in Odenton and Hunan Taste in Catonsville (which has been "temporarily" closed since at least November of 2018) are the only two that are consistently good. Szechuan House in Timonium is extremely spotty, but they have a huge menu and it is possible to find one or two decent dishes. Asian Taste in Ellicott City is good for dim sum, but we were disappointed by a recent dinner. Some folks swear by Chopstix Gourmet; we went for dim sum once and were not impressed. There's a new place in the city called Panda BBQ. I have heard positive comments, but their online menu indicates a very limited menu of mostly skewered meats and vegetables. We have gone to Galaxy Asian Cuisine for dim sum once and enjoyed it. We'll need to visit again to check out their dinner offerings.

And then there's The Orient. My family used to frequent the original Towson outpost back in the 80s and 90s. That location closed a few years ago, but there are others in Bel Air and Perry Hall. A new Towson restaurant opened a couple of years ago; we haven't been yet. The Perry Hall restaurant is right up the road from my Dad, so we have gone there a few times and haven't been disappointed.

The food is primarily American Chinese-style, but everything we've tried has been consistent and well-prepared.

We've had the crispy duck twice and have enjoyed the tender meat and salt-and-pepper seasoned skin.

The mai fun noodles can be had Singapore-style (with curry) or a simple soy sauce seasoning with meat and shrimp. They don't have as much wok hei as the same dish at Asian Court, but they are still quite good.

The Szechuan string beans, a family favorite, are still nicely crisp and green at The Orient.

We've also tried the House Crispy Pepper Squid and the whole shell-on shrimp with the same preparation (above), and have found them to be quite delectable. Shredded Crispy Beef and General Chou's have been admirable, with tender meat and a still-crisp coating, despite the sticky sauce on each.

Portions are huge, and prices are very reasonable. We've gone on Saturday afternoons and found the place abandoned, which is a shame. However, that means we get all the attention and the food arrives promptly. Though it's not Grace Garden, I am looking forward to our next trip to The Orient, mostly for the soy sauce noodles and the House Crispy Pepper seafood dishes.

Have you been?

The Orient
9545 Belair Rd
Baltimore, MD 21236

* 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 16, 2019

Flashback Friday - Meatless Monday Tomato Tart

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This post originally appeared on on August 29, 2011.

Recently, my brother donated to us a box full of ripe tomatoes and jalapenos given to him by a coworker. Yum! I love tomatoes, but this gift was more than we could eat in the short time we had before the fruits would go bad. I knew I'd have to make several things rather quickly; the first one to come to mind was a tomato tart.

I had both puff pastry in the freezer and conventional pie crust in the fridge. Heck, I even had a box of fillo in the freezer, but I oped to use the puff because it seemed simplest. I topped it with layers of shredded cheese and caramelized onions before the gloriously-red tomatoes went on, and then sprinkled it all with some of the abundant rosemary from our garden.

The best thing about baking at 400F (especially when it's hot outside) is that the heat releases food's incredible aromas. Almost immediately, my house smelled of onions and rosemary, a fragrance that lingered enticingly for several hours, long after we cleared the dinner dishes. And the flavors? Amazing. The tomatoes were sweet to begin with, and time in the oven only served to concentrate the sugars. The bed of onion added a bit of savoriness, as did the cheese. Overall, a gorgeous thing to do with an overabundance of produce.

Tomato and Caramelized Onion Tart

About 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

Cut the tomatoes into about 1/4" thick slices, sprinkle them with a bit of kosher salt and place them on paper towel-lined plates with another towel on top. Allow to rest for about half an hour to absorb excess water. In the meantime... a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt until they are very soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Roll pastry out about a half inch larger on all sides and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leaving a 3/4" inch border on all edges, first sprinkle cheese on pastry, then top with an even layer of cooled, caramelized onions. Finally, arrange tomato slices over onions, overlapping very slightly. Scatter rosemary over all.

Bake in preheated 400F oven for 4 minutes until pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes have started to shrivel quite a bit.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

* 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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Monday, August 12, 2019


When Cypriana was downtown, sprinkled here and there in office buildings and in the University of Maryland hospital, they specialized in things like kebabs and salads. I loved their Greek salad, the typical inauthentic pile of lettuce with cucumbers and tomatoes, topped with a generous amount of feta cheese and a cup of creamy tarragon dressing on the side. The dressing really made it.

A few years back, they closed their fast casual restaurants and opened a full-service place in the Broadview apartments, former home to the venerable French restaurant Jeannier's, among others. I'm not sure why we put off going for so long, but this spring we finally paid Cypriana a visit. It was a pleasant evening, so we asked to sit on the patio, which may or may not have been a good idea. The restaurant's patio is divided into two areas, one more loungy, and the other for dining. After we were seated, we noticed a lot of musical tables and chairs being played by a trio of people who were apparently hosting a graduation party. They never seemed particularly satisfied with the number of tables pushed together or the chairs arranged around them, and the whole thing got uncomfortably close to where we were seated. As in, perhaps one of us would get smacked with a heavy metal table or chair. Fortunately, seating arrangements were resolved before I felt we had to move out of the way.

But then the kids happened.

There must have been a large party inside, one with many small children. Many small children who decided to run around outside on the patio. A patio that is actually a large balcony. Had any of those children been curious enough to climb the short wall to see what was on the other side of the balcony (a drop into a courtyard), there may have been a tragedy. One parent was outside briefly, sitting on a chair and playing with his phone while the children ran in and out of not only the dining room entrance, but also the ramp into the kitchen entrance. Bad enough they caused a ruckus on the lounge section of the patio, but they also decided to run around in the increasingly more crowded dining section, hiding behind tables and running around servers with full trays of food.

And nobody said a word to anyone.

I'm not sure why half a dozen kindergartners were allowed to run around largely unsupervised in a restaurant. I don't understand why parents cannot parent their children.

Anyway...Cypriana is lucky that neither of us got belted by a chair or had food spilled on us by a waiter who had to avoid rugrats. And the food was good.

We mostly stuck with mezzedes, small plates. We tried the spinach and feta flatbread, which was crispy and melty and nicely cheesy.

Also the beef- and lamb-stuffed grape leaves. They were much larger than normal grape leaves, and really very nice, with flavorful filling and tender leaves. They were supposed to come with a yogurt sauce that our waiter forgot, promised to bring, but never did. I suppose they didn't need it.

The sesame roasted feta was drizzled with honey and served with fresh hot pita. I love baked cheese, and could have eaten a few more slabs of this stuff.

We also had the "Mousaka of Cypress," a small and unphotogenic ramekin with layers of eggplant, zucchini, potato, and a beef and lamb mixture, covered in a dreamy bechamel. It was quite possibly the best moussaka I have ever had.

We tried one entree dish of tender grilled octopus served with a cucumber salad (called tabouli on the menu) and some red quinoa, which brought nothing to the plate. The octopus itself was very nice. I tried dipping it in the container of what appeared to be plain, unseasoned, red wine vinegar, and felt that it was fine on its own.

We couldn't pass on dessert, especially when pistachio sea salt baklava was on offer. Made as individual pieces rather than in a large pan, it made for a much neater serving, though it was a bit difficult to cut into bite-sized pieces. The flavor was very good though.

The menu lists the chocolate rose cake as "layers of dark chocolate cake with rich Belgian chocolate and edible roses with a semi-sweet fudge icing." I figured the "edible roses" were made of frosting, but no, there was a definite rose flavor to the cake, and pulverized rose petal dust garnished the plate. I never would pair chocolate with rose, and while it worked here, I still probably won't pair those two strong flavors. The cake was otherwise moist and quite good.

I have mixed feelings about Cypriana. While by and large the food we had was good, the service was meh (still waiting on that yogurt sauce!) and the rugrat disturbance was pretty inexcusable. I can perhaps understand that management might not have wanted to upset their customers by asking them to mind their own brats (Really? I actually do not understand it at all.) but why sacrifice the enjoyment of the other diners?

105 W 39th Street
Baltimore, MD 21210

* 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 09, 2019

Flashback Friday - Chiapparelli's

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This post originally appeared on on August 31, 2011.


When I was a kid, growing up in Fells Point, a trip to Little Italy (or, as we pronounced it, "Lil Lily") was usually reserved for special occasions. Once in a while we'd get a pizza from DiNitti's, or a bag of ossa di morte ("bones of the dead" - very hard, clove-flavored cookies) from Vaccaro's, but we wouldn't have a sit-down dinner at any of our favorite red-sauce joints unless it was for a special reason. Ok, so sometimes the occasion was merely that we wanted to get dressed up and go out to eat. If we felt really fancy, we'd go to Vellegia's, which seemed to us to be the poshest restaurant in the area, otherwise we'd go to Sabatino's or Chiapparelli's.

Vellegia's is gone now, but Chip's and Sab's live on. Recently, Chip's offered a Groupon, which I snatched up, knowing that Mr Minx had never experienced any of the classic Little Italy restaurants. We had an opportunity to use it for his birthday - a very special occasion indeed.

While offering many of the same classics as every other restaurant in the neighborhood (ravioli, veal Parmesan, chicken Marsala), Chip's menu has been modernized a bit and offers new classics like stuffed portobello mushrooms and grilled salmon, along with crab cakes and a rib-eye for those weirdos who go to Italian restaurants but not to eat Italian food. Don't get me wrong - Chip's is still very much an old-school restaurant: the bread basket contained squishy Italian bread and a handful of prepackaged butter pats. You'll find no plates of artisinal olive oil enhanced with house-dried herbs here! And every entrée automatically comes with the famous garlic-and-cheese-laden Chiapparelli's salad, practically a meal in itself.

Once upon a time, Italian restaurants suggested ordering a pasta course AND a meat course, but since most Americans consider pasta a dinner unto itself, that's usually not the case anymore. But how could we dine at a restaurant that makes its own pasta and not have a pasta course? We opted to split an order of the "besto pesto" - the classic Genoese basil/pine nut/parm purée, mixed with a judicious amount of cream (that the menu, in a bit of reverse exaggeration, describes as a "touch"), coating strands of nicely toothsome maccherone. The dish is also available with chicken or shrimp, but I think the dish was plenty decadent without the addition of protein.

Honestly, after the giant salad and the rich pasta, I could have called it quits, but I had ordered an entrée, too. While not normally a fan of veal, I was in the mood for brasciole. Chip's version is rolled with some prosciutto and served with a generous portion of old-school potato gnocchi and a brightly-flavored marinara. Because it's so easy to make tough gnocchi, I find that most cooks try too hard to achieve the opposite effect. Eating a bowl of squishy pillows can occasionally get boring. One bite of Chiapparelli's gnocchi, however, took me instantly back to my childhood, to gnocchi that actually required chewing, and that occasionally caused an upset tummy after overindulgence. This is a good thing. Too much of one, it seems, because after three pieces of pasta and a quarter of the meat, I was done.

Mr Minx didn't have as difficult a time scarfing down most of his veal Saltimbocca, with spinach, proscuitto, and Parmesan in a Marsala wine sauce that tasted as if it contained a (un)healthy amount of butter. While not the most elegant version of saltimbocca, it was a hearty, rib-sticking dish, with tender veal and perfectly-cooked spinach.

We opted not to have dessert at Chip's, but after learning that it was Mr Minx's birthday, our (lovely, accomodating, and very suave) waiter brought a house-made mini cannoli as a sweet little gift to end the meal.

We went home that evening very full, quite content, and reeking of garlic. And with a large bag of leftovers (including an entire salad, since the pasta dish was considered an entrée) that would constitute my lunch for the remainder of the week. I don't know why we don't eat in Little Italy more often. Next time - Sab's.

* 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 02, 2019

Flashback Friday - Dinner: An Improvisation

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This post originally appeared on on July 1, 2011.

It's fairly unusual that I don't cook something from scratch on the weekend, but every once in a rare while, I take a break. One recent Saturday, Mr Minx whipped up some spaghetti and meatballs, and on the following day I heated up some leftovers. And when I say "heated up some leftovers," I really mean "created a whole new dish with some pre-cooked items." I like to play with my food, and rather than eating leftover baby back ribs as is, I thought I'd gussy them up a bit.

What I really wanted to make was a banh mi sandwich, but I was too lazy and it was too hot to take a stroll to the grocery store for a baguette. Once I had that stuck in my head though, it was hard to shake. In addition to the pork, I had a bulb of fennel in the fridge, which I thought might make an adequate stand-in for the pickled daikon or radishes I would ordinarily put in a banh mi. Particularly if I used some of the plethora of licorice-y tasting Thai basil that was currently growing on our back porch as garnish. It was starting to sound like a plan.

There was just that bread issue to tackle.

In lieu of bread, I decided to make rice flour crepes. I should have just gone with the flour tortillas we had and called the dish "tacos," because the crepes were a disaster. It took about half the batter before a small crepe was successfully produced, and by that time, I was thoroughly discouraged.

Our dinner was supposed to look like this:

Instead, it looked like this:

I ended up slicing all of the crepes into ribbons and stir frying them with the pork, adding fish sauce, sugar, garlic, lemongrass, Sriracha, and ginger to the pan. The "noodles" were then topped with a handful of pickled fennel, some pickled carrots, plus cilantro, mint, and Thai basil. It was good, but not what I wanted.

If you want to try making rice crepes - or rice crepe noodles, here's a recipe:

1 cup rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Scoop out 1/4 cup at a time onto a hot, greased non-stick skillet over high heat, swirling the pan so the batter forms about a 6" circle. Cook about 30 seconds, then loosen the crepe with the edge of a spatula, flip, and cook the other side for 30 seconds longer. That's easier than it sounds! Warning: make sure not to slip the spatula under the crepe more than half an inch or so, because when you remove the spatula, the crepe will tear. Just ease it around the outermost edge until the crepe is loosened, then work the spatula under the whole thing and flip it.

Stack crepes on a plate as you make them. Cursing optional. Roll around fillings, or if broken, use like noodles. Serves 4.

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