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!

Posted on

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Remedy to Chilly Weather: Drink More Hot Tea

In a world where everyone seems to be in a hurry to do something or get somewhere, there's an age-old tradition that offers solace, comfort, and a myriad of health benefits: enjoying a hot cup of tea. This beverage has something to offer everyone from lifelong enthusiasts to newcomers to the world of tea.
  • Stress Reduction - There's a reason why a cup of tea is often referred to as "a hug in a mug." The soothing warmth and gentle aroma of hot tea can work wonders for your mental well-being. Tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to promote relaxation and reduce stress. The ritual of preparing and savoring a cup of hot tea can provide a calming break in a hectic day.
  • Improved Digestion -  Many herbal teas, such as peppermint or ginger, are well-known for their digestive benefits. Hot tea can help alleviate digestive discomfort, reduce bloating, and ease indigestion. It's an excellent choice after a heavy meal or when you're feeling a bit under the weather.
  • Antioxidant Boost - Hot tea is packed with antioxidants called catechins. These powerful compounds help combat the harmful effects of free radicals in your body, which can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and support overall health. Regular consumption of hot tea may contribute to better long-term well-being.
  • Enhanced Hydration - Staying adequately hydrated is essential for maintaining good health, and hot tea can be an enjoyable way to achieve this goal. While water is the ultimate hydrator, tea is a close second. The warm, comforting nature of hot tea can encourage you to consume more fluids, especially during the colder months. However, to reap maximum hydration benefits from tea, make sure that it's herbal or decaf.
  • Improved Focus and Mental Clarity - The caffeine in tea, though generally lower than in coffee, provides a gentle pick-me-up that can enhance focus and concentration without the jitters or crashes associated with coffee. Hot tea can be a great choice for those looking to stay alert and productive during the day.
  • Variety and Flavor - One of the great pleasures of hot tea is its wide array of flavors and blends. Whether you prefer the robust taste of black tea, the earthy notes of green tea, or the delicate sweetness of herbal infusions, there's a hot tea for every palate. Exploring different types of tea can be an enjoyable journey in itself.
One may purchase loose or bagged tea in any grocery store or bodega, but I have found that the best stuff comes from specialty tea purveyors. 

actually, my all-time fave was Chicory Dickory Dock, now discontinued
I discovered David's Tea on a trip to New York. Pre-COVID, this Canadian tea company had two locations in Manhattan, and I particularly enjoyed visiting the one on Bleecker Street in the West Village. The employees at this narrow storefront were always happy to let me smell any of the dozens of brews available and I rewarded their patience with making multiple purchases. And by multiple, I mean one or two ounces of six to eight teas at a time. While they have a great selection of non-caffeinated teas--which is what drew me to them in the first place--my favorite is their high-caffeine Coffee Pu'erh, which I drink sparingly. Though I am no longer able to browse David's in person, I place regular orders through their website. At this point, I have quite an embarrassing stash of their products on hand.

August Uncommon Tea is another favorite tea purveyor with a beautiful selection of tea varieties with intriguing names like Dolomite, Biarritz, and Cult of Demeter. I don't quite remember how I stumbled upon this company; perhaps it was via one of Facebook's fiendishly on-the-nose target ads. In any case, I ordered several samples and fell in love. August does smoked teas particularly well, and Outlaw, a smoky cherry black tea, is a favorite in this house.

The Whistling Kettle is a company we found recently. I responded to a PR email and was rewarded with a sampler of eight of their fall-oriented teas including Autumn Haze, Apple Cider Donut, Gingerbread Cookie, and Pumpkin Cheesecake. Besides seasonal offerings, WK has the entire rainbow of tea offerings from black, green, and white to red (rooibos) and even purple. They also have tisanes, yerba mate, hemp leaf, and chaga mushroom teas. The Whistling Kettle has many intriguing flavors that I hope to explore and will be adding this company to my regular tea-ordering rotation.

Do you have a favorite tea company that I should know about? Leave a comment!

* 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

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!

Posted on