Monday, March 20, 2023

Restaurant Review - Tbiliso

Don't let the photos on the web site fool you--Tbiliso isn't a trendy, well-lit, café with hunky, tweezer-wielding chefs in the kitchen. It more resembles granny's living room transported into the shell of a 70's-era bank building. To be honest, I have no idea what the bizarre space with 20' ceilings and partial mezzanine once held, but it functions as a restaurant now, one that has enough space for large parties, live music, and dancing. At Minxeats, we're only interested in the food, which [spoiler alert] is quite good.

I discovered the restaurant whilst randomly perusing Google Maps. (One never knows what one can find!) Tbiliso's online menu lists both new-to-us items like the vegetable stew ajapsandali as well as the more familiar dolma, lula kabob, and olivier salad. Some items have intriguing descriptions, like the kupati, "minced meat and spices in intestines" (yes, it's sausage), and the tbiliso, "fried pork with fajitas and cherry tomatoes" (surely a translation issue). Each item is also spelled out in the delightfully squiggly Georgian alphabet. What caught my eye, however, was the selection of breads stuffed with cheese or meat. I'd always wanted to try Adjarian khachapuri, a bread boat filled with melted cheese and topped with an egg, and I was finally getting my chance.

On our first trip to Tbiliso to enjoy the cheesy bread boat, we also ordered the ajapsandali and kupati, plus the chakapuli, a tasty stew of lamb with sour plums. Eventually we'd like to try everything on the menu, but this was a good start.

kupati with rice
Kupati are fat pork sausages with a nice snappy casing and a garnish of onions and parsley. The online menu offers a side dish choice of fries or rice, and on that first trip we tried the rice. On our second visit, we were served a larger portion of sausage without a choice of starch. More tasty sausage = good, though the slightly oily, vegetable-packed rice was quite delicious. Though everything we ate at Tbiliso was good, the kupati was a standout both times.
We also enjoyed the ajapsandali, a stew of peppers and eggplant somewhat like a Georgian ratatouille. It reminded me a bit of the Indian eggplant dish baingan bharta. The spicing of the ostri, a stew of tender beef in a tomato-y broth with a whiff of coriander and fenugreek also brought to mind the food of the Indian subcontinent.

Though I have recently been cursed with lactose intolerance, I was not deterred from sampling two (so far!) of the ten or so breadlike starches on Tbiliso's menu. Perhaps the most famous Georgian bread, the adjarian khachapuri is a boatlike vessel of white bread filled with a pool of molten cheese and topped with a raw egg. One (carefully) tears off chunks of bread and dips them into the fondue-like pool of melted dairy, repeating the motion until the khachapuri is gone or there are no more Lactaid pills left. It's simple, filling, and very good.

Adjarian khachapuri
The equally mouthwatering Megruli khachapuri is similar, at least in the quantity of cheese it contains. The dairy goodness is both stuffed into and layered on top of this bread, making it quite pizza-like. It's a bit easier to eat than the Adjarian version and just as delicious.

Megruli khachapuri
Tbiliso, or "fried pork with fajitas and cherry tomatoes," came with strips of multicolored bell pepper (but not tomatoes) and was served in a sizzling hot bowl, much like the popular Tex-Mex fajitas. The tender hunks of pork would have seemed right at home nestled into folds of tortilla. I might have tried to wrap it with the khachapuri, but the Megruli style was far too oozy with cheese (not a bad thing).

I can't really find fault with any of the dishes we tried at Tbiliso. Not being familiar with Georgian food at all, I cannot attest to the authenticity of any of it. From what I can tell, however, much of the menu represents the "greatest hits" of  the cuisine. The flavors and seasonings were all pleasing to my palate, and I feel like everything had been prepared lovingly by people who know what they're doing. Even if none of them is wearing a long stripy apron and tweezering microgreens onto every dish. 

Next time we're in the mood for some შემწვარი სოკო კარტოფილით or შქმერული and a boatful of cheese, we're heading back to Tbiliso. Next time, I hope to try some of the many dishes that contain walnuts, a popular ingredient in Georgia.

Church Lane Shopping Center
9926 York Rd,
Cockeysville, MD 21030
Rating - Highly Recommended

* 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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Chilis and Stews

When someone says chili, what comes to mind? Ground beef cooked with canned tomatoes, beans, and a packet of chili seasoning? I think that's probably the norm. That's the kind of chili that my Dad used to whip up using Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili kit. My Aunt Stasia, on the other hand, made a loose ground beef sauce that was closer to Coney Island sauce that was meant to be served on a hot dog. I blithely went along with the idea that either one was the Platonic ideal of chili until I picked up a copy of a cookbook that included thirty or so recipes for Texas chili. This type of chili, the book insisted, required chunks of beef and absolutely did not include beans of any sort. Real Texas chili doesn't even have tomatoes in it. Rather, it should include only beef, chile puree, and seasonings. After reading the subtle variations presented in this manual to one of the carnivore's most important dishes, I fell into the Texas chili camp. No more ground beef chili for me! Ok, so that's not entirely true. Ground beef chili definitely has it's place. For one thing, it's a quicker cook than chili made with hunks of pork or beef. And I'm more likely to have ground beef, chicken, or turkey in the freezer. Still, my heart belongs to Texas chili.

Chili isn't the only belly-warming stew-like substance on the menu at Chez Minx. I have tossed together many a supper-in-a-bowl in the fall and winter months. Scroll down to find links to some of my favorite non-chili creations.

Non-Chili Stews

* 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, March 13, 2023

Pot Roast with Korean Flavors - Sponsored Post

I received a box of various globally inspired sauces and seasonings from Serious Foodie and have enjoyed using most of the products. The Moroccan Grill Spice Rub sits close at hand on my kitchen island so I can use it to toss on whatever I feel needs a little oomph--like the tuna salad I made for lunch the other day. I've also added it to chili, sprinkled it on roasted vegetables, and added it to a frittata. It's almost time to procure a replacement jar!

Serious Foodie makes several other products with the word "grill" in the name. We Minxes don't really grill much at all--maybe once or twice a year--so I had to be a little more creative with their offerings. I felt that the Korean Lemon Garlic sauce might work really well in pot roast, even if lemon is not a typical beef flavoring. I had to check it out anyway, and I didn't disappoint myself. 

I don't typically marinate meats before cooking, but I felt that if I was already disobeying the "grill" mandate, I couldn't also avoid the word "marinade" on the label. So I dumped the bottle into a zip top bag and added a chuck roast. The next day, I removed the meat from the sauce and browned it on all sides, careful not to burn the sugary residue from the marinade. Then the marinade went into the pan along with the typical carrots, potatoes, and onions. I upped the Korean flavor profile by adding a lot of garlic and some fresh ginger, and garnished the dish with scallions and sesame seeds. A drizzle of toasted sesame oil would not have been out of place, but I didn't think of it at the time. IMHO, it turned out pretty darn well. The dish tasted like traditional pot roast, but with an Asian twist. I'd definitely make it again, and I might add a few glugs of gochujang (Korean chile paste) or some gochugaru (Korean chile flakes) to add a spicy element to the dish.

Do let me know if you try it.

Pot Roast with Korean Flavors

A 2.5 to 3-pound chuck roast
1 10oz bottle Serious Foodie Korean Lemon Garlic Grill Sauce and Marinade
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil (canola, vegetable)
1 beef bouillon cube
2 large yellow onions, quartered
1 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into small dice
4-6 large cloves of garlic
8 ounces of button or cremini mushrooms, wiped clean and halved or quartered if large
2 good handsful of baby carrots
4-6 medium yellow or red potatoes, peeled, halved or quartered if large
Corn starch (optional)
Chopped scallions
Toasted sesame seeds

Place the roast in a zip top bag. Add the entire bottle of Serious Foodie Korean Lemon Garlic Grill Sauce and Marinade. Seal bag and refrigerate 6 - 10 hours or overnight. Fill the empty sauce bottle with water and refrigerate.

When ready to cook, remove roast from bag (reserve marinade), and pat dry. Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large wide skillet or dutch oven with lid. Sear the roast on both sides over medium-high heat until golden, being careful not to burn it (due to the high sugar content of the marinade). Once both sides of the roast have been seared, add the leftover marinade from the bag to the pan. Shake the marinade bottle of water to make sure you have all of the sauce residue and pour that into the pan. Add another bottle of water, the bouillon cube, onion, ginger, and garlic. Bring sauce to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Cover pan and simmer for 90 minutes, then add the mushrooms, carrots, and potatoes. Simmer another 60-90 minutes until the beef is fall-apart tender. 

If the sauce seems too thin, you can turn up the heat, take off the lid, and evaporate some of it. Or you can mix a few teaspoons of cornstarch in warm water until it forms a slurry and drizzle that in. Bring to a boil to activate its thickening action.

On each plate, serve some of the beef, carrots, potato, mushroom, and onion. Garnish with scallions and toasted sesame seeds. 

Serves 8. 

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, March 06, 2023

Chili Crisp/Crunch

I like spicy food, though I am not a "chile head" by any stretch of the imagination. Personally, I think the folks who enjoy high Scoville-scorers like bhut jolokia and Carolina Reapers, who are willing to endure the special kind of pain those peppers inflict on their innocent butt-holes, are totally bonkers.

I'm particular about the source of my spice, preferring the mellow palate-singeing heat of dried chiles over the lingering lip-tingling burn of fresh ones. A great way to add that dried pepper zing to dishes, IMHO, is to add a spoonful or two of a condiment known as either chili crisp or chili crunch, depending on the manufacturer. Generally, this is an Asian condiment--made with toasted chile flakes, shallots, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns, fermented soy beans, and sometimes peanuts, in soybean oil--though the Mexican salsa macha, a mix of nuts and chiles in oil, is similar.

Eating chiles can boost dopamine levels, and therefore becomes somewhat addictive. I can't tell whether my now-customary spoonful of chile crisp on my over-easy eggs is a habit or an addiction. What I can tell you is that I enjoy them even more now than I did before, though dippy eggs have been one of my top ten favorite things to eat since childhood. 

It used to be that chili crisp products could only be found in Asian stores in the form of the OG, Lao Gan Ma. Available both with and without peanuts, this sauce might be called the platonic ideal of chili crisps. It's hot, but not too hot, with crispy bits of shallot and garlic for texture and flavor. It's great on dumplings and noodle dishes, and everyone should have a jar in their fridge.  

But wait, there's more! 

Trader Joe's sells a Chili Onion Crunch that is a bit too crunchy for my liking, quite oniony, and somewhat sweet. A little goes a long way for me, so the tiny jar lasted for quite a long time before I determined that I didn't actually like it and gave myself permission to throw the rest away. 

Zindrew Crunchy Garlic Chili Oil  has the perfect amount of crunch, but it has an odd flavor to it that I think of as "fishy." The primary ingredients are oil, chiles, and garlic--no fish--though I wouldn't say the sauce is particularly hot or garlic-y. (They do sell a hotter version they call X Batch.) The only thing I like this particular brand of chili crunch on is over-easy eggs. Somehow egg yolk tempers that fishy quality for me. I feel like I've used this sauce on my weekly eggs for months and months now, and there's still always a little bit left in the jar. It's a pretty big jar, so a good deal for the money (fancy chili crisps are $$$), but I wouldn't buy it again.

Right now, I think my favorite brand of chile crisp is Oomame. The company has received some flak for cultural appropriation--it's run by a white guy--but there's no faulting the flavors of the product. Their chile crisps come in four styles, influenced by the cuisines of Mexico, China, Morocco, and India. My favorites are Mexico and Morocco, with India and China in distant 3rd and 4th places. Not those two aren't good--they are--they just don't tickle my palate in the same way as do Mexico and Morocco. I cook a lot of Mediterranean- and North African-style dishes, and Mexican food is a favorite, so perhaps my palate is just tuned in those directions. In any case, I appreciate the subtle differences in ingredients among the four flavors, including spices native to the countries represented. Also, each of the non-Chinese variants contains a dried fruit which adds subtle sweetness: fig in the Moroccan; mango in the Mexican; papaya in the Indian. The Mexican and Moroccan versions also contain orange peel. You can read more about Oomame in another blog post, which includes a recipe for ice cream made with Mexican Ooomame.

I discovered The Flavor Society via Christopher Kimball's Milk Street shop. They make two flavors, pizza and everything bagel. Considering that (good) pizza is one of my all-time favorite foods, how could I pass up on pizza-flavored chile crunch? I know you're wondering if it actually tastes like its namesake. Yes, it does--it's quite reminiscent of pepperoni or Italian sausage pizza. Fennel and herbs do their magic in this stuff, with mushroom powder adding the umami that comes from the fermented soy beans usually found in more traditional versions. The everything bagel flavor is also delish, swapping out the fennel and herbs for sesame, poppy, caraway, and sunflower seeds. I find both flavors to be eat-off-the-spoon mild, but there is also a spicy pizza version that I have not yet tried. 

Fans of restauranteur/chef/tv personality/podcast host/entrepreneur David Chang swear by his Momofuku brand of chili crunch. I am a regular listener of his podcast (even if I am about 18 months behind) and felt that as a fan of chili crisps, I should give his a try. With coconut sugar as the third ingredient on the label, Momofuku chili crunch is appreciably sweeter than any other brand I've tried. Three kinds of chiles and both garlic and shallots make it spicier and more allium-forward as well. It is good, and I prefer it to both Zindrew and Oomame's Chinese chili crisp, but Lao Gan Ma edges it out by a couple of hairs...and it's much less-expensive!

So far, these are all the chili crisp/crunch condiments I've tried. I know there are plenty more out there, but I'm not that interested in trying more variations on the Chinese chili crisp theme. Lao Gan Ma is great and very affordable, so there's not much reason for me to shell out an additional $8 - $15 for another brand. Point me in the direction of more unusual versions, however, like those from The Flavor Society and Oomame, and I'll fork over the dough. I'd also like to get my hands on a few versions of salsa macha. If any readers have suggestions, I am all, palate. Please leave a comment if you think there's something I should try.

* 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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