Monday, September 26, 2022

Favorite Baltimore Restaurants, Round Two

A few years back, when asked about our favorite restaurants, I would usually respond "Grace Garden." GG was/is a Chinese restaurant in Odenton, MD--kind of a slog from where we live near Towson, but so worth the drive. We went a few times a year over a number of years, and we wrote about it more than once (here, here, here, here, and here). Though the restaurant still exists, it's under new management with a new chef. We tried it once early on and it just didn't move us in the same way. The new owners bought several of the original chef's recipes, but what we tried was missing the wok hay (breath of the wok) of the originals. (IYKYK!) Now we have multiple new favorites, all much closer to home. Coincidentally, all three of the restaurants named below are alongside the Jones Falls, an 18-mile-long stream that runs from Baltimore County to the Inner Harbor. Not sure why we haven't done a progressive dinner yet, hitting all three at one night, though I must admit we have eaten at two of them on the same evening.

patatas, empanadas, calamari, et., al., @ La Cuchara

La Cuchara (3600 Clipper Mill Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211)

This cavernously sized yet somehow intimate restaurant serves dishes inspired by the Basque cuisine of parts of France and Spain. The menu is divided into sections featuring several categories of small plates, plus entrees, and one is able to mix and match as desired. The several entrees we've tried over the years have been uniformly delicious, but we prefer to order several tapas-style dishes and enjoy them with one or more glasses of wine, preferably at the expansive bar. While I miss the days pre-COVID when happy hour meant half price pinxtos and tapas and $5 pours of wine, the food is just as good at twice the price. 

If one is merely feeling peckish and just wants a few snacks to nibble with cocktails, there is a selection of Spanish hams and cheeses that are perfect with the restaurant's lovely housemade breads. Also nibbly things like gildas--small skewers with a single boquerone (white anchovy), olive, and pequillo pepper--and wee croquetas made with cured ham or rehydrated salted cod. Tapas selections are fairly hearty and can include tender tangles of grilled squid with calabrian peppers, a couple of salad selections and perhaps a soup, and patatas bravas--crisp cubes of potato dressed in both spicy mojo and garlicky aioli and accented with scallions. I check the menu regularly in case there are limited-time items like sweetbreads, crispy oysters, soft shell crabs, or razor clams, in which case we scrap our regular dinner plan and head to La Cuchara. 

The photo above was taken in the Fall of 2020. The restaurant was only serving hot food during happy hour a few days a week, and only at ten concrete tables set up in the parking lot. We made a point to get there a few minutes before 5pm to snag a table and eat as much as humanly possible. We did this for about 8 weeks in the late summer and fall, until it was too chilly (and too dark) to eat outdoors comfortably. During this time, the restaurant also offered chef-prepared food to heat up at home and grocery staples like toilet paper and bags of flour. I greatly admired La Cuchara's efforts to stay open and serve their customers and did my part to support them. We are so happy to have them back open full time again. 

pasta, whole fish, lamb chops @ Cosima

Cosima (Mill No. 1, 3000 Falls Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211)

I think we fell in love with Cosima on our very first visit back in December 2015. We try to eat there at least once a year, particularly in the more temperate months when we can snag a table on the back patio. In fact, we've celebrated Mr Minx's birthday at Cosima every year for at least the last five, including 2020. 

While we're fond of the location--Mill No. 1, an historic mill building tucked between Falls Road and the Jones Falls itself--the food of course is the restaurant's most important feature. The homemade pastas are a big draw for Mr Minx, and as I mentioned in the last post, I'm fond of their pizzas. In fact, if the scallop and bacon pie is on the menu, it's definitely on our table, along with the crispy brussels sprouts, fritto misto, and whatever octopus preparation is being offered. We normally get one pasta and one secondi to share between the three of us, if there's any room left after our orgy of apps. And keep the wine flowing--but let me have a negroni bianco, too. 

the chef, the shucker, the farmer @ True Chesapeake

True Chesapeake Oyster Company (3300 Clipper Mill Rd Suite 400, Baltimore, MD 21211) 

True Chesapeake opened its doors in the fall of 2019 and got in a handful of months before the pandemic hit and threw the restaurant industry into a tailspin. They closed for a bit, reopened for outdoor dining and take-out, then closed again for the winter. We waited with our fingers crossed and breath bated for a re-opening announcement, which happened in April 2021 and came with a vaccination requirement. Not only was the food at True Chesapeake still delicious, but also the management was smart. The restaurant was our new annual New Year's Eve dining tradition and we wanted to continue slurping oysters to close out the years for the foreseeable future. 

There are a number of things we love about this place. Oysters are the heart and soul of True Chesapeake. The namesake restaurant gets its tender bivalves from its own farm in St. Mary's County. Blue catfish and snakehead are also featured regularly. If you've read our book Maryland's Chesapeake, you know these are invasive species that are doing a number on the Bay. Chef Zack Mills--long a favorite of ours since his days at Wit & Wisdom, and a contributor to more than one of our books--is doing his part to eradicate these harmful creatures by serving up their tasty flesh in various ways. And while seafood makes up the majority of dishes on Chef Mills' menu, he throws non-seafood-eaters a bone or two with selections like steak, roast chicken, and one heck of a good burger. 

* 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, September 19, 2022

Stuffing My Face in New York - Day Two

I did and didn't eat as much on Day Two as I did on Day One. I ate fewer meals, but the sandwich I had for lunch was honestly enough food for the entire day. Read on.

My regular NY breakfast habit is a stroll down to Dominique Ansel Workshop in Flatiron. I've never been to the original bakery on Spring Street so have never eaten a Cronut. But I have eaten gingerbread croissants, pear tarts, canele, and kouign amann at his Workshop. This time I tried a coffee creme brulee pull-apart bun, made with the same laminated dough as most of his pastries, filled with a blob of coffee cream and topped with a wee creme brulee. Sweet, crispy, creamy deliciousness. I love that they serve La Colombe coffee, a brand out of Philly, and had one with some oat milk, which I sipped as I sat at an outdoor table and watched a crew of people unload what looked like pieces of a set from an enormous truck.


Daisy and I had both recently read about All'antico Vinaio, a Florentine import that opened last November on 8th Ave near Times Square. Though I had wanted to eat mostly Asian cuisines on this visit, after I looked at their menu, I was game for an Italian sandwich. La Paradiso, in particular, caught my eye--mortadella, pistachios, a pesto-like pistachio cream, and stracchiatella (fresh mozzarella soaked in cream) layered between slices of schiacciata, a bread that seemed the love child of focaccia and ciabatta. I thought we could share a sandwich, since these babies appeared to be around 8 inches square and 2 inches thick, but Daisy seemed shocked at the suggestion. We each ordered a sandwich and had them cut in half so we could share. Her choice was La Schiacciata Boss, with Tuscan ham, Pecorino, and truffle cream. Both sandwiches were stellar, with great bread, just crusty enough on the outside, and tasty fillings.  

top: Boss, bottom: Paradise

After that massive lunch, I just wanted a nap; instead we hopped on a bus for a trip to sniff fragrances downtown. We spent quite a bit of time at Mizensir, a narrow boutique filled with the creations of master perfumer Alberto Morillas. He is the creator of familiar fragrances like CK One, Acqua di Gio, and Marc Jacobs Daisy, as well as Must de Cartier, Penhaligon's Iris Prima, and Thierry Mugler Cologne. My rather vast collection of scents includes those last three, and may well include a Mizensir fragrance in the future.


At some point, Daisy suggested we stop for tacos, and I looked at her like she had three heads. I was still working off that colossal bologna sandwich! I did find enough room for a tiny bit of gelato from Gentile. I noticed that they had sorbetto flavored with chinotto, a variety of bitter citrus popular in Italy. Recently I sampled fragrances from Abaton, which specializes in scents made with the fruit, and was curious to taste it. To balance the icy sorbet, I also got some plain fior de latte gelato.


Later that evening, we stopped into the new Manhattan outpost of Nan Xiang, a Flushing, Queens favorite for xiao long bao, aka soup dumplings. Daisy chose the popular pork version of the dumplings, and I went for the Lucky Six combination platter that included pork, chicken, scallop and pork, pork and crab, pork and truffle, and gourd/shrimp/pork. While the oversized dumplings were tasty, the wrappers were somewhat uneven and doughy in places. Still, I enjoyed them, though I really didn't need any more food at that point.

It's amazing I got any sleep at all on this trip, with all the food I ate so late in the day. Perhaps my body was simply exhausted from all the digesting it had to do? Or maybe the 44,000 steps I walked in three days had something to do with it.

If you missed Day One, you can find it here.
Read about my sole meal on Day Three here.

* 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, September 12, 2022

Favorite Baltimore Restaurants, Round One

I had a request for a listicle, and you know I aim to please! Not really, but anyway...Instagram follower and friend, Mark, wanted a list of our favorite restaurants for various food styles. In a city like Baltimore, that's semi-difficult. There aren't multiples of restaurants that fit in any one category like there are in cities like NY or even DC. And while Mr Minx and I ate a lot of restaurant meals 10 years ago, back then we were doing research for our books. With the pandemic still influencing the dining world (yes, there is still a pandemic out there, even if most of us want to forget about it), we tend to visit the same handful of restaurants, most of which are not very far away from where we live. I am hard-pressed to list even three of our favorite French restaurants because we haven't been to more than three in the last 5 years or so (not that there are many more than three).Tell you what I'm gonna do: I'll make up a bunch of random categories that could have three contenders and list them here for you. And for Mark. 

Let's start with an easy one.

spicy wontons in red oil at Red Pepper

Top 3 Favorite Chinese Restaurants

Just a few years ago, this category would have been impossible. While there are tons of mom-and-pop Chinese carry-outs in the Baltimore area, I wouldn't say any of the ones I've visited were great. And larger-scale restaurants like Szechuan House in Timonium were just...ok. (I know that restaurant had a lot of fans, which was perplexing.) If Mr Minx and I wanted really good Chinese food, we had to schlep out to Odenton for Grace Garden or to Catonsville for Hunan Taste.  But now there are three relatively new restaurants in the northern Baltimore County area, each with its own strengths.

1. Red Pepper - Pretty much everything here is spicy-hot, so not for wimpy palates. The menu is fairly long and somewhat exotic, featuring dishes made with rabbit, or guts. We enjoy spicy food though, and have never had a disappointing meal here. (11 Allegheny Ave, Towson, MD 21204)

2. Asian Kebab & Hot Pot - We were sad when Hunan Taste suddenly closed, but overjoyed when that restaurant's owners opened Asian Kebab much closer to us. While cooking skewers of meat and dunking bits of this and that into bubbling tabletop hot pots can be fun, the kitchen dishes are excellent and not to be missed. The ma po tofu is outrageously good, and we have enjoyed the pea shoots and Kung Pao chicken as well. (1414 York Rd, Lutherville Timonium, MD, 21093)

3. Kung Fu 12 - This restaurant replaced Szechuan House and we found it a welcome change. Everything was remodeled, from the decor to the food. The menu is a nice blend of Chinese restaurant favorites like beef broccoli and moo shu pork with more authentic dishes like boiled spicy fish, sin chew rice noodles (aka Singapore noodles), and beer-cooked duck. I really enjoy the Shanghai braised pork belly and the salt and pepper squid. (1427 York Road, Timonium, MD, 21093)

Honorable mention: The Orient in Perry Hall serves plenty of classic American-style Chinese dishes, but also excellent Singapore noodles, salt-and-pepper shrimp, and crispy sesame eggplant. Portions are generous and we're always happy with leftovers. (9545 Belair Rd, Nottingham, MD 21236)


salmon at La Calle

Top 3 Favorite Mexican Restaurants

I love Mexican and Tex-Mex food and attempt to make it at home fairly regularly with varying degrees of success. Or, more accurately, I add Mexican flavors to a dish that might not be Mexican in origin. There are several Mexican restaurants in our area, many seeming to cater too much to gringo tastes. My number one complaint about those restaurants is that meats can be under-seasoned and dry. (I almost always regret ordering chicken.)

1. La Calle - It's good to have at least one upscale Mexican place in the area, serving foods other than tacos and burritos (though they do offer tacos). This pretty restaurant, on the edge of Baltimore's business district, consistently has the best salmon in town. I know, because I've ordered it at least ten of the dozen times I've eaten there. The skin is always crisp, the meat done to that perfectly "blubbery" texture (thanks to Tyler Florence for that apt descriptor), with just the right amount of seasoning and sauce, and an interesting veg accompaniment in the broccolini. Everything else we've tried there is very good, including the ceviches, the sandwiches, and yes, the tacos. (10 South St, Baltimore, MD 21202)

2. R&R Taqueria - When my Dad was in assisted living in the White Marsh area, we went to R&R quite a bit. While he preferred the more safe taco fillings, like carnitas and chicken tinga, I always went for the offal. Lengua (beef tongue), buche (pig stomach), and cabeza (cow head, no longer offered), were my favorites, all stewed to tenderness but not without a little texture. I am also a fan of their fluffy and light tamales, which I get smothered in not-too-spicy mole sauce, and the torta with milanesa de res (breaded and fried beef cutlets). (5005 Honeygo Center Dr, Perry Hall, MD 21128)

3. El Salto - This local mini-chain offers the stuff we 'muricans grew up eating: hard-shell tacos with ground beef or shredded chicken; taco salads; platters featuring various combos of enchiladas, burritos, and tacos; addictive queso con chorizo with thin crispy tortilla chips; nachos. But their large menu also includes egg dishes, chilaquiles, shrimp dishes, fajitas, and a T-bone steak. We get something different every time, but I am partial to the chicken tamales topped with more chicken, and the chiles rellenos. (8816 Waltham Woods Rd, Parkville, MD 21234)

Honorable mentions: La Food Marketa. This inauthentic, white man's version of the foods of Mexico and other Latin American countries can't be called a true Mexican restaurant, but everything from the tacos to the reuben quesadilla tastes great. We like to order several of their interesting apps and a sangria and call it dinner. The loaded yuca fries are a must-try. (2620 Quarry Lake Dr, Baltimore, MD 21209) Fiesta Mexicana has not only tortas but also pambazo, in which the buns are coated with a spicy chile sauce. And they're the only place I know of that makes quesadillas with fried masa, rather than with flour tortillas. But their taco meat is often dry and chewy. (8436 Philadelphia Rd, Rosedale, MD 21237).

pepperoni deliciousness from Hersh's

Top 5 Favorite Pizza Joints

Here's another category that would have had very few contenders just a handful of years ago. My best friend in high school loved pizza, so I ate a lot of it in the 80s. It was mostly bad, with thick doughy crusts called "hand-tossed," or "fresh dough." As if pizza made with anything other than hand-tossed fresh dough was worth eating. However, no amount of tossing is going to make bad, underbaked, pizza good. (I'm looking at you, Papa John's, Domino's, Pizza Hut, et. al.) There are a few local joints that were popular back then and are still around today, though I have only eaten in a handful. I have determined that I prefer thin crust pizzas with somewhat esoteric toppings. Mr Minx likes NY-style pies with thin crusts that crack when folded, smothered in good old-fashioned pepperoni. There are so many good pizzas around now that it was hard to pick three. You get five, and several honorable mentions.

1. Hersh's - Hersh's Neapolitan pies cook for a mere 90 seconds at 800F in their wood-fired oven--long enough to produce beautiful leopard-spotted thin crusts just sturdy enough to hold interesting toppings like smoked mozzarella and fried eggplant (my favorite), or kale and pistachios. A shame it's so far away and requires a drive through the city, or we'd eat there often. (1843-45 Light St, Baltimore, MD 21230) 

2. Squire's - We've been eating pies from Squire's since we were little kids. The sturdy crisp crust and herby sweet sauce are quite unique to this Dundalk restaurant, making it a pizza like no other. They pile on the toppings, especially on our usual order, "everything, hold the green peppers." Their meatballs are excellent, too. (6723 Holabird Ave, Baltimore, MD 21222)

3. Earth, Wood, & Fire - This place has become our go-to. We eat in the bar, as it's usually a child-free space, and always order a large Lorenzo salad with whatever it is we get for an entree. Sometimes it's wings, dry-rubbed and meaty--and once in a while a very good burger. But our favorite food option is the pizza. When they first opened, EWF's crusts were whisper-thin and crackery, but they've thickened nicely to something in between NY and Naples. I like all of their regular selections, but am happiest when they offer their jambalaya pie as a special. Loaded with shrimp, blackened chicken, andouille sausage, fresh jalapenos, provolone, mozz, and cheddar cheese on a red-sauced crust, this pizza has a lot of flavor. (1407 Clarkview Rd, Baltimore, MD 21209)

4. Paulie Gee's - Paulie Gee's is fancy and expensive, serving small pies with interesting toppings, meaty and otherwise, that are blasted in their imported Italian wood oven. They also have deck oven pies that are just as good and crispy as their original pizzas. They seem to offer either one or the other but not both on any given day. Also, this place is paradise for vegans, or the lactose-intolerant, or weirdos who like the taste of vegan sausage and non-dairy cheese.  (3535 Chestnut Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211) 

5. Il Basilico - The pizzas at Il Basilico are no-nonsense NY-style pies with mostly classic toppings, but also a couple with things like bbq chicken or chicken, bacon, and ranch. (Not sure why ranch dressing needs to be anywhere near a pizza, unless it's on a side salad, but I assume somebody enjoys such atrocities.) Their pasta dishes are all good, too. (49 W Aylesbury Rd, Timonium, MD 21093)

Honorable Mentions: We've only tried one pizza at Walker's Tap & Table, the Big Mac, but it was delish. Need to get back and try more. (2465 MD-97, Glenwood, MD 21738) We've tried several at Cosima, and my fave is the cape sante, with scallops, bacon, and pesto. If this was a Top 10, Cosima would be on it. (Mill No. 1, 3000 Falls Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211) Ledo pizza almost isn't actual pizza, more like a savory pastry. Love the cannonball, topped with halved meatballs. (Over 100 locations in the Mid-Atlantic region, and coming soon to 1238 Putty Hill Road, Towson, MD 21286.) Birroteca (1520 Clipper Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211) would also make a Top 10 list, as would Ribaldi's.(3600 Keswick Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211), so why isn't this a Top 10 when there are 5 honorable mentions? Because I'm tired of writing this post... Back with more categories eventually.

* 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, September 05, 2022

Stuffing My Face in New York - Day One

My eating adventures in New York have been a regular feature on Minxeats for years. Check out the posts found here, here, here, here, here, here, and so on. Neal and I always ate well when we visited NYC, but since I met my friend Daisy in 2017, food consumption has gone up quite a bit. When Daisy and I get together, we may have 2-3 full meals, a couple of snacks, and a stop for drinks in an 8-hour period. Now, it's not constant eating; we do pop into various shops and boutiques that seem interesting, and always make time to sniff perfumes. But still--it's a lot of food consumed in a relatively short amount of time.

On my most recent trip, I met up with Daisy at Golden Diner. It's located in Chinatown, and the location reflects on the otherwise typical diner-style dishes. I ordered the chicken katsu club, featuring tender chicken cutlets, red cabbage slaw, blt, and bulldog sauce on the typical myriad slices of toast. Daisy had the Chinatown egg & cheese sando, the NY standby, but with exceptionally fluffy eggs on a sesame scallion milk bun. Now that I peruse the menu again, I kinda wish I had ordered the Thai Cobb, partly because of the clever name but also because it sounds delicious. 


Let me backtrack a minute. The Golden Diner meal was at about 3:30pm on a Sunday. I had arrived in NY noon-ish, and after tucking my bags safely away with the hotel porter, I headed to a Thai restaurant near Penn Station called Random Access. I'd wanted to eat there for a while and had even made a reservation the last time I was in town, but plans changed.  This time, I was able to satisfy my curiosity about the place with an order of sriracha lime dumplings and an egg pancake. The former comprised steamed chicken dumplings with a spicy mayo, plus cilantro, red pepper, shallots, and coconut. The latter was a roti flatbread merged with an omelet, topped with squid, mussels, bean sprouts, kale, coconut, and a sweet sriracha sauce. Both dishes hit all the right spots, and were a flavorful contrast to the rather wan Thai food I had back home in Baltimore earlier in the week.


Now back to the Daisy-led Food-O-Rama.

We wandered around a bit before visiting Michaeli Bakery. We were there for donuts, but it was too late in the day and they didn't have much of a selection. Instead, we split a rugelach. The rugelach I'm familiar with are made with a sturdy cream cheese pastry and filled with nuts, jam, chocolate, or all of the above. This one was a tiny croissant-like pastry with a chocolate filling rolled into it. It was very good, if very different.


Our next stop was King Dumplings. It used to be a "dollar dumpling" joint when it opened a couple years ago, but now the price has gone up a few bucks. Ten really good pork dumplings for less than $5 is pretty amazing though. 


If you're counting calories, we're probably at 3500 so far.

Our next stop was Kopitiam, specializing in Nonya (Chinese Malay) cuisine. I wanted to try everything on the menu, but we settled on three dishes + dessert. We tried the Nyonya Bak Zhang, a dumpling of blue and white sticky rice with minced pork, mushrooms, winter melon, and salted egg, all wrapped in a mile of some sort of leaf (banana, I'm guessing). I was expecting something yummy like one of my favorite dim sum dishes, sticky rice in lotus. Sadly, the dumpling was cold and overcooked, the salted egg yolk was dried out, and the whole of it pretty flavorless. The tok tok mee made up for it, reminding me of chow fun with its wide noodles in a dark sauce studded with pork, shrimp, and other goodies. 


The pandan chicken was also tasty. The three triangular chicken meatballs were wrapped in pandan leaves and served with a sweet chili sauce.


Asian desserts are not French pastries, so I shouldn't have been surprised when one of the items we ordered was on the gelatinous side. The kuih talam was described as salted coconut milk over a pandan cake base. Yes, those were the flavors, but the "cake" was not the western-style flour-based cake that I expected. The kuih lapis was a "1000-layer" cinnamon butter cake, rather like a crepe cake or maybe a Smith Island cake, only without any frosting. Both desserts, I think, would make a great afternoon snack with some tea.


I opposed the idea of eating a burger next, so we parked ourselves at an outdoor cafe and enjoyed an adult beverage instead. There was plenty more to eat the next day.

* 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 29, 2022

Charcuterie Platters


Who, except vegans, doesn't appreciate a good charcuterie platter?

It's a perfect lazy meal, and fantastic for those sultry summer evenings when the thought of hot food is unappetizing. And I'm not the only one who thinks that. Not only do more and more restaurants offer assortments of meats and cheeses, I've noticed that some entrepreneurial folks are starting businesses that revolve around creating and selling attractive charcuterie platters. A small amount of decoratively arranged salumi (the Italian term for cured meats) and brie adorned with a sliced strawberry and six almonds can sell for $30-$40. At that price, you're better off going to a restaurant. But make one at home, instead.

Sure, the initial outlay for homemade salumi suppers might be a little spendy, but a $6 jar of cornichons will last through multiple platters, as will boxes of crackers, jars of jam, and bags of nuts. Columbus brand salami and capicola, or similar, in 5-oz packages, run $6-7 in grocery stores. The meats seem expensive, and they kinda are compared to others sold by the pound. Keep in mind that cured meats are fatty and salty and rich, so one only need eat a few slices. Particularly if there are also some even more-fatty cheeses at the party. The last time we had a charcuterie plate for dinner, I purchased two packages of Italian meats, three kinds of cheese, and a jar of cornichons for about $35 and used it for three dinners for 2, with cheese and tiny pickles left over. 

Cheese can also be expensive, so don't go overboard. Buy a couple of your favorites; ideally there should be one soft and one firm or semi-firm, like a brie or goat cheese log and a cheddar or Manchego. If you have more than two diners, buy another cheese for every two people. But expect leftovers. In fact, it's probably best to cut a portion of the cheese off and put it on your platter or board, and stash the rest in the fridge for next time. That way, uneaten cheese doesn't sit out too long, and there's one less thing for you to tidy up afterward, especially if you've been hitting the wine.


You may, of course, enjoy your meats and cheeses with your fingers, but it's much neater to use bread or crackers. Thin slices of crusty bread--toasted or not--are perfect if you are extra fancy and have included a pate in your selection of meats. It's also nice with very soft brie. Otherwise, crackers are the way to go. Use whatever you like. Ritz or Club crackers are just fine, as are water crackers or hell, saltines. I try to eat gluten-free as much as possible and have discovered some truly excellent GF and grain-free crackers, which I will list at the end of the post.

In addition to the three essentials--meat, cheese, and bread-like substance--a good charcuterie platter should include other flavor elements. Olives and cornichons are typical accompaniments, but one needs other items to balance out the salt. I like to add sweet things, like a fruit spread or jam, and fresh or dried fruit, including grapes, figs, and mini tomatoes. Nuts, preferably unsalted, add extra crunch. Mustards are nice, as are roasted red peppers, pepperoncini--honestly, whatever suits your fancy. You may choose to arrange items artistically on a platter or board (I use a large bamboo cutting board), or simply place items randomly. For hard or medium-firm cheeses, I like to cut them into serving size cubes or wedges. I put soft cheese like brie or chevre on the board in one large chunk and supply a separate spreader for each type of cheese. Toothpicks are nice for picking up individual cubes of cheese, especially when there are more than two diners, but fingers are fine otherwise.

I enjoy charcuterie boards so much, I've made them for Thanksgiving dinner. As in, the entire Thanksgiving dinner was one big, coffee-table-sized, spread. Lest you think I jest, see below (ignore my reading glasses in the lower right).


It was perfect for three of us to nibble on for the entire day while we watched football and drank copiously. We did this three years in a row, until my brother determined that it was mildly sacrilegious not to have hot poultry on Thanksgiving. So last year I made chicken legs and roasted brussels sprouts to follow a much-scaled-down selection of meat and cheese. I plan to do the same this year.

------------------------------
Most of these fine gluten-free and grain-free crackers I've discovered via the Specialty Food Association's annual Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. While grocery stores have better and better selections of food for special diets, it's difficult to stock absolutely everything available, so I have supplied links for ordering the products online.

Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers - I'm a big fan of these, particularly the Rosemary and Sea Salt variety. They are available in many grocery stores, but can also be purchased online

Hungry Bird Eats Nordic Crisps - incredibly crisp and delicious crackers that I will happily eat out of the box like potato chips. They can be purchased online from their website

Cabin 11 Bakery 5-Seed Grain-Free Crisps are similarly delicious crispbread-like crackers made with 5 seeds. Their website is down currently, and I'm not sure where to buy them. Hopefully they'll be back up and running soon, as I've run out and need more crackers!

Quator Crisps Yuca Chips - I also like using crisp yuca chips with charcuterie platters. Quator Crisps might be a bit too slender to put cheese on top, but they still work great to nibble on the side. They are available in a handful of shops right now, but you can order them from their website.

Nova Crisp - these crispy air-popped cracker/chips are made with cassava and come in a handy bowl shape that makes them perfect for scooping. The rim also holds in runny stuff like mustard or jelly perfectly. They come in a few flavors, but the sea salt is my fave. They are available in stores like Safeway, Aldi, Lidl, H Mart, and Weis Market but also at Amazon.

Lark Fine Foods, which are not gluten-free but still worth mentioning, makes a bunch of tasty cookies and biscuits that are both savory and sweet. Their Pizzetta biscuits work pretty nicely with soft cheeses, especially if you're into the idea of a cookie that tastes like pizza. They are available in gourmet shops, primarily in the eastern US. Igourmet stocks some of their biscuits, and multi-product samplers can be ordered from Williams-Sonoma.


* 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 22, 2022

Empellon

I was in New York recently where I embarked on an eating expedition with my intrepid friend, the fabulous Daisy Bow. Together we ate a number of delicious things that I will write about later. Right now, I want to talk about a restaurant I visited on my own: Empellon, in midtown Manhattan. 

Empellon is one of five Mexican-inspired restaurants by former pastry chef Alex Stupak. I dined at Stupak's 4th Street Taqueria in 2015, and had been pretty pleased with the food. In reading back over that post, I discovered that I had tasted one of today's dishes in the past. Was it as good as it was 7 years ago? Read on, friends, read on.

After eating mostly inexpensive comestibles over my last few trips to NY, I thought I might treat myself to something pricier. Several of the most memorable meals I've eaten in New York were at high end restaurants--Babbo in 2004, A Voce in 2012, The Bar Room at The Modern in 2011, and Le Bernardin in 2014. In each case, while the food was very good (excellent at times), the service was exceptional. And that was truly what made each meal magical. Rather than magical, my meal at Empellon was meh.

The $42 3-course prix fixe menu sounded good to me, and I started with the "lobster salad with chilled masa savarin." The salad incurred an upcharge of $4 but this was a splurge so I splurged. I'm not sure if there was a mistake on the menu, or if the kitchen doesn't know what a "savarin" is, but what I received was not a ring-shaped, booze-soaked, yeasted cake. It had more of a custard-like texture. Perhaps it was actually a sabayon, firmed up with gelatin (in which case it was no longer a sabayon)? Or a type of savory flan? In any case, it was ring-shaped, and it was flavored with masa. The center of the ring contained a spicy sauce of unknown origin. And around the mysterious custard-like object were corn kernels, slices of not particularly spicy capsicums, raw onion, and nuggets of lobster. On the whole, it was a tasty dish, though it was a tad overseasoned.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were the pastrami tacos with sauerkraut and mustard seed salsa. Back in 2015, I bartered one of my brussels sprout tacos for one of my husband's pastrami-filled ones and was delighted by the flavors. This time, not so much. The beef was tough and underseasoned, the sauerkraut was barely tangy, much less sour, and the mustard seed salsa provided nothing but texture. The meat in the second taco had a bit of fat, which made it more palatable, but the dish was pretty bland overall. Where was the peppercorn-and-coriander hit from the meat? Why was soggy cabbage considered sauerkraut? Why was this dish more sad than clever?

And here I must ding the service at Empellon. Generally, at a restaurant with these prices where food is not served family-style, I expect courses to arrive serially. However, I was about 2/3 of the way through my lobster salad when a runner appeared with my tacos. This put me in the position of having to decide between finishing my lobster dish before starting my tacos, as god intended, or to start on the tacos so they wouldn't get cold. But that might signal the wait staff to attempt to wrest my unfinished lobster away, which would earn them a literal slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, my waiter or captain or whatever one calls them these days (they do not serve, they merely take orders), was standing off to the side, gazing upon the dining room as might an overlord. Did he notice that my entree course was fired too soon? Did he care? I know he knew I wasn't dining on an expense account and may well have been...a tourist! (horrors!) but I think he could have been more solicitous. 

For dessert, which came at the proper time, I had the sour cherry flan with chicory caramel and a cup of decaf. The flan was fine. Not as good as my friend Melinda's flan, but then nobody's is. I enjoyed the sour cherry topping, but couldn't really pick out the chicory in the sauce. But it was fine. 

When he presented the check, I noticed that Mon Capitaine did not charge me for the coffee. He nodded when I pointed out his omission, rather than thank me. Which would have been below his station. 

Positives about the meal: the dining room was full of natural light and the seating was comfortable. The portion size was just right for someone not planning to eat again for the rest of the day (like me), but I imagine the 3-course lunch might be a bit much for someone going back to the office. The lobster was perfectly cooked, the tortillas were sturdy and didn't disintegrate under the weight of the generous portion of meat, and the cherry flavor of the flan was quite nice. But still--a solid meh.

It's less-than-perfect meals like these, however, that really allow me to appreciate an exemplary one. Or even just a good one. 

Empellon
510 Madison Avenue, 
New York, NY 10022 
(212) 380-1215

* 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, August 19, 2022

Blogging Minxeats

I haven't written about a restaurant here in quite a while, and I hope to rectify that situation. I'm going to blame Instagram for making me lazy. It's too easy to post a photo with a short caption and call it a day. Creating reels, on the other hand, can be quite taxing. And at the end of the day, I get no more likes, comments, or followers from putting in more work. Instagram has fucked with their algorithms entirely too much for my taste, and I am finding the whole experience unpleasant. Maybe I should get back to blogging more regularly, huh?

Sadly, blogging seems to have become the jurisdiction of Stepford Wives. Most blogs have a similar appearance, and possibly an ampersand in the name. They all have far too many photos for my taste, the same essential shot taken from slightly different angles, as if the blogger couldn't make up his/her/their mind about which one to use, so hell, they'll use them all. IMHO, blogs were better when they were messy and unprofessional. And real. So you won't find me posting a professionally taken headshot in full hair and makeup, looking coyly over my shoulder or holding a tray of cookies. No string of photos depicting brownies stacked in piles of three, piles of two, and singly, plus a couple images of the baking pan with both cut and uncut treats. Oh, and another one with brownies on a plate with a glass of milk on the side, in soft focus. What you will find is probably a lot of gabbing, because I am a storyteller and I like to talk, but feel free to scroll down to the recipe if you can't deal with my writing. (Apparently the number one comment about food blogs is, "just give me the damn recipe." It's not a blog then, is it? It's a recipe. You want those, then buy a cookbook. I have written a couple, which you can find here. Oh, and there's a nice selfie on that page, in case you need to know what I look like.)

Sorry, if you've read this far and expected to find a brownie recipe. There is none on this post. If you've gotten this far and still expected a recipe, clearly you didn't read any of the words preceding this paragraph. Go back and read them. And then go back and read some old posts. New ones are forthcoming, I promise. Some will even have recipes. And I will get back into restaurant reviews. Maybe even a recap, who knows? 


* 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, July 18, 2022

Street Cauliflower - Sponsored Post

Is there any such thing as "street cauliflower" for reals? I had it at Baltimore-area restaurant La Food Marketa and loved it. A riff on a Mexican street food dish commonly made with corn and known as elote (on the cob) or esquites (off the cob), LFM's version topped cauliflower with cotija cheese, taco spice, and chili lime mayo. A tortilla crumble was employed for a much-needed texture contrast. When I got home that evening, I realized that I was in possession of a cauliflower and could easily make a riff on this dish at home. 

My pantry is currently stocked with food samples after a trip to NYC for the Summer Fancy Food Show. Among them are products from Runamok Maple and Olivia's Croutons. Normally when I make esquites, I whip up a little sauce with mayo, sour cream or yogurt, chipotle, lots of lime, and a bit of maple or agave syrup to balance out the tangy flavors. It's reminiscent of the sauce the late, lamented Gypsy Queen food trucks used on their crab cake tacos, and I've made it numerous times. This time, I omitted both the sweet stuff and the chipotle and drizzled Runamok's Chipotle Morita honey directly onto the cauliflower. (And then I had a spoonful of it for a "cook's treat.") It has a nice balance of rich honeyed sweetness and smoky chipotle heat, and I can see myself using it in a lot of applications, both savory and sweet. 

I didn't have any tortilla chips on hand, If I had, I wasn't inclined to do anything other than bash them into bits--forget making a crumble. But I did have a box of Olivia's Cornbread Dressing! The cubes of crisp cornbread are seasoned lightly with somewhat Thanksgiving-y herbs, but after sampling a few several, I determined that they wouldn't detract from the overall Mexican-ish flavors of the dish at all. 

I hesitate to supply a recipe, since I just winged it (wung it?) as I usually do. I'll just offer guidelines, since I know many people prefer a recipe, or at least a list of ingredients.

Street Cauliflower

1 whole cauliflower (or hell, a bag of frozen cauliflower)
Salt
Full-fat plain yogurt or sour cream
Mayonnaise
Chili powder
Lime
Crumbly tangy cheese, like cotija or feta
Runamok Maple Chipotle Morita infused honey
Olivia's Cornbread Dressing
Cilantro
Chopped green onion or slivers of red onion

Trim the stem and any green leaves off the cauliflower. Cook in your favorite method. I put it, whole, in a big pot with enough salted water to come up about halfway, brought it to a boil, then turned down the heat and covered the pot. When the fork was tender most of the way through when I stuck a knife into it, I took it off the heat and drained off the water. You could also separate the florets, toss them with a little olive oil and salt, and roast them in a 400F oven until they're a texture you like. Or just pop a bag of frozen cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl, cover it, and nuke it until hot and tender.

While the cauliflower is cooking, make the yogurt sauce. Put a half cup or so of sour cream or yogurt in a bowl. Add a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise (or leave it out, if you prefer). Add chili powder to taste - start with a teaspoon, mix it in well, and add more if you want. Then squeeze in some lime juice. Taste, add more lime, add more chili powder, etc. until it tastes pretty good. Then add the magic flavor enhancer - salt. Not too much. Just enough to bring out the flavors of everything you just put in. If you happen to use a salted Mexican-type seasoning rather than chili powder, then ixnay on extra sodium. You could use Tajin and leave out the lime, too, unless you want more tang. It's up to you. 

Pile the cauliflower on a plate. You could put some salsa down on the plate first, like I did, but it's totally optional. (I had half a jar of tomatillo salsa that I didn't want to go to waste.) Dollop with the lime yogurt, drizzle on the honey, sprinkle on the cheese, crushed cornbread croutons, cilantro, and onions. 

Serves 2 as an entree, 4-6 as a side, dependent on one's appreciation for cauliflower.

* 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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Sourdough Grilled Cheese Sandwiches - Sponsored


Who doesn't love a grilled cheese sandwich? It's one of the easiest and tastiest things to make for lunch or dinner (heck, breakfast too). Accompanied by a bowl of tomato soup, it's meal perfection. Soup in a can makes that part of the meal easy-peasy, but sometimes assembling a sandwich--and then having to cook it--takes too much energy. Lucky for those of us in the Baltimore area, Lane Levine of A Friendly Bread has created pre-made grilled cheese sammiches that come frozen. Just break it along the score and pop it in the toaster or oven (or microwave, if you're not afraid of what those things do to bread products) and voila! A crisp and delicious sandwich.  

All you need to do is open a can to complete your meal.

Right now, A Friendly Bread's sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches come on country sourdough with sharp cheddar and mozzarella, and cinnamon raisin with brie and mozz. You can order the sandwiches for home delivery in Baltimore, or pick them up at Eddie's of Roland Park and Graul's, plus locations in Virginia and the Philadelphia area. There are also sourdough toasts, if you're into crackers, and Lane's promising croutons next. Click here for current shop locations, with more to come.



* 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.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Moroccan-ish Chicken - Sponsored Post

Recently, I've been very into the flavors of the Middle East and North Africa. Kabobs; dips made with eggplant, beans, walnuts, and/or peppers; harissa; tahini; halloumi; yogurt - it all has me drooling. One of my favorite flavorings from this region is preserved lemon, a powerful lemon flavor that is also quite salty. I've been buying jars of whole lemons for a few years now and recently tried a jar of preserved lemon puree, which is much easier to use and produces less waste. (Most recipes call for using only the rind and discarding the pulp.) A spoonful of it added to a savory dish adds strong lemon flavor without
the mess of zesting a fresh lemon. Of course the flavor of a preserved lemon has a bit of a fermented note that makes it somewhat different from the fresh fruit. But it's still unmistakably lemon.

Also recently, I've come into a selection of Follain Nothing But Fruit preserves, including a lovely three fruit marmalade, sent to me by their American distributor, Bewley Irish Imports. A sample spoonful made me think of preserved lemon, albeit sweet, not salty, and I thought it could be nice to combine the two to make a glaze for baked chicken. A little bit of harissa paste for spice, and it was a real winner. Three ingredients. Couldn't be simpler.

Spicy Glazed Lemon Chicken

2 T Follain NBF Irish Three Fruit Marmalade
1 t preserved lemon puree (I used Casablanca Market)
1 t harissa paste (I used Trader Joe's)
5-6 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
Salt

Preheat oven to 375F.

Stir first three ingredients together to make a spicy, citrusy, sauce. Set aside.

Place chicken thighs skin-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Turn skin-side-up and salt the top. 

Bake 45 minutes; the internal temperature should be at least 165F, and the skin should be crisp with the fat mostly rendered. Remove thighs from oven.

Preheat broiler. Spread marmalade sauce over chicken and pop under broiler until sauce is bubbly and blackened in spots. 

Serves 3-6 people depending on your sides. I roasted baby potatoes tossed in olive oil and salt with the chicken and cooked some green beans. Olives make a good accompaniment, too. 

* 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, March 07, 2022

Gluten-free Pumpkin Spicewalla Chai Masala Streusel Muffins

One of the most important things in my kitchen is my collection of herbs and spices. Without them, food would be bland and uninteresting. I have never been brand-loyal--I buy everyday spices that are the most affordable, but once in a while I splash out for a blend that seems too delicious to pass up. I'm always open to trying new things, so I was pretty pleased when Spicewalla offered to send me a selection of their spices to play with. Four were savory blends, but I cracked into the two sweeter items right away. The first thing I did was to make golden milk with their Golden Milk blend (Turmeric, Cinnamon, Ginger, Black pepper, Nutmeg, Roasted Coriander) warm hemp milk, and a dash of maple syrup for sweetness. I like to make a base mixture first, combining a few heaping teaspoons of spices with non-dairy milk to make a very runny paste and keeping that in the fridge. Then when I want a bit of warm golden milk before bedtime, I mix a few spoonsful of the paste into about half a cup of hemp milk and warm it in the microwave, adding a bit of maple for sweetness. (A half cup is plenty, as I don't want to drink too much liquid before going to bed at night.) Spicewalla's blend has all the right elements for a tasty and soothing sweet-savory beverage.

The other spice I used right away was the Chai Masala blend, though not to make chai. (Did you know that since "chai" means tea, saying "chai tea" is like saying "tea tea?") I thought it would be perfect as the spice in some pumpkin muffins. And damn if I wasn't absolutely right! Spicewalla's freshly-ground small-batch blend of ginger, cinnamon, green cardamom, black pepper, clove, and allspice was the perfect seasoning for these ultra-moist muffins. Like pumpkin spice, but with a little bit extra. While plain muffins are nice, muffins topped with streusel are even nicer, texture-wise. I also added chopped walnuts to the batter. Chopped, toasted, pecans or almonds would work as well, or you can omit both the streusel and the nuts. Up to you. 

Did you catch the words "gluten-free" in the title of this post? Since 2019, I've been on a mostly gluten-free diet, which I have found is a big help in losing weight. Sometimes, though, I crave a sweet treat that's not a piece of chocolate (though nothing is wrong with that!), like a cookie, cupcake, or muffin. There are several good gluten-free flour blends on the market, but I am not particularly crazy about the texture of ones that are primarily rice flour; I find it to be gritty. Almond flour makes a tasty wheat flour substitute, but I find that makes things too dense. A combination of GF flour and almond flour is just perfect, and what I used in this recipe. (If you're ok with gluten, you may substitute 1 3/4 all purpose white flour for the GF and almond flours.)

I know, enough talking. Here's the recipe.


Gluten-free Pumpkin Spicewalla Chai Masala Streusel Muffins 

For the muffins:
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional, only if your flour blend doesn't already include xanthan gum)
3/4 cup finely ground almond flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Spicewalla Chai Masala spices
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts, optional

For the streusel:
1/4 cup Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon Spicewalla Chai Masala spices
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the muffins:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease one 12-well or two 6-well standard-size muffin tins.

Whisk together the eggs and pumpkin purée. Set aside.

Whisk together the gluten-free flour (with additional xanthan gum, if needed), almond flour, sugars, baking powder, salt, and Spicewalla Chai Masala spices.

Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the butter until fluffy. Add in the flour mixture and combine until it looks like wet sand. Add the egg/pumpkin mixture a bit at a time, beating well after each addition. The final mixture should be light and fluffy. Stir in the walnuts, if using.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, filling each cup to the top. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes.

To make the streusel:
Combine all of the ingredients until it forms crumbs. Sprinkle about a tablespoon onto each muffin, pressing it in so it sticks. 

Bake the streusel-topped muffins for 22 to 25 minutes, until the middle springs back when lightly touched. Let rest for 5 minutes before removing muffins from the pan. 

12 servings

Posted on Minxeats.com.
I received a collection of spices from Spicewalla, including the Chai Masala spices, but I am not being otherwise compensated for this post.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Strega - Sponsored Post

A beautiful yellow herbal liqueur was developed in 1860 by father-son team Carmine and Giuseppe Alberti. Their town of Benevento was a legendary gathering place for witches, so they named their product Strega, the Italian word for "witch."

They used umpteen (70!) delicious ingredients, including Florentine iris, Ceylon cinnamon, Samnite mint, and Italian Apennine juniper, with precious saffron added to create the sunshine hue. The liqueur is aged in ash barrels before bottling.

Strega has been compared to Yellow Chartreuse, and like that liqueur, it's great in cocktails, but also sipped on its own as a digestif. 

Personally, I love the bottle, and wish I had a fancy bar on which to display it. The embossed starburst design and Art Nouveau label invites a closer look. 

Now that I've tried Strega, I want to sample the company's sweets, which include chocolates, torrone (nougat), and pandoro (a holiday bread similar to panettone) filled with Strega cream. Unfortunately, it looks like most of it is only available in Italy, which means I'll have to plan an overseas trip sometime soon. Check out their sweets catalog here.

How do I like to drink Strega? I prefer it in a cocktail. There's one called a Stazione (train station) made with equal parts Strega, Fernet, and sweet vermouth. I swapped out the Fernet for a locally produced amaro flavored with coffee and added a hint of citrus. It's reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, but far more herbal and aromatic. I call it the... 


Baltimore Penn Station

1 ounce Strega Liqueur
1 ounce Baltimore Spirits Company Baltimaro #3
1 ounce Red Vermouth
2 ounces lemon-flavored sparkling water (I used LaCroix limoncello)
Twist of orange peel

Stir the liqueurs together with ice and strain into a glass. Pour in the water and add the twist. 

The coffee of the Baltimaro and the lemon water are reminiscent of an espresso with lemon peel, so now I want to pour some Strega over coffee ice cream. Or concoct an ice cream flavored with Strega.... 

What would you like to see me make? 

* 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, February 21, 2022

Stonewall Kitchen Feta Spreads - Sponsored

My brother is somewhat difficult to buy for, so when the holidays roll around, I resort to edible gifts. (Honestly, they are the best.) For the past few years, I've been ordering miscellaneous items from Stonewall Kitchens. I have been buying their products for decades, and have always been really happy with them. They have a large variety of goods, and the prices are decent. Best of all, everything I've tried tastes really great. So when I received an email from them touting their brand new products, I just had to request samples. And they delivered: all three varieties of their new feta spreads showed up on my front porch about a week later.

Sadly, I was on Whole30 at the time, so had to practice some serious patience before I could crack open a jar. I am a bit of a feta fanatic, putting its briny goodness on everything from pasta to oatmeal (yes, I said oatmeal), and I gotta admit that the idea of jarred spreads that combine the cheese and other Mediterranean ingredients turned me on. 

Within a few days of saying buh-bye to the diet, I concocted a perfect way to use one of Stonewall Kitchens' feta spreads: as a flavoring agent for a big ol' head of roasted cauliflower. I roasted the veg first with a light coating of olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Once that baby was tender, I slathered it in the roasted red pepper feta spread and popped it under the broiler until it browned a bit. OMG - it was as delicious as I anticipated, and it really made a simple dish something special. 

Plus, it added some much-needed color. Isn't it gorgeous?

Of course you could use the spreads on crackers, as an accompaniment to an antipasto or charcuterie plate, or as a sandwich spread. This morning, I dolloped some in my oatmeal with a little additional feta and a sprinkle of hemp seeds. (If you haven't tried savory oatmeal before, you are missing out.) I'm betting they'd be a tasty addition to pasta, or potato salad, or pretty much anything that could use a little cheesy goodness. Definitely try it with roasted vegetables, as in the following recipe.

Mediterranean Cauliflower
There are several steps to this recipe, but they are all quite simple. The resulting dish is the Middle East on a platter, with elements from Morocco, Egypt, Greece, and Lebanon. None of the elements, mind you, are in the least bit authentic. I do a lot of substituting in my cooking. For instance, I was out of tahini, so used almond butter in the babaganoush instead. And I was too lazy to toast seeds and nuts for my dukkah and worried that I would probably burn the sesame seeds, so I used everything bagel seasoning. It already had the seeds, but also onion and garlic. Additionally, I used ground cumin and coriander, since they are already toasted, and pre-roasted nuts. 

For the babaganoush-style eggplant spread:
1 medium eggplant
1 small clove garlic, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons almond butter
Kosher salt
Lemon juice
Smoked paprika
Ground cumin

For the tomatoes:
1 medium tomato
Kosher salt
Pinch ras el hanout or powdered harissa 

For the dukkah-like topping:
1/4 cup toasted nuts of your choice (I used almonds and walnuts)
1 tablespoon everything bagel seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

For the cauliflower:
1 large cauliflower
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Red Pepper Feta Spread
Feta cheese
Flat leaf parsley or cilantro

To make the eggplant:
Preheat the oven to 450F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise. Rub the cut sides with a little oil and place cut-side-down on the parchment. Roast for 45 minutes, until the skins collapse and the interior is very soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. 

Once cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh out of the eggplant into a bowl. Using a fork, mash the eggplant into as close to a puree as possible, breaking up any fibers. Add the almond butter and garlic and stir well. Season to taste with the salt, lemon juice, paprika, and cumin. It should be creamy, bright, and slightly smoky. Scrape into a lidded container and refrigerate.

For the topping:
Crush the nuts and spices together in a mortar and pestle, or, if you don't have one large enough, just pop them in a sandwich-sized zip top bag and bash them into small pieces with something heavy (a meat tenderizer, a can of tomatoes, a brick, etc.). Set aside.

For the tomatoes:
Remove the core from the tomato and cut the flesh into small dice. If you're a neat-freak, remove the seeds. If you're me, leave them in. Scrape into a small bowl and season with salt and a pinch of seasoning. Set aside.

To make the cauliflower:
Turn the oven down to 350F. 

Remove the outer green leaves from the cauliflower and trim an inch or two off the stem. Not so much that the florets start to fall off, but that there's a divot at the bottom of the cauli. Place the cauliflower, stem side down, on a rimmed baking sheet (I like to line my sheet with parchment). Rub the head with olive oil, and pat on a few generous pinches of salt. Roast the cauliflower for 60 - 75 minutes, until nicely browned on the outside and a knife can be inserted easily. 

Preheat the broiler. Remove the parchment from the baking sheet, if using, and replace the cauliflower. (The parchment may burn under the broiler.) Pour a few tablespoons-ful of the Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Red Pepper Feta Spread on top of the cauliflower and rub it around to cover. Broil the cauliflower until the spread starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To assemble the dish:
Spread about half of the eggplant spread onto a platter. Center the cauliflower on top. Sprinkle with the tomatoes, feta cheese, some of the nut topping, and parsley or cilantro. Serve with the remaining eggplant, red pepper feta spread, and topping. 

Serves 2-3 as a main dish, 4-6 as a side.

* 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.