Monday, October 23, 2023

Wine and Seafood - Sponsored Post

I am a Marylander born and bred, and there's nothing that I enjoy more in the summer than a crab feast. Here, that's a pile of blue crabs--Callinectes sapidus--steamed with beer and a ton of spicy paprika-based seasoning, be it Old Bay or some other brand. There are other places that appreciate a summertime crab feast, too, though in those parts of the country they're referred to as "crab boils" and often involve potatoes and corn as well as crab. Sometimes they also include shrimp, or crawfish, or even a different kind of crab. Two Fish Crab Shack, in Chicago, uses snow or king crab in their popular seafood boils, which can be ordered with or without shrimp, and can be had with jerk or lemon pepper flavorings as well as a more traditional Cajun seasoning. Their product can also be found in the frozen seafood section of your local Harris Teeter, which is where I bought mine. I may prefer blue crabs to other varieties, but I am always willing to try something new.

Each pouch contains everything one needs for a proper seafood boil: potatoes, corn, shellfish, and a pack of Cajun-style sauce. Pop the veg into boiling water, add the shellfish, wait a few minutes until everything is cooked through, drain, and toss with sauce. Pretty easy. 

According to the nutritional label, there are four 530-calorie servings per package of Two Fish Seafood Boil, each comprising 3-ish shrimp, 1/4 of the crab, one piece each of the corn and potato, and 1/4 cup of sauce. That might be enough food for two not particularly hungry people who have an appetizer first and dessert afterward, but it's certainly not dinner for four! Most of the calories are in the oil-based sauce, but unless one eats it with a spoon like soup, the vast majority will end up discarded with the shrimp shells and crab detritus. Not to mention that calories will be burned fighting over the crab's fifth leg. Personally, I think most of the oil should be discarded, with half the seasoning used for the seafood and the other half reserved for later in the week, stirred into fresh pasta with either more seafood or some rotisserie chicken! So set aside some sauce, and share your boil with one friend. Buy another bag if you're inviting friends over for dinner.

You're probably thinking to yourself at this point, "where does the wine part of this post's title come in?" I'm glad you asked....

There's a great reason why Marylanders pop open a can of Natty Boh or Corona or other easy-drinking lager-type beer with their steamed crabs: it just works. A cold beer's refreshing effervescence and somewhat bitter flavor puts out the heat of the inevitable encrusting of crab spice and rock salt without dimming the subtle flavor of the crustacean itself. Now, dear reader, think about your favorite wine to go with crabs...or clams, shrimp, or oysters. Brand and varietal, please. Unless you are a connoisseur or sommelier, it's a difficult task, isn't it?  Many affordable white wines that may seem suitable for quaffing with a casual seafood supper are often just plain crap. This is why Ripe Life Wines exists: founder Mary McAuley saw the need for wines that would pair perfectly with the clambakes that were part of her summertime Jersey Shore experience. So she created her own.

Clambake Chardonnay is light and refreshing, with lemony and green apple notes. Clambake Rose is also light and dry, with notes of white nectarine, strawberry, and grapefruit peel. Moules Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine is lemony and apple-y, like the chardonnay. In a nod to traditional champagnes, it also has bread-like notes, in this case brioche. All three are absolutely made for drinking with seafood boils, with notes that complement both the subtle flavors of the seafood itself and the heartier seasonings that accompany them. I particularly enjoyed the Clambake rose with our savory shrimp and crab dinner. The Blanc de Blanc is a natural with spicy foods, but also with simply steamed clams and especially raw oysters. 

Ripe Life Wines are not currently available in Maryland, but they can be sampled at tasting rooms in nearby New Jersey. Two Fish Seafood Boils are available at Maryland area Harris Teeter stores.

* 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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Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Pizza! Pizza!

I wouldn't call Baltimore a pizza town, but the city is currently more deserving of that title than it was in the past. Regular readers might remember me railing on about the "fresh dough" pizza craze in the 70s and 80s, the days of flabby, undercooked crusts, insipid sauce, and rubbery cheese. Papa John's and Pizza Hut continue that sad tradition to this day. 

I enjoyed Pappy's pizza as a child, and my favorite pizza during high school came from a little carry-out on Harford Road called the Hamilton Eatery. Their pizza had a crispy crust, flavorful sauce, and the perfect amount of stretchy cheese--and it was 100% a frozen product from some food service company. One day I watched them transfer a frigid disk from freezer to oven and was shocked that it hadn't been made in house. I remember their pies being delicious; perhaps they were, only in comparison with the other pizzas I so hated. The most loathsome pie came from a place called George's Beef and Beer, on Broadway in Fells Point. It was largely pale and flavorless, with the standard dull toppings scattered on a soggy, doughy, crust. On Saturdays, my Uncle Frank, who lived downstairs in the townhouse we occupied, bought lunch. He was no gourmet and offered only two choices: fried chicken from a stall in Broadway Market, or pizza from George's. I preferred the chicken, but good as it was, it was a chore to eat it even every-other week. On pizza weeks we experimented with toppings, hoping to find something worth eating, but nothing overcame the overall blandness of the pies. (Onion and black olive was probably the best of the bunch, but still not great.)

George's is long gone--thank the pizza gods!--and slowly but surely Baltimore has evolved a far more interesting pizza culture. One with quite a bit of variety, too. There are standard round thin crust pies that claim to be "New York-style," pies with super thin crusts, square pies, pies topped with stuff like figs and brie, and pies with crusts that don't fit into any particular genre. People still eat the crappy chain pizzas, too, which baffles me almost as much as why people prefer P.F. Chang's to actual Chinese food made by Chinese people. 

One pizza that I did enjoy in my youth and still eat today is Squire's. The crust is firm and sturdy, with a nice crunch, the sauce is herby and a tad sweet, and they are more than generous with toppings. Our go-to order is a large "everything" pizza, minus the green pepper. 

can you tell from my expression that I can't wait to take a bite of
 this "everything" (minus green pepper) pie from Squire's?
We get a pie from Squire's at least once a year, as a reward for getting our taxes done on time. (Our accountant is in Dundalk.) If we're lucky, we'll find an opportunity to visit again a few months later. If not, we usually bring home several slices to tuck into the freezer to enjoy on another occasion.

There are several Baltimore area restaurants serving Neapolitan-ish pies. Traditionally, a Neapolitan pie has a thin hand-formed crust and is baked for a brief time (up to 90 seconds) in a screaming hot wood-fired oven. In Italy, these pizzas must be made with very specific ingredients in a very specific way, but that goes out the window here in the states. A Neapolitan pie also tends to have a soggy middle, which doesn't really fly here. So while restaurants might use wood-fired ovens imported from Italy, and make the crust in the prescribed manner baked at the proper temperature, Neapolitan-style pies in the US play more fast and loose with the type of cheese and the crispness of the crust. Personally, I enjoy a thin and flexible crust that has some charring underneath and leopard spotting on the cornicione (the outer edge). 

everything at Hersh's is wonderful, but especially the pizza.
Among my favorite local pies that are made with the Neapolitan sensibility are those from Hersh's in South Baltimore and Paulie Gee's in Hampden. Both establishments are creative with their toppings-- the smoked mozzarella and fried eggplant on Hersh's Fumo e Fuoco, and the dried cherries and gorgonzola on Paulie Gee's Cherry Jones--but somehow everything seems to work perfectly.

there's nothing like a pizza from Ledo.
Then we have the "is it really pizza?" pizza: Ledo. The crust is buttery and flaky, as if a pizza and a croissant had a baby. The sauce is sweet, and there is a ton of cheese, but the combination of all of the above works to produce a delicious whole. I especially like their "cannonball" pizza, which has half a giant meatball perched on every slice. Oh yeah, the pizzas are square, too. Weird, maybe, but so am I.

Detroit pizza is all about the toasted cheese that forms around the border of the pie.
And then there's Detroit-style pizza. A relative of the Sicilian pie, the Detroit pizza has a thick crust with no cornicione. The cheese goes on first and is spread from edge to edge, which produces a caramelized crustiness where the cheese hits the hot metal pan in which the pie is baked. Toppings like pepperoni are next, followed by stripes of sauce. I've only ever had this style of pizza from one place, Underground Pizza Company in Towson, and I don't think I ever need to eat it elsewhere. I don't know if it's a perfect Detroit pizza, but I can't imagine a better crust. It's like the most fabulous artisan bread you can imagine, but with crispy cheese edges. My favorite pie there is topped with fancy roasted mushrooms, but their vodka sauce pies are also :::chef's kiss::::

I know there are lots more pizza restaurants in Baltimore that I haven't included here, so let me mention a few more that we visit: Earth, Wood, & Fire; Ribaldi's, Il Basilico; The Arthouse. We're also fans of the pizzas at Cosima. Even longer is the list of restaurants serving pizza that we need to visit are JBGB's, Verde, Johnny Rad's, Kneads Bakeshop, Gil's, Pizza John's, and Little Donna's. 

What's your favorite?

* 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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