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!

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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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