Thursday, April 25, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Best of 2017, Part One - Restaurant Food

This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on January 1, 2018.

I get sad looking back on some of these posts and seeing dishes I can no longer get my hands on (or sink my teeth into). Like that beet reuben--Pen and Quill is long gone. Or anything from Smoke, though the former owner is hinting that he's planning a re-do. Hunan Taste is also gone, and the owners owe my brother $100 for the gift card he bought before they closed their other restaurant (a hot pot joint in Timonium). I've threatened to make the zucchini bread from The Turn House many times, but have never followed through. Thankfully, I can still get the tempura broccoli from Ekiben and the pambazo from Fiesta Mexicana anytime I want.
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Welcome to our annual round-up of our favorite dishes from 2017! This first post will include all the restaurant dishes we enjoyed last year. Not all of them were written about here on Minxeats; some were Instagram-only posts (they'll be the ones without links). We tend to eat at the same restaurants over and over, so it makes more sense to post pretty photos than to write repetitive posts (which we are also known to do!).  (I know the photos seem blurry, but if you click on them to get a larger version, I promise those will be much more in focus!)

So. Many. Parentheses. Sorry.

February
The tempura broccoli from Ekiben is a flavor revelation! If you haven't tried it, what on earth are you waiting for? Be sure to order it with the optional Chinese sausage, unless of course you are a vegetarian.

March
Everything at Hersh's, especially the housemade pasta, like this tagliolini with shrimp and lemon breadcrumbs. And the pizza. Always get a pizza.

April
I loved the smoked beet reuben at Pen & Quill. Though the chef that created it is gone, it's currently on the online menu; if you're lucky, they really still do have them. A perfect reuben, with all the gooey cheese and tangy sauerkraut, with beets instead of beef.

At the B & O American Brasserie, the agnolotti with smoked carrots, morels, onions, and peas really floated my boat. Smoked carrots! Everything else we tried from the Spring menu was pretty delicious, including sweetbreads that nobody else seemed to like (they took them off the menu fairly quickly) and luscious lamb ribs.

May
We've tried all the sandwiches at Smoke, and the Boss Dawg is my favorite. It's got everything one needs in a sandwich: pulled pork, house-cured bacon, cheddar, slaw, crispy onions, jalapeno-bacon glaze, and pickles.

While our entire seafood-forward meal at By the Docks was really great, I can't stop thinking about the baklava cheesecake. BAKLAVA CHEESECAKE.

OMG the fried oysters and artichoke veloute at La Cuchara. Mr Minx thought they were the best fried oysters he had ever eaten. I concur.

June
While I was quite disappointed with the soft shell crab roll I had there in the same meal, Azumi's age dashi tofu was tender, crisp, and loaded with umami. Outstanding. Enough to lure me back to try more? Maybe.

July
The brisket the Turn House served at a media dinner in July was the best fuxxing brisket I have ever eaten.

Ditto for their zucchini bread, which was served with molasses butter. Find the recipe for both at Savory Experiments.

August
I normally don't order chocolate desserts in restaurants because they can often be too rich. But we couldn't resist this warm chocolate chess pie at Nickel Taphouse. Even my brother, who claims he's not a dessert person, couldn't help but assist in the demolition of this gooey delight.

This tomato water bloody Mary served at a lovely al fresco dinner held by Copper Kitchen was the best damn bloody Mary I have ever had. And it's dead simple.

Do you like sweetbreads? I sure do, and this pile of perfectly cooked specimens with a lemony sauce was served up at the Bluebird Cocktail Room one happy Happy Hour.

November
Back at B & O again, the Buffalo Pig Tails were dyn-o-mite (as was everything else).

We were invited to a Friendsgiving dinner at the Turn House where we had a lot of really fine food, but my favorite item of the evening was this chocolate nut pie. It wasn't too sweet, nor too chocolatey. I know--no such thing as too chocolatey for some folks, but there is for me.

We always go to Hunan Taste around my birthday. This year, we might have had the best meal there ever. The twice-cooked pork was fantastic and something we'll definitely order again to go with our usual Sichuan green beans and beef on toothpicks (seen in the background).

December
I've eaten the Buffalo brussels sprouts at Nickel Taphouse a few times this year, and they are always dynamite. So flavorful!

The pambazo at Fiesta Mexicana is definitely worth writing home about. I ordered mine with "milanesa" or breaded beef, and my mouth was very happy. Can't wait to get back there again where I just might order the same thing.

Hope you enjoyed reminiscing with us. Here's hoping for a delicious 2018!

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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 ╦łe-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!

Posted on Minxeats.com.