Monday, December 05, 2022

To Misquote Bon Jovi, You Give New Jersey a Bad Name

My friend Kim and I were born at the same hospital exactly a week apart, but we didn't meet until high school. Forty-plus years later, we're still friends. We try to get together a couple times per year, and in 2022, we decided a joint birthday celebration was in order. I made a reservation at the Fogo de Chao in downtown Baltimore and waited eagerly for the day we would indulge in a festival of meats.

Fogo de Chao has always been a personal favorite of mine, though I don't think it's as good as the Brazilian bbq restaurant my family would frequent in the 90-00s, Green Field Churrascaria, in Rockville. Back then, $25 would get you a crazy selection of meats, including beef and pork, but also chicken hearts, duck, and sometimes rabbit. The salad bar was loaded with everything from cheese and salads, hearts of palm and asparagus, to various starches and soups. The shrimp and chayote squash soup was delish, and I'd put away a couple bowls of that before I started my meat fest. I once consumed so much protein I ended up with a nasty hangover the next day. Fogo's menu is similar to that of Green Field, minus the weird bits and duck, and they have feijoada rather than chayote soup. I've enjoyed some fabulously tender cuts of beef and flavorful pork there and the bacon-wrapped chicken shouldn't be missed. But I learned something on this most recent visit:

Don't go on a Saturday.

The restaurant was packed. It's a huge space, and every inch of it was filled with diners and gauchos (servers) bearing sword-like skewers of proteins, everyone talking at once. The din was incredible. And if I didn't get COVID after sitting in that space for two hours, I'll never get it.

The best thing about eating at a Brazilian bbq, besides the food, is that there's no wait to eat. Once you get to the table and decide you're going for the full churrascaria experience, you can go fill a plate at the salad bar and once re-seated, the gauchos will begin their parade of meaty goodness. And that still happens when the restaurant is packed. Still, we didn't have an optimal experience--or even a good one. I cannot fault the kitchen, as hot and juicy meats came out in a steady parade all evening. Our waitress was a little slow with the drinks, however, as she waited by the bar to fill several tables' orders--including water--at once. I get it. We were seated in Siberia, waaaay far from the bar. But I needed water. And wine. But mostly the water. I feel like I'm being nit-picky, but when one pays $61.95 per person, not including appetizers, drinks, dessert, tax, or gratuity, one wants impeccable service. At some point during hour two (!), our waitress' shift ended.... <crickets> Fortunately, the somewhat giggly young man who took her place was attentive. More on that later. 

(You're probably wondering where New Jersey comes in. I am getting to that. Finally!)

As I said, I am being nit-picky. But there was also a huge non-food/non-service issue that made me somewhat angry. Directly to my left was a table of twelve people who were shouting at each other across and down the table. Not angry shouting, just conversational shouting. There were distinct New Jersey accents involved, and the loudest of them emanated from a female personage at the end of the table. She was on her cellphone for a good 45 minutes, dropping the f-bomb frequently, and get this--complaining regularly about the noise level in the restaurant. THEN GO OUTSIDE, YOU RUDE $@*#! Also, GET YOUR FEET OFF THE CHAIR! This chick wasn't a toddler, or even a teenager. She was at least in her mid-20s, and clearly had been raised by hyenas. The whole group of...individuals...(I promised Mr Minx I wouldn't use the pejorative that initially came to mind, one that might be used to describe folks involved with the manufacture of cement overshoes) seemed ill-mannered, but she was the worst. Part of me wanted to say something, but the rest of me didn't want to end up in the Inner Harbor, swimming there any sea life in that cesspool?...the fishes. 

After about an hour of this noise pollution, the group--many wearing hoodies bearing the name of an automotive industry-related company from northern NJ--left. Suddenly, the decibel level of the restaurant decreased. I looked around and saw several other large parties of ten or more, and all seemed to be conversing at normal tones while enjoying their food. I could finally hear my dining companion, who had been as disgruntled as I was while the noisy ______s were next to us. Sadly, they had bothered me enough that my food didn't taste particularly good, even after they left. (I continued to eat, however, to get my money's worth.) I have to wonder if that group was in Maryland because they've already been kicked out of the restaurants in their own area. 

Our new waitperson came over to see if we wanted dessert, and Kim mentioned that it was our birthday, angling for a complimentary slice of cake. We were brought a menu so we could choose. Unfortunately, said menu included calorie counts. Did you know that a piece of Fogo key lime pie has 820 calories? Suddenly, I felt very full and thought if I ate pie after all that meat, I'd be sick. I suggested that we share a dessert. When we told the waiter, he exclaimed that we must each choose a dessert because it was our birthday! Then, sotto voce, he said we could take it to go. So we ordered pie to go and requested that the check be split between us. Neither of us are fond of calculating tip, but the bill included calculations for 18%, 20%, and 22% "for your convenience." So we added the 20% amount to our bills and left. 

I'm not sure why $99 dollars didn't seem like too much money. And only now that I am writing this blog post am I noticing that the convenient tip calculations were on THE ENTIRE $143 TAB, not half of that. After I noticed the error, we each called the restaurant and asked for a refund of the extra 20%, which they honored.

To add insult to injury, when I got home after that dinner, I found an email from OpenTable claiming that I didn't show for my reservation. With that particular reservation service, it's 3 strikes (or no-shows) and you're out. I've been a member of OpenTable for at least a dozen years and in all that time I've had one no-show, and it wasn't my fault. I would never leave a restaurant hanging like that. When Mr Minx and I got food poisoning on a trip to Los Angeles in the mid-00s, in between trips to the bathroom I called the restaurants at which we had dinner reservations and cancelled them. The reservationist at Spago thanked me and said few people bothered to cancel. They just didn't show up. At Spago! 

I guess not only the Joisey Wench at Fogo was raised by hyenas.

I'm not sure how I feel about Fogo anymore. It might still be a good place for lunch, as the Market Table is less than $20pp and is essentially a vegetarian buffet with a few cold cuts and sugared bacon. But it will be a while before I go there for dinner. To be honest, the huge jump in price, from $40-something last year to $62 this year is a deterrent. I understand that inflation has put food prices through the roof, and they probably have to pay higher wages to retain that many staff, but the experience is not worth it to me. If I'm going to pay $71pp (that's including my glass of wine), I'd rather be in a quieter restaurant with fewer patrons. Or one with Michelin stars. Or in New York. But hey, if you have an expense account, by all means go to Fogo. The food is good, as are the drinks. It's just maybe not for me anymore.

* 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, November 30, 2022

Dorot Roasted Brussels Sprouts Recipe Revisted (sponsored)

As promised, here's my interpretation of George Duran's brussels sprouts recipe, as published here just before Thanksgiving.  

I took at look at the Dorot Gardens website to see where their frozen herb cubes were sold. Not only does the site say in what stores their products are available, but also which products. Originally we were going to go to Safeway, but the one nearest to me only had the garlic and basil. The closest ShopRite, however, had all three herb cubes, plus the garlic and the glazed onions. As it turned out, they were out of parsley. No worries, I substituted the onion cubes for the parsley, and it worked out just fine. See below for my additional changes.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Herbs and Alliums

2 lb brussels sprouts
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 cubes Dorot Gardens Basil
2 cubes Dorot Gardens Sauteed Glazed Onions
2 cubes Dorot Gardens Cilantro
2 cubes Dorot Gardens Garlic

Trim the stem end off the sprouts, remove the outer layer of leaves and any others that look less than fresh, and cut the sprouts in half.
Preheat your oven to 375°F

Put the prepared brussels sprouts on a foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir (or use tongs to turn each piece individually). Return to oven for another 20 minutes.

While the sprouts are roasting, place all frozen Dorot Gardens cubes in a microwave safe bowl and nuke for 1 minute until cubes are mostly melted. Stir to combine the various flavors.

After the second 20 minutes in the oven, remove the baking sheet and pour the herbs over the sprouts. Using tongs, toss the sprouts with the herbs so they are well mixed. Put back in the oven and cook an additional 10 minutes. At this point the sprouts should have some serious brown bits and crispy leaves here and there. (Sometimes I turn the oven off and leave the sprouts in for 15-20 minutes in the residual heat to get extra crispy without really cooking them further.) Dump into a serving bowl and pass around the table.

Serves 4-6. 

* 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, November 28, 2022

Holiday Gift Guide, 2022, Part 2

I'm thinking that I should have made this food gift guide part 1 and the appliances part 2, just so I could title this post Gift Guide Part 2: Electric Boogaloo. And if you don't get that reference, you're probably not as old and decrepit as we are.


Anyhoo...let us proceed, shall we? 

I discovered a while back that a good gift for the person "who has everything" is food. We all need to eat. Some of us have dietary restrictions and need special products. Others of us are snackaholics. Still others are just weirdos. I'd give my Dad a half dozen jars of jams and preserves for Christmas because he was fond of eating them straight from the jar with a spoon. I enjoy receiving food gifts because once they're consumed, I can just recycle the jar or wrapper and there's nothing left to clutter the house--unlike books (which we have stacked in piles here and there), "collectibles" (ahem, Neal's action figure collection), mountains of craft supplies, and tchotchkes like candles, photo frames, and single-function kitchen gadgets like quesadilla makers (an actual thing that we actually received from an actual friend). Want to give me a gift that will make me smile? Send me a box of See's caramels

Gifts for People Who Drink

I don't mean boozers, necessarily, but people who like to drink all sorts of drinks. But yes, booze, too. 

ROOT 23 makes tasty simple syrups that can be used in cocktails, of course, but also poured on ice cream or in coffee or combined with a little seltzer to create a homemade soda. I'm partial to the Yuzu Citrus flavor, but Pear Rosemary is also nice.

BeetologyWonder Melon, and Wonder Lemon are tasty juices that are certainly drinkable on their own, but also make fine cocktail mixers. The cucumber version of Wonder Melon also makes a tasty gazpacho when added to a blender full of cucumbers and roasted red bell peppers seasoned with sherry vinegar and salt. You can get packs of 9 bottles at Amazon, but if you just want to try one or two, I've seen them at Giant supermarkets.

Fancy fizzy water subscriptions might be a nice gift, too. I like Aura Bora.

And yes, fine, your favorite liquor emporium might offer up a ton of gifts for family members. I could use a bottle of Amaretto d'Amore, and would love anything from Eden Ciders.

Gifts for People Who Like Hot Stuff

My friend Laurie gave me a bottle of TRUFF hot sauce a couple years ago. She's a fan of hot sauce in general, and a fan of this stuff in particular. I like hot stuff, too. Now, I'm going to say that the black label TRUFF isn't super hot. But if you like a gentle warmth, and the flavor of truffle oil, you might enjoy it. There is a red label version that is hotter, though I haven't tried that one. 

This sauce is a littler thicker and sweeter than most hot sauces, so to me, it's like the best kind of ketchup. I like putting it on my scrambled eggs, and it's fantastic on french fries and burgers and anything else you might put ketchup on. Also, it's a perfect sauce for buffalo wings. Man, I'm drooling at the thought of that. (I haven't eaten dinner yet and I am hungry. Not the best time to write food blog posts.)

Don't discount Old Bay Hot Sauce, which might be inexpensive at ~$4 per bottle. The stuff flew off the shelves when it was introduced a couple years ago, and with good reason. It tastes like Old Bay, the beloved seafood seasoning of the Mid-Atlantic region. 

Then there's the world of chili crisp/chili crunch, which I plan to cover in an upcoming post. One of my favorites is made by a newish brand called Oomame, which makes the increasingly popular, originally Chinese, condiment with flavors from other lands, like Morocco, India, and Mexico. China too, but Mexico's the best one. Dave Chang's Momofuku restaurant/tv/cookbook empire now includes food products like soy sauce and dry noodles, but they also have multiple versions of chili crunch, including extra hot and truffle.

Mighty Sesame produces various tahini-based products, including a spicy tahini that is no joke. It makes a mighty fine spicy hummus but can also add needed oomph to avocado toast.

Gifts for People Who Avoid Gluten

Absolutely! gluten free crackers and snacks are not only gluten free, but also grain free. But rather than using almond flour, Absolutely! uses potato and tapioca starches, so their crackers are light and crispy and low in calories. Their snacks include coconut macaroons, coconut chews, stacked potato crisps (think Pringles, but gluten free), and even cauliflower crust pizzas. We are a cheese-loving household, so I'm always thrilled to find yet another brand of tasty gf crackers to go with.

Tate's Bake Shop makes the best gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Honestly, they taste pretty close to homemade toll house cookies, without the gluten. I love them, and even before I started avoiding gluten, I preferred Tate's gf version to other commercial cookies. They have a variety pack that is calling my name.

Another favorite gluten-free snack that also comes in non-gf flavors is Sheila G's Gluten Free Brownie Brittle. So yummy! The thin cracker-like cookies remind me of the crispy sides of a pan of homemade brownies. I've tried all the flavors, thanks to the annual Summer Fancy Food Show, and to be very honest, the gluten free ones are my absolute faves. I finished off a bag of the dark chocolate sea salt flavor as I was typing this post. ::::brushes away chocolate crumbs from mousepad::::

I also love the gf crackers from Hungry Bird Eats.

General Savory Gift Items

Oryx Desert Salt is an unrefined salt from the Kalahari Desert region that has no additives or non-caking agents. It's harvested from a 55-million-ton underground salt lake and has a clean salt flavor. The glass container with ceramic grinder is refillable 10 or more times, making it more environmentally friendly than the typical supermarket salt grinders. They have pepper, too, and both have become fixtures on our dining table. 

I hope I don't have to remind you that has tons of fine snacky items and nuts. My favorite snack is the plaintain chips, and I'm partial to their gluten free brownie mix. Buy a basket, fill it with bags of nuts, and put a bow on it.

General Sweet Gift Items
I've been buying this particular brand of Pumpkin Panettone as a birthday gift to myself for the last couple of years. It's super moist, and the pumpkin filling only adds to the moisture. It's become our traditional Thanksgiving day breakfast. Ordinarily, I make french toast with leftover panettone, but this has far too much filling for that sort of thing. It doesn't get stale fast, so it doesn't matter if it takes a week to finish.

Who wouldn't love a 2.2 lb jar of Nutella

If you've never baked your own gingerbread house because you don't like gingerbread cookies, you may like making one with chocolate Oreos instead. This Oreo gingerbread house kit looks like it might be a lot of fun for the kiddos.

Also, I can't say enough good things about Yummy Bazaar, a mail order food company based in South Jersey. They have a wide variety of international foods all year 'round, but right now they are offering Italian and German holiday breads like Panettone and Stollen in many flavors. And they have all the flavors of Milka and Ritter Sport candy bars!

* 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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Friday, November 25, 2022

Holiday Gift Guide 2022

The gift-giving holidays are approaching faster than most people would like, so I thought I'd make a few recommendations for those of you who might be shopping for small appliances and other kitchen-y items. Everything listed below is something that I own and love and would buy again if I had to. I've had some of them for DECADES and they're still going strong, so I'm not in the market to buy replacements just yet. Actually, we Minxes aren't doing any gift exchanges this year, which is a relief to both the wallet and to the brain. After giving my brother a set of green pans and a toaster oven last year, an Instant Pot the year before, AND he has custody of my Ninja Foodi grill/air fryer thingy, so I'm sure he doesn't need anything else. And my brother-in-law is impossible to buy for so we usually resort to giving him an adult libation. Mr Minx and I tend to receive booze and books, which we both appreciate, but there's already too much of both in this house. (My goal for the rest of the year is to finish three partial bottles of spirits and get them into the recycle bin. There are four bottles of various rums that are excellent candidates for this project. And we're making a trip to The Book Thing this month to donate a couple boxes of books.) 

Since I'm not giving anything this year, and I LOVE to give gifts, I'll just have to live vicariously through all of you. Leave a comment and let me know what you're planning to gift this year, especially if it's something from the list below.

I got my first food processor in the 1980s, the classic bulky Cuisinart. It's great, but it's too big to keep on the counter, and too heavy to continually bring out of its storage cupboard every time I feel like making hummus. Enter the Mini-Prep, which doesn't take up much room and holds the perfect amount of hummus or muhammara for a two-person household. I use mine at least once a week, especially in the summer when the basil and mint are growing like crazy, or I have other green herby stuff that would make a good pesto.

This guy is sleeker than my squared off model from the aughts, but my little old guy still works, so why buy a new one? Not just yet, anyway. When I do, this is the one I want.

We got a classic Waring blender for a wedding shower gift 22 years ago, and it's my go-to for most things that need liquifying, gazpacho, for example. But then I got on a protein smoothie kick, making them for breakfast and occasionally lunch 5 days per week. Cleaning the Waring was annoying, as the blade is attached at the bottom of the jar and not removable, and the jar itself is heavy glass. So Mr Minx bought me a Jusseon smoothie maker, which comes with two sizes of plastic jar, and a screw-off blade. There are even caps to turn the jars into to-go cups, so there's no need to dirty a glass. 

Decades ago, my Dad brought home a Cuisinart immersion blender, which my Mom dismissed as another useless kitchen gadget that would take up room. And in her kitchen, that was definitely the case. Somehow, she never required a blender or food processor of any kind. (I guess we ate a lot of chunky foods back then.) When I moved out of my parents' house, I took the immersion blender (along with the dining room table, some sofas, and more). I still have it (and the table), and I use it to smooth out soups and gravies regularly. It can also be used to make homemade mayonnaise. This newfangled model comes with a chopper/grinder and whisk attachments that make it much more versatile. Again, my old late-80s version works just fine, so I won't be getting a new one anytime soon. But you or someone you love might need one. Right now.

I've had a frozen-capsule-style ice cream maker since Donvier came out with their plastic crank handle jobbies in the 80s. Cranking ice cream is a PITA, so I abandoned that old one for a new-fangled electric model that essentially does the same thing. Before I make ice cream, I have to make sure there's room in the freezer for the capsule--which usually means I have to cook/reheat a bunch of stuff, as the capsule isn't small. After a couple days, once I'm sure that thing has frozen solid, I make my custard and commence to ice cream making (and eating).

If you're really into ice cream, you can buy the capsules separately and store them in the freezer for whenever the mood strikes and make two flavors at once! (Also, you need to not have an overfull freezer.) My Cuisinart ice cream maker is red, but I do like this baby pink one. (Other colors are available.)

Another item I ordered because it was pink (though I was tempted by the lime green model!) is this Ovente electric kettle. We drink a lot of hot tea here at Casa Minx, all year 'round. Sometimes we just brew loose tea in the Mr Coffee, but other times we don't need that much tea. For instance, when I want a cup of chamomile before bed. Yes, I know I can put a cup of water in the microwave and magically have hot water a couple minutes later, but I've had a mug explode before. Dummy me didn't check if it was microwave safe, and it wasn't, and now I'm a bit hesitant to try again. So I just boil a pot of water in my cute electric kettle. 

* 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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