Monday, April 08, 2024

Epic Fail

a truly epic bowl of cream of crab soup
I gotta laugh at native English-speaking influencers (AKA people who spend too much time posting on Instagram or TikTok) who have no working grasp of the language. And I get that there's slang--I do, honestly. Every generation has had it. We went from "nifty," "swell," and "keen" to "groovy" and "far out," to "rad" and "bitchin'" and even "bodacious." All stood in for "good" or "great." Then came "awesome," and "phenomenal," which were used to describe even the most mundane of things. But they already had their own meanings. To be awesome means to inspire awe (awe=reverential respect + wonder or fear). God, for example, might be awesome, so too an active volcano, Stonehenge, or the strength and diligence of an ant. Something that is exceedingly great can be phenomenal; the word also refers to phenomena. Calling a well-prepared hamburger "awesome," or a piece of clothing "phenomenal" (I'm looking at you, Nina Garcia) is gross exaggeration, plain and simple. 

There are many words that mean "good" or "great," including extraordinary, noteworthy, fine, splendid, terrific, first-rate, marvelous, outstanding, exceptional, top-notch, stellar, lovely, delightful, fantastic, fabulous, tremendous, superlative, essential, remarkable, and dozens more. When one is talking about food, however, be it a specific dish, ingredient, or entire meal, those words don't mean a whole lot. Let's use cream of crab soup as an example. One diner might prefer a thicker soup because that's the way grandma made it, or one using shellfish stock in addition to milk. Another diner might want a more liberal seasoning with Old Bay, and another may prefer a pinch of JO spice, or a glug of sherry. They're all "good," and none are "awesome." The bowl you just ate might be the best of your lifetime, so tell us why. "The cream of crab at __________ is so silky smooth and full of crab flavor, it's almost a bisque. Not only did every spoonful contain crab, but there was also a mound garnishing the top along with a sprinkle of parsley and Old Bay." Or maybe, "the cream of crab at ___________ was thick and lumpy, not with flour but with chunks of crab meat and little bits of onion and celery, which made it more savory than most." I know, my mouth is watering now, too.

Do you know what word never makes my mouth water? Epic. Let's examine that word more closely, shall we?

epic
1 of 2
noun
ep·​ic ˈe-pik 
1: a long narrative poem in elevated style recounting the deeds of a legendary or historical hero;
the Iliad and the Odyssey are epics
2: a work of art (such as a novel or drama) that resembles or suggests an epic
3: a series of events or body of legend or tradition thought to form the proper subject of an epic;
the epic of the winning of the West

2 of 2
adjective
1: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an epic; an epic poem
2a: extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope; his genius was epic
b: HEROIC

In layman's terms, epic generally refers to something that is long or large, lasts a long time, or takes a long time to achieve. Good examples are Beowulf, the Civil War, and pretty much any movie with a running time over 3 hours. Unless a bowl of cream of crab soup is forty feet wide and contains the meat of a thousand crabs, it makes no sense to describe it as "epic." 

Yes, language is changing. But why should we accept giving new meanings to words that already have perfectly fine ones that have endured? Because people are too lazy or dumb to use words properly or to even make up new ones? One of my favorite new words is "rizz," which refers to romantic appeal or charm. AKA "charisma." Note that the middle syllable of the word "charisma" is pronounced "riz." Yes, so it makes total sense. 

C'mon people--smarten up! English has lots of words. Please utilize more than 2 of them.

* 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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Thursday, April 04, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Pastabilities

This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on April 9, 2018.

While it was fun to play around with making our own pasta, we'd much rather have someone make it for us. Plus, since we started doing Whole30 off and on, we've discovered how much better we feel if we're not consuming wheat. Yes, there is gluten-free pasta out there, but frankly, most of it is awful. At best it's a poor imitation of the real thing. And I'd rather eat bread. Mr Minx is still somewhat of a pastaholic, but even he doesn't crave it as much as he used to.
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I started following @BaltimoreHomeCook on Instagram last year because I enjoy her photos of homemade pasta. Not just linguine and fettuccine, but fancy stuff made with colored doughs in interesting shapes. I admire her experimentation in the kitchen and wish we had enough space for that sort of thing. Our counter is not much bigger than a desk calendar and it already has several bottles of olive oil and a KitchenAid heavy duty stand mixer in permanent residence. Though I have always known that we could make pasta dough in the food processor and hand-form cavatelli or orecchette at the dining room table, we never got around to it.

I met @BaltimoreHomeCook--Laurie--in person and immediately she volunteered to lend us her KitchenAid pasta attachments. The next day, as I accepted the heavy bag holding the roller and cutting blades, I realized we had no more excuses. We'd be making fresh pasta ASAP, as she had also given us a small bag of 00 pasta flour with which to play. Oh boy. This was getting real.

I didn't want to lean on Laurie for everything--I hate being a pain in the ass, or needy--so I looked up pasta recipes on teh innernets. I found one for dough made in the food processor involving 2.5 cups of 00 flour, 4 eggs, and 2 teaspoons of olive oil that seemed easy enough. The directions indicated that half a cup of flour should be held back and added if the mixture seemed too wet. After pulsing the remaining ingredients, the dough felt good to me, so we put the other half cup of flour back into its bag.

After the pasta dough rested in the fridge for a while, we began the rolling process. I had found a video on YouTube instructing that a blob of dough should be run through the #1 setting several times, folding once before each pass through the roller, and then once through each successively numbered setting all the way to #8. Seemed easy, though looks are usually deceptive.

We ended up putting the pasta through the rollers three times. I broke down the initial 1-pound ball of dough into about 8 smaller sections. As we passed each through the roller, we noticed that it started wrinkling badly at setting #4, becoming a total mess at #5. It happened with each piece of dough, so we tried again, this time stopping at setting #4. I had set out a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper on which to arrange the sheets, but I hadn't realized that the dough would stick to itself and the other pieces without flouring the sheets. (Duh!) We re-rolled each of the 8 pieces of dough for a third time, this time placing them on a light dusting of cornmeal, which stopped the sticking. More sticking ensued, however, when we cut the sheets into fettuccine, and more cornmeal was employed to keep the strands separate. The whole process was a bit of a hot mess.

We cooked the pasta and tossed it with a simple tomato sauce with arugula, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Because we stopped at the #4 setting, the pasta was too thick and chewy, resembling my Polish grandmother's kluski far more than tender Italian flat pasta. We'd have to try again the following weekend.

I posted the photo above on Instagram, and Laurie complimented me on a successful first try. I told her about our problems and she quickly offered solutions. Our dough was too wet, causing it to wrinkle during the rolling process. She offered her recipe, which was a bit different than the one we had used: 2 cups of flour, 3 eggs, no oil. If made in the foodpro, the mixture should be pulsed to the texture of couscous. If the dough still seemed too wet, we should fold some flour into it while rolling. Also, we should let the rolled dough dry a bit before cutting; the texture should be somewhat leathery.

The following weekend, we tried again. We used 2 cups of 00 flour and 3 eggs, which we pulsed to a couscous texture (cooked couscous, I should add). It was a little stiffer and required a bit more kneading, but in a few minutes Mr Minx had worked it into pliability. We let the dough rest in the fridge for about 45 minutes before we rolled it out. It still wrinkled a tad at #5, but we soon realized that the dough needed to be held a bit more tautly at the top as it was being pulled down through the roller. Mr Minx was better at it than I was, so he manipulated the dough while I was in charge of changing the levels on the roller attachment. In no time, we had nine beautiful sheets of very thin dough that were laid atop tea towels on baking sheets.

I had a hair appointment in Hampden, so we covered the dough with parchment and left the house. I figured we'd be back in a bit over an hour, as my hair is very short and takes little time to cut. I didn't take in consideration that there are several levels of "leatheriness" and perhaps Laurie meant the pasta should dry only slightly, to the texture of a supple glove leather. As it turned out, a late arrival before me kept me waiting 30 minutes before my turn in the barber chair. When we arrived home, our beautiful pasta had become more like stiff saddle leather. Not knowing the difference at that point, we unsuccessfully attempted to feed the sheets of dough through the pasta cutting blades, which only crumbled them into uneven bits. Not wanting to waste our efforts, I stacked the stiff sheets and sliced them into pappardelle with a sharp knife. To be honest, wide flat pasta is my favorite anyway.

This thinner pasta cooked much quickly than the thicker stuff we had made the week before, and, despite our issues, was lovely. Not in looks perhaps, because the noodles were of varying widths, but the texture was amazingly silky, with the barest al dente bite. This time, we served it with pancetta and mushrooms, chopped raw tomato, fresh basil, and grated Parm.

The third time's the charm, as they say, so we figured trying it once more would result in perfection. I followed Laurie's recipe again, but the dough seemed stiffer and drier this time. I didn't want to add water in case I accidentally overdid it, so kneaded the dough a little longer before tucking it into the fridge for half an hour.

It rolled out beautifully, but dried too quickly. We had to cut the first sheet of dough immediately after rolling the final sheet. It was almost too dry, but not as brittle as the last time. The final product, however, was lovely, with a silky texture and a gentle bite. Tossed with red pepper walnut pesto, artichoke hearts, and Italian chicken sausage, it was fabulous.

Our next pasta adventure will be with semolina dough, which requires water instead of eggs. We've already purchased the semolina flour so we won't have excuses not to try something new. But I have to admit, even though fresh pasta is amazing, it is a real pain in the ass to make. Kudos to Laurie and to everyone else who does that stuff on a regular basis. And thanks to the manufacturers of dry pasta, because we'll never stop using it.

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* 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 25, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Crabcakes and Coke Life

This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 20, 2018.

This was an unusual challenge: to use chef-created recipes to make dishes that go well with Coke products. As a native Marylander, I was offended by having to make crab cakes that were loaded with vegetables and SUGAR. And I was amused that there were some local participants who thought that "watermelon rind" referred to the green outer part of the melon, the ski, and attempted to use it to make a salad...and eat it. Clearly they had never tried watermelon rind pickles, which are clearly the white bit between the sweet flesh and the skin.
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Soul Food Sessions is a non-profit out of Charlotte, North Carolina, with the goal of acknowledging and supporting people of color in the culinary arts. One of the ways they do this is by organizing pop-up dinners that not only showcase the diverse talents of the chefs involved, but also bring people together to discuss equal opportunity in the food industry. They've partnered with Coca-Cola Consolidated for their current pop-up series, The Table is Set; A four-city tour served with a Coke. The tour started in Charlotte, hits DC next week, followed by Baltimore that weekend, and finishes in Charleston, SC. Yes, I did say Baltimore was a stop on the tour, and I know you want more details on that.

When: July 29th, 5:30pm
Where: The American Brewery, 1701 N Gay Street, 21201
Tickets can be purchased here.

One of the dishes that will be featured at the event is an appetizer created by Charlotte, North Carolina Chef, Jamie Barnes. The recipe features crisp-coated crab cakes loaded with summer vegetables and topped with a fresh and creative watermelon rind slaw. As fellow Marylanders know, crabs and crab cakes are a way of life in this state. People here are very opinionated about both, but especially crab cakes. One filled with as much vegetables as crab and without crab seasoning of any kind, plus sugar, is going to raise some eyebrows. However, I was excited to recreate this dish at home--because I'm always up for trying a new twist on familiar foods--and to serve it with the pop-up's official beverage pairing, Coca-Cola Life.

I went shopping at my local Harris Teeter store to buy all of the ingredients for the recipe: white corn; lump crab; scallions; and a cute little watermelon (that did double duty as dessert). I also picked up some Coca-Cola Life, the low-calorie, Stevia-and-sugar-sweetened Coke with a green label. The Coke Life paired well with the natural sweetness of the watermelon rind and brought out the more complex flavors of the crab cake. I also used the cola to make the dressing for the slaw (recipe below).

If you can't make it to the event, you can still make the Charred Corn Crab Cakes with Watermelon Rind Slaw at home, just as I did. A word of advice though: be careful of projectiles while standing near a pan containing hot oil and crab cakes that are full of corn. I had a couple of kernels leap out at me with a loud bang! If popcorn hadn't already been invented long ago, I'd have something great on my hands (and in my hair)!

Sweet Red Pepper Vinaigrette

1/3 red bell pepper, cut into small dice
1 8-oz bottle of Coca-Cola Life
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the bell pepper and the Coke Life into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, watching carefully, until most of the cola has evaporated and the bell peppers are coated in syrup, about 10 minutes. Remove peppers to a medium bowl and set aside to cool.

Once cool, add the remaining ingredients and season to taste. Use as dressing for watermelon rind slaw.

* 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. 

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Monday, February 26, 2024

Visiting Charm City? You Need to Try This!

When I go to NY and visit with my friend Daisy, she takes me to all the best eateries. And I don't mean fancy 3 Michelin star restaurants like Le Bernardin. Instead, she takes me to the best places to get banh mi, birria tacos, ice cream, and pizza. In a city like New York, there's more than one place to get the "best" in pretty much any category. Here in little old Baltimore, however, there are far fewer choices. Sometimes I think, if Daisy came to visit me here in Baltimore, where would we eat?  

neighborhood bird from Ekiben
First of all, we'd go to Ekiben and chow down on the chicken sandwich known as the Neighborhood Bird: a fat fried Taiwanese-curry-seasoned chicken thigh or two (I've even had a sandwich with three!) crammed into a rather large and pillowy bao bun and topped with sambal mayo and a handful of herbs. Another must-order there is the gluten-free tempura broccoli topped with sliced Chinese sausage, fresh herbs, red onion, and a dose of rice vinegar. Those are my favorites, but to be very honest...everything at Ekiben is perfect.

Koco's crab cake, served at home
Koco's Pub is next on the list. While I'm sure all their grub is good, unless one is allergic to shellfish, the massive 11-ounce crabcake is mandatory. Right now, one cake with crackers, lettuce, tomato, and pickle is a splurge at $36.99; four bucks more will get fries and cole slaw, too. If one is feeling cheap, there's a smaller 6-oz cake available (Wed - Fri until 4pm only) for $22.99. I suggest going for the gusto and getting a 11-oz sandwich, which is plenty large enough for sharing. Daisy will probably want her own. Honestly, I think she has two stomachs. 

steamed crabs from Salty Dogs
We might opt for steamed crabs, though not necessarily instead of crab cakes. I like getting carry-out from Salty Dogs, but we could dine in at Bill's Terrace Inn, instead. Bill's crab cakes are pretty decent, so we could get both cakes and steamed crabs there. Mmmm...making myself hungry here.

mushroom "crab" cake at Foraged
Keeping with the crab cake theme, we'd probably also hit up Foraged and sample their "crab" cake made with lion's mane mushrooms. So good. And also a selection of their pig parts, definitely the kool ranch pig ears, maybe some snout and/or jowl. One really can't go wrong there.

bone marrow crab dip from True Chesapeake
I'd also want to take Daisy to True Chesapeake. For oysters multiple ways, of course, but also for the fantastic crab and bone marrow dip and also to eat whatever invasive species they might have on the menu at the moment, snakehead or blue catfish or both.

loaded yuca fries from La Food Marketa
We also might go to La Food Marketa, where we'd order the yuca fries loaded with short rib and a fried egg, the reuben quesadilla, the street cauliflower, and any number of other fine things. Or we could go to their sister restaurant, The Food Market, and order pretty much everything on the menu, but especially the soft pretzels and a Baltimore club.

ice cream cone at the Hampden location of The Charmery
What about dessert? I think a scoop of Old Bay Caramel ice cream from The Charmery would do nicely. Or any flavor from Taharka Brothers.

New York has world-class Chinese food, so there's no place in Baltimore that would be particularly impressive to someone who lives in Manhattan. Folks from other areas, however, I'd absolutely take them to Red Pepper or Kung Fu 12. It seems that half the restaurants in NY are Italian, and while we have some good places in the Baltimore area, nothing tops what New York has to offer. The same for pizza, though I feel like the pies at Squire's are different enough for a visitor to appreciate. They're not NY-style, for sure, and not Neapolitan-style either, with their firm and crisp crust and somewhat sweet and herby sauce. One can say the same for Ledo, which some will argue isn't even pizza. (Then what is it?) 

If any other Baltimore-area readers have suggestions as to where to take an out-of-towner for a Baltimore dining experience that won't be found anywhere else, I'd love to hear your ideas. 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!

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Monday, February 19, 2024

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!

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Pumpkin Thai Curry with Shrimp

Recently, I borrowed a copy of the Beat Bobby Flay cookbook from my local library. Sorry, Bobby, but why buy the cow when I can get the milk for free? The book has some good recipes, and I was particularly attracted to the pumpkin red curry with seafood--but not as written. It seemed like it would be better as a soup, so I made the appropriate adjustments. Cuz that's what I tend to do.

I wondered what the warm spices (cinnamon, etc.) brought to the table and found that they transformed a Thai red curry to something more like a Massaman curry. I adore red curry, Massaman not so much, so if I make this again, I will leave out the cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, perhaps replacing them with lemongrass and makrut lime. Bobby used eggplant and sweet potato in his version, but I swapped in regular potato for both. 

Supermarket red curry paste, like Thai Kitchen brand, is pretty mild, heat-wise. I had just received a shaker of McCormick's roasted garlic/cayenne/onion/pink salt blend and thought that would be a good way to boost the heat while also seasoning the soup. You all know how much I like chili crisp, and this stuff gives some good chili crisp vibes, only without the oil. I used a teaspoon in the soup, but added some at the table as well, which gave the dish just enough of a kick. I quite like this seasoning, and will be using it a lot. It comes in a ginormous container, too, which is useful.

Thanks for the recipe, Bobby. I won't be buying the book though.

Pumpkin Thai Curry Soup with Shrimp
I knew this would make far more soup than two people could eat in one meal. I didn't want to deal with rubbery shrimp in reheated leftovers, so I only added as many as I thought Mr Minx and I could eat at one time. The leftovers equaled approximately 5 cups, which I tucked in the freezer for future use, perhaps with chicken or another different protein. 

Soup:
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
Pinch of kosher salt
2 t extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
2 T Thai red curry paste (if you're using a supermarket brand, like Thai Kitchen, use 3 T)
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 13.5-oz can light coconut milk
2 shrimp, chicken, or vegetable bouillon cubes; if using Knorr XL (double) cubes, just use one
2 medium new potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon McCormick Roasted Garlic and Cayenne Pepper with Onion and Himalayan Pink Salt, plus more for the table
1 t smoked Spanish paprika
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Garnish:
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted
3 T pomegranate seeds
1 scallion, white and light green part sliced into thin rings
Plain yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche

Make soup: Saute onion and a pinch of salt in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, stirring regularly. Add the dry spices and the curry paste and stir to combine. Cook a couple minutes, stirring constantly, to toast the spices, then add the pumpkin puree and coconut milk. Add 3 pumpkin cans of water to the pot (about 6 cups) with the bouillon. Bring to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld and develop. Add the potatoes; cook 15 minutes and test the potatoes for doneness. Once they are tender (might take a few minutes more), add the McCormick seasoning and smoked paprika. 

Add the shrimp and cook until they are pink and firm, 3-4 minutes.

Make garnish: In a bowl, combine coconut, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, and scallion. 

To serve: Ladle soup into bowls. Dollop with yogurt and sprinkle on some garnish. Season with additional McCormick seasoning, if needed.

Makes about 2 1/2 quarts.

* 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, February 06, 2024

Restaurant Review - Villagio Cafe

We have visited Villagio Cafe--a cute little Persian restaurant on York Road just a few blocks over the County Line--many times, so I was surprised to realize that I hadn't yet written about it. Several posts on NextDoor recommended the restaurant, and while that forum is generally a site that causes one to lose all faith in humanity, this was the rare piece of good advice. 

Villagio Cafe has a lot going for it: the food is excellent, the service is very good, and the prices are shockingly inexpensive. Plus, it's within walking distance from our house. 

chicken and beef koobideh kebabs with shirazi salad (front) lamb koobideh with rice (back)
There are plenty of kebabs on the menu: chicken, beef, and lamb shish kebabs which include peppers and onions; chicken and beef kebabs without the veg; and koobideh kebabs which are made with ground chicken, lamb, or beef mixed with onions and seasonings (similar to kofta, lule, and seekh kebabs). I can't stop eating the juicy and flavorful koobideh, so it's rare that I stray to the other types. Though I will say, there is so much onion in the koobideh, if I get carryout or bring home leftovers, I have to be prepared for not only my refrigerator to reek, but also the whole house when I warm them up. (Worth it. That's what scented candles are for.) The kebabs all come with insanely buttery basmati rice, lovely warm pita, and grilled tomato. Sometimes, however, I don't want the rice and exchange it for a side of shirazi salad, a simple combination of diced cucumber, tomato, onion, and parsley, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Villagio Cafe has six other rice dishes on their menu which can be substituted for the plain basmati for an upcharge; all are uniformly delicious.

tah dig topped with chicken fesenjan
As much as I enjoy the koobideh, I most often order their tah dig, or crispy rice, topped with a stew of chicken with walnuts and pomegranate known as fesenjan. (There is a possibly inauthentic but still tasty fesenjan recipe here on the blog.) It's not the most beautiful thing in the place, but I can't get enough of the buttery, salty, crispy goodness of the rice and the tangy richness of the stew. 

lamb shank with baghala polo
I also recommend their lamb shanks, which are stewed to extreme tenderness and accompanied by baghala polo, or rice with dill and fava beans. Honestly, there's nothing I've tried that I wouldn't order again, though I think that serving dolmas piping hot are a little weird. 

And now I have a craving for lamb koobideh, so if you'll excuse me....

Villagio Cafe
6805 York Rd, 
Baltimore, MD 21212
https://villagiocafe.com/

* 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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Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Product of the Week - MaraNatha Almond Butter

Welcome to a new feature on Minxeats! Every week (or so), we'll present to you one of our favorite store-bought products. It might be a chip, or cereal, or condiment, and it will definitely be something that we purchase and consume regularly. We hope you are curious enough to check out our suggestions, and if you do, let us know by leaving a comment.
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Our first product is MaraNantha Almond Butter.

Mr Minx and I go on the Whole30 diet every once in a while. It's a good way to reset our eating if we've gone off the track. You know, at Christmastime when there are freshly-baked cookies and jugs of eggnog singing their irresistible siren song. ::::plugging ears with fingers:::: LALALALALALALALA!

Anyhoo...

Whole30 doesn't allow peanuts, hence no peanut butter. I can live without it, but Mr Minx cannot, so I had to find an alternative. We tried many almond butters, but most were "natural" style, with an inch of oil on top, a gummy texture, and not a whole lot of flavor. And then I stumbled upon MaraNantha. Their no-stir almond butter has both salt and sugar in it, like our favorite peanut butter (Jif) so it actually tastes good. There is usually a little oil on top, so "no-stir" is somewhat of a falsehood, but the flavor alone keeps me buying this stuff. I prefer the crunchy kind because I like texture, but the creamy stuff is very good, too. As with peanut butter, almond butter can be used to make sauces and soups as well as to spread on toast. Or to eat straight off the spoon. 

Yes, I realize that MaraNantha uses palm oil, which has been credited with harming the planet's biodiversity. That is true of many cooking oils, including everybody's favorites, coconut and olive. I'm not making excuses; man is definitely the Earth's worst enemy. But this isn't a crunchy granola feel-good blog, it's a food blog, and I'm just saying that I am a fan of this particular product. If I could find one that was as good, but less-harmful to the planet, of course I will switch. But in the meantime, you will find this in my pantry.

Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Condiment Fiend

In case you haven't noticed, I like condiments. I don't mean plain ol' ketchup, mustard, and mayo, though I like those, too. I mean all of the various salsas, sauces, and salads that make a plain serving of meat or vegetables more exciting. I've posted about them here before, most recently my nutty crunch sauce. Another post waxed rhapsodic over chili crunch/crisp. There was also my post on dips, many of which could be used as a sandwich condiment or sauce for meat, fish, or eggs. I love relishes like caponata, fennel marmalade, green tomato relish, pineapple relish, and rhubarb mostarda. Then there's all the potentially weird stuff like bacon jam, pickled figs, beet ketchup, red curry jamblueberry ketchup and BBQ sauce, pea pesto, quince butter, sriracha BBQ sauce, and spicy miso dressing.

"So what does one do with all these condiments clogging up the fridge?" you ask. If you have watched any sort of cooking show, particularly the competition variety, then you will have heard chefs talk about acid. Some dishes just need a little spark to bring out all the flavors. Like lemon juice on fish. Condiments can add not only acid, but also sweetness and/or texture to a dish that might otherwise be bland. Take something like a pan-sautéed boneless, skinless chicken breast--I can't think of anything more unexciting than that. But put it on a bed of caponata, a savory-sweet relish of eggplant, celery, onion, and tomato, and things start looking up! A corn salsa would also work wonders to alleviate boredom. And, unlike America's favorite sauce to glop on everything from pizza to chicken wings--Ranch Dressing--caponata and corn salsa are made with vegetables. What? They act as a sauce and can also be a side dish if you put more on your plate? Mind blown! 

pork tenderloin with romesco salsa, smashed potatoes, green beans
One of my all-time favorite condiments to make is romesco sauce. A blend of roasted peppers and tomatoes thickened with bread and nuts and flavored with garlic, vinegar, and paprika, romesco is super easy to make in a food processor. My recipe is here. The photo above shows a looser version of romesco, billed by Food & Wine as a "salsa." The recipe calls for the usual suspects, minus bread, plus additional liquid. While I liked the texture of the sauce, which poured rather than dolloped, I didn't find it to be as flavorful as my usual version. The tablespoons of both salt and smoked paprika seem excessive, but they are necessary. 

You don't have to make your own condiments; these days there are plenty of specialty food brands that are making them for you. I'll be featuring some of my favorite store-bought condiments in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

* 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, January 15, 2024

Dry-Rubbed Cauliflower "Wings"

I know this blog is rife with recipes for my favorite cruciferous vegetable, but I'm going to add one more: dry-rubbed cauliflower "wings." Why "wings?" Because the word is more appealing than "chunks," "blobs," or even "florets," and because the recipe was inspired by a local restaurant's chicken wings. 

I've used this dry rub on both wings and other chicken parts. The whole cumin and fennel seeds create a unique flavor combination that would also work on pork ribs, steak, and even fish. However, we're trying to eat more vegetarian dishes at Casa Minx. Cauliflower is my favorite meat alternative because it's nutrient dense, low in calories, and full of fiber. Plus its relatively neutral flavor works with most kinds of seasoning. If you're thinking, "blech! I hate cauliflower," well, you should probably stop reading.

The amount of savory spices in this recipe calls out for the balance of a rich and creamy sauce, so I served it with a homemade blue cheese dressing made with one of my favorite blues, Point Reyes Original Blue. Use your favorite; even the pre-crumbled stuff is fine. If you don't like blue cheese, then try feta. And if you are one of those weirdos that likes ranch dressing with their chicken wings, then omit the cheese entirely and increase the amount of TJ's Green Goddess seasoning to a full teaspoon. Taste for seasoning before adding more salt, as the GG already contains salt.

There's not a lot of either heat or sweetness in this recipe, so if you'd like a bit more of both, a drizzle with hot honey might make you happy. (I recommend Runamok Chipotle Morita honey.) 

Dry-Rubbed Cauliflower "Wings" with Bleu Cheese Dressing

For the cauliflower:
1 batch dry rub (recipe follows)
1 large head cauliflower
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 batch blue cheese dressing (recipe follows)

To make the cauliflower: Put the dry rub into a gallon-sized plastic zip-top bag.  

Trim off the tough green leaves from the bottom of the cauliflower and discard. Rinse the head and shake dry. Trim into florets, keeping small ones (1 1/2" and smaller) whole and cutting larger ones in half or quarters. Place the florets into the zip bag with the spices, zip the bag, and shake to distribute the spices. Open the bag and add the olive oil (more, if your head of cauli was particularly large). Push out the air, re-seal the bag, and shake it around to distribute the spice mix and oil as evenly as possible onto the cauliflower. (You could also do this in a large bowl, using your hands to toss the spices and vegetable together, but the bag is much neater.)

Put the bag in the fridge to marinate.

About 90 minutes before you're ready to eat, preheat the oven to 400F. 

Line a large baking sheet with foil and dump the bag of cauliflower onto it. Arrange the florets so they are more or less evenly distributed. Place tray in oven and bake cauliflower for 20 minutes. Remove tray from oven, and turn florets over with tongs. Put back in oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender but not mushy, and browned.

Serve hot, with blue cheese dressing.

For dry rub:
1 T sweet paprika
1 T smoked paprika
1 T whole cumin seed
1 T whole fennel seed
2 t salt
1 t dried thyme
1 t Urfa Biber or your favorite chili flakes
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t ground black pepper
1/4 t ground white pepper

To make dry rub: Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

For bleu cheese dressing:
1/4 c sour cream
1/4 c mayonnaise 
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (I used Point Reyes Original Blue)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 t Trader Joe's Green Goddess seasoning
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch ground white pepper

To make dressing: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Use a fork to combine, crushing the cheese into small bits to distribute through the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to use.


* 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.

Spicy Saucy Goodness

I put this on everything. You should too. It's based on a recipe from Chef Annmarie Langton, formerly of The Queen Truckstaurant. She used her version on her crab cake tacos, so it was made it in a larger quantity than one might need at home. I fiddled around with the recipe and came up with one I can make in varying amounts with ingredients in my pantry, and I make it to taste according to what I plan to serve it with. 

Spicy Saucy Goodness
Perhaps you find recipes without exact amounts annoying, but that's mostly how I cook. Sorry (not sorry).

A few tablespoons of your favorite mayonnaise (I like Duke's), sour cream, Greek yogurt, or a combination of all of them
Smoked paprika
Chipotle chile powder
Garlic powder
Real maple syrup 
Lime juice
Kosher salt

Glop some mayo in a bowl. Let's say you use the equivalent of 1/4 cup. To that, add about 1/4 teaspoon each of the smoked pap and the chipotle powder. Stir it in well. Dip your pinky in the mix and taste. Is it smoky? is it spicy? If yes, you're good. If no, then add a bit more of each and stir again. Add a pinch of garlic powder and stir it in. Now add about 1/2 teaspoon of the maple syrup. Please don't use pancake syrup. Add a big squeeze of lime juice. Stir the sauce again and taste again. Is it sweet? is it tangy?  If yes, you're good. If no, then add a bit more of each and stir again. Yeah, you get it. You might need to add more spice or smoke once you have the acid and sweetness in there. Does the sauce taste pretty good but still seem to be missing something? Time to add a pinch of salt. Stir it in well, wait a few beats for the salt to dissolve, and taste again. Keep doing all of the above until you get a sauce that tastes good to your palate. If all the various powders are starting to make your sauce seem too thick, then add a dribble of water. If you feel like you've gone way too far with the seasonings, add a little more mayo. 

Dollop on crab cakes, tacos, crab cake tacos, burgers, roasted vegetables, etc. or use as a dip for french fries or crudités.

Wait - stop the presses! 

I was about to hit "publish" on this post, but I discovered a shortcut to spicy mayo deliciousness (as if it wasn't already easy) and wanted to share it. Around Thanksgiving time, I bought several jars of jams from Blake Hill Preserves. (Though they didn't want to send me the samples I requested during Fancy Food Show time, I'm not bitter. But I never forget.) Anyhoo, their savory jams sounded interesting and I thought they'd be a good addition to the large scale cheese board that was to be our Thanksgiving dinner. I have also found them valuable for use in recipes that need a little zhuzhing up. A few teaspoons or so add a subtle sweetness and a punch of flavor--Blake Hill Roasted Garlic Savory Jam is especially useful in this regard. 

So, back to the sauce. 

Instead of using the smoked pap, chipotle powder, garlic powder, and maple syrup, I found that using a teaspoon-ish of both the chipotle & maple and fresh tomato jams in a quarter cup of mayo/yogurt/sour cream does the trick nicely. You may still need to add a pinch of lime juice and salt. Last time I made this, to have on tacos, Mr Minx requested that we save the last tablespoon of unused sauce so he could put it on his lunch sandwiches. Yeah, it's good.

Give it a try. If you do, please let me know in a comment.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Crunchy Stuff

I stumbled upon SAUCE UP Almond Crunch Sauce while perusing Amazon for chili crisp. Like chili crisp, it's a sweet and oily combination of fried alliums and chiles, but also contains chopped almonds and a bit of dried thyme. It's different and delicious and adds a whole 'nother level of texture to dinner. But as much as I like this product, this post isn't going to exhort you to buy it. It's going to encourage you to make your own

What I've been doing is to finish most of the jar, then add my own nuts, seasonings, and oil to extend the product. This stuff comes in handy when I have a dinner planned that might be somewhat lacking in texture variety, perhaps braised chicken with rice or potatoes and green beans. Thought it might be perfectly tasty, there's nothing exciting texture-wise in that dish. It needs a little crunch to zhuzh it up, give it a little spark. Sometimes I'll make up a type of dukkah, a dry blend of spices and nuts that originated in Egypt. And other times, I want something a bit oilier.

I keep a variety of both raw and roasted nuts in the freezer. Some nuts, like hazelnuts, go rancid in a ridiculously quick amount of time. Others I just don't consume fast enough. Freezing keeps them fresher for a much longer stretch of time. I may grab a couple ounces of roasted almonds or sunflower seeds which I toss into a sandwich bag and bash into smaller pieces with a meat tenderizer. These go into the mostly empty sauce jar along with a pinch of kosher salt and a glug of olive oil. Depending on the flavors of my meal, I might stir in a pinch of za'atar and toasted sesame seeds, or curry powder and nigella seeds, or toasted fennel seeds and dried oregano. For heat, I like adding a bit of Urfa Biber (a Turkish dark burgundy chile flake with a somewhat smoky flavor) or Aleppo pepper. I stir and taste and reseason, and when it tastes good, I put the jar in the fridge. (I always keep my jar in the fridge, so the nuts and oil stay in a cool and dark place, to stave off rancidity.) 

Recently, I decided to use TJ's Gluten-free Battered Plant-based Fish Fillets in tacos. Honestly, I find the average fish taco to be incredibly boring, so I would never order one in a restaurant. Battered fish (or vegan fish) is bland. Tortillas--especially commercial ones--are bland. Slaw might be vinegary, but raw cabbage is boring. Basically, the usual mayonnaise-based (more blandness) topping is left to do all the heavy lifting, flavor-wise, and it doesn't do a particularly good job of it. At least there's a bit of texture going on with the cabbage and hopefully the fish batter doesn't go completely soggy before being consumed. To me, what this dish needs to be more appetizing is a sauce that is both crunchy and spicy. An almond crunch sauce with a Mexican vibe.  I combined a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a goodly amount of Tapatio Picante Seasoning with freshly toasted and cooled pumpkin seeds (a small handful) and cumin seeds (1/4 teaspoon-ish) to make a textural condiment that added just the right amount of extra pizazz to dinner.

Need more than a rough guideline? Here's a "recipe." If you try it, or something like it, do let me know in the comments.

Homemade Savory Nut Crunch

About 4 ounces of your favorite nut(s) and/or seed(s), which may include: roasted and unsalted almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds, broken into pieces roughly 1/4" - 1/8"

Enough neutral oil or good olive oil to moisten the mixture without making it liquidy, a tablespoon or so

A pinch or more to taste of dry herbs and savory spices of your choice, such as thyme, oregano, za'atar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, curry powder, jerk seasoning, nigella seeds, etc.

A pinch of kosher salt

Pepper flakes, such as Urfa Biber, Aleppo, gochugaru, Ancho, etc. (optional)

Combine everything in a bowl, stir and taste. Add more of anything or everything depending if it's too dry or not salty enough. You could also add a tiny bit of sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup) - a quarter teaspoon or so, if it seems appropriate. Garlic or onion powder would also not be out of place here, though I don't tend to add either. 

Store in a covered container in the fridge. 

* 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.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Best of 2023

2023 started strong, with a trip to NYC and lots of good things to eat. Another trip to NY in June ensured some good summer eating. But then the rest of the year was kinda pfffftttt, culinarily. We've been stuck in a rut, going to the same handful of restaurants over and over. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just not a good thing. Then we had COVID from the end of September through mid-October and didn't really want to go out in public even after we had recovered. Plus, I didn't have any interest in food for a few weeks (I know - hard to believe!). 

Hopefully, we'll do better in 2024!

January

vegan cheeses from Riverdel in the Essex Market, NYC
I had no idea that vegan cheese could be so good! I had only tried the standard supermarket crap, which is fine if you enjoy Kraft Singles, but not if you're fond of cheese that couldn't pass for plastic. Riverdel cheese sells only vegan cheese, which is actual cheese made the way cheese is normally made, only without the use of animal milks. I can no longer remember the three cheeses I tried, though I believe one was a cheddar and another was a blue, but they were all fantastic. My non-lactose-intolerant companion kept asking for more "tastes" of my snack. Get yer own, girlie. This is mine.

el supremo at Golden West Cafe
Another vegan surprise was the vegan fried chicken sandwich at Golden West Cafe. Made by Melanie Molinaro's Little Fig Bake Shop in Rosedale, the free-form, plant-based glob of deliciousness is coated with a craggy brown crust and mimics a deep fried chicken breast extremely well. Golden West adds a brioche bun, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and their version of thousand island, along with reasonably mozzarella-like fried vegan cheese sticks. Like most everything at Golden West, the sandwich is huge, but also delicious. 

February

homemade shrimp & grits
I made shrimp and grits more than once in 2023, but the best time was when I topped the garlicky shrimp with roasted red pepper and fried salami. It seemed Italian, so I added fennel seeds, too. 

March

everything pizza without green pepper, from Squire's
There will never be a time when pizza from Squire's won't be one of the best things I've eaten.

kupati at Tbiliso
The Georgian pork sausage called Kupati made last year's list, and it was just as amazing in 2023.

vegan fried green tomatoes at Golden West Cafe
Yet another vegan item on the list of best things I ate in 2023 is the fried green tomatoes from Golden West. It looks absolutely hideous, I know, but the vegan pimento cheese and herb aioli were both outstanding and passed for animal-based products. The tomatoes were fried perfectly, too. 

shrimp liang and pancit at Heritage Kitchen
Sadly, Heritage Kitchen closed its doors in 2023, but we made sure to get in our fix of Chef Rey Eugenio's Filipino dishes more than once. The shrimp liang was my favorite, from the rice and greens to the shrimp and crispy squares of pork belly. 

chicken and lamb kebabs with Shirazi salad at Villagio Cafe
Another sure winner is anything at Villagio Cafe. Though their rice dishes are uniformly tasty, when I'm on Whole30, I prefer a side of Shirazi salad, a simple combination of bell pepper, onion, tomato, and cucumber.  

April

egg fu yung at Kung Fu 12
Just for the heck of it, we ordered egg fu yung at Kung Fu 12; the veggie option with broccoli sounded good. Minds were blown when we received crunchy deep-fried clouds of egg filled with barely-cooked vegetables, and a cup of cornstarch-thickened gravy on the side. It was closer to a cross between tempura and beer-battered onion rings than to the gravy-drenched omelets we expected. Fabulous, and now one of our regular orders. 

May

woodlands pie from Underground Pizza Company
Underground Pizza Company makes the list again this year with their stunning mushroom pie. I can't even explain how good their crust is, and the mix of sauteed wild mushrooms on top puts it over the top.

June

moussaka at Nautilus Diner
When I see moussaka on the specials menu at Nautilus, I order it. While the inch of bechamel makes it a lactose-intolerant person's nightmare, everything else about it is perfection.

pineapple fried rice from Mr Fried Rice at Urban Hawker, NYC
During a marathon eating extravaganza with my friend Daisy, I devoured more than half of this flavorful rice dish. Those flower cut pieces of squid you see at the bottom front were insanely tender, there was just enough pineapple in it that you noticed but not because it was too sweet, and the pork floss on top added interesting texture and crunch. Can't wait to eat this again.

pistachio supreme from Lafayette NYC
Lafayette's spiral pastries made from laminated dough (think croissants) filled with custard (this one is pistachio) are Instagram-famous for a reason. They are fabulous.

crab cake on fettuccine with vodka sauce at Pappas Parkville
I seldom order pasta in a restaurant, but I couldn't pass up this special at Pappas. Their crab cakes are huge and very good, and the pasta was excellent. Best part is that there was a ton of sauce, so between Mr Minx's and my leftovers and adding a few more ounces of fettuccine, we had a bonus crab vodka pasta dinner.

July

homemade hearts of palm "crab"cake over quinoa and esquites.
I made some pretty impressive faux crab cakes out of canned hearts of palm. Sure, they're a little tangier than real crab, but the texture is similar and they are tasty in their own right.

August 

melon, burrata, marcona almonds, gnocchi at Kneads Bakery
This dish had so much going on, all of it good. It was a cheese course kinda dish because there was a sweetness to it that isn't normally found in an appetizer, and the gnocchi were more like donut holes than pasta, but damn, so tasty. I regret not going back to eat it again before the menu changed.

roasted cauliflower with EWF seasoning 
Seems like I put the seasoning mix that Earth, Wood, and Fire uses on their chicken wings on lots of things, and one of the best was roasted cauliflower. If you look hard enough on this blog, you'll find the recipe, but it won't be credited to the restaurant because I told them it would be a secret. It was, for years, until now it's not.

December

lentil and duck salad at Petit Louis
Neal and I snuck out for a 3-course lunch at Petit Louis a few weeks before Christmas and enjoyed a lovely French lentil and duck confit salad as our appetizer. It was so good, I invested in a bag of Puy lentils so I can attempt to recreate it at home. 

allium pie at JBGB's
The allium pie at JBGB's, in Remington, has scallion bechamel, cipollini and sweet & sour onions, and garlic oil as well as fontina and mozzarella cheeses on a lovely Neapolitan-style thin crust (dark, blistered, somewhat soggy at the center). I had heard good things about this place and now I wonder why it took us so long to get there.

* 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.