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. 

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
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.

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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

* 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.
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!


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.

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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!

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