Monday, January 13, 2020

Best of 2019, Part Two

Though I ended up making most meals this year, I wasn't particularly creative. Mr Minx gets home from work about 90 minutes after I do, which should leave me plenty of time to cook. But once I walk home from the bus stop, then take the dog for his walk, I am not really in the mood to get creative. It's great when I've remembered to defrost something pre-made, like a quart of Cajun Kate's gumbo, or some chili, but most of the time I'm ordering Indian food and reheating it. I feel like I'm in a real culinary rut. I have done a decent amount of baking this year, despite being on Whole30 from about May on. I can't eat the goodies that come out of the oven, and Mr Minx shouldn't, so I've been passing them on to a friend with a sweet tooth. He gets snacks (but hopefully not diabetes) and I get to bake, so win-win.

I do end up cooking every Sunday though, and have tried the vaguely creative thing here and there. Like the golabki I made in July. I'd never made them before, and I don't remember my Grandmother making them at all (though she apparently did before I was born), so I didn't have a go-to recipe. My cousin Dianne had sent me a few, so I took what I thought were the best parts of all of them and then added my own spin. I think they turned out pretty well, and the recipe made enough that I was able to put three more dinners-worth in the freezer for other times.

I always think my crab cakes are pretty good, and was able to make those a few times this year. I like using leftover meat from steamed crabs, but have even stooped to using imported crab. The best ones, of course, use the meat from Callinectes sapidus, as these did.

For Valentine's Day, my sweetheart made me a heart-shaped meatloaf. Mr Minx's meatloaf is the best. He uses the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, but adds a festive tunnel of cheese. Doesn't this look great?

Shakshuka is a hot thing these days. Typically a tomato-and-bell pepper stew, it's often topped with eggs and served for brunch in the US. I am partial to the Lebanese version, shakshouky, which contains eggplant but not tomatoes and pomegranate molasses. In the dish pictured, I combined the two recipes to make my own, delicious, thing.

Some years ago, I had a creamy tomatillo soup at SoBo cafe. I reverse-engineered it in 2014, and then I made it again in 2019, this time adding toasted pumpkin seeds and sauteed shrimp. And perhaps too much yogurt, but it was still a great light dinner on a hot summer night.

Last, but certainly not least, as they are my primary substitute for pasta these days: zoodles. I bought a spiralizer so I can make them myself, but sometimes I resort to using a Y-peeler to cut thin pappardelle-like strips from green or yellow squash. Topped with fresh ripe tomatoes from the garden, toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh pesto, cheese, and parsley, zucchini noodles are like the best cross between a pasta dish and a hearty salad. I hope to eat a lot more of them in 2020.

And that's it. See? Boring and mostly uncreative. But tasty.

* 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, January 06, 2020

Best of 2019, Part One

2019 was not a good year for me. Even food-wise, I think it was a bit lackluster. Not for trying though...Mr Minx and I ate most Saturday dinners in one or another of our favorite restaurants. Though we had lots of good food, little of it was truly impressive.

Rather than go through posts by month, I'm grouping these by area. The first few items were eaten in New York, and the rest in the Baltimore area.

I love Korean galbi (thinly sliced bone-in short rib, marinated and grilled) and was surprised by the version served at Samwon Garden in NY. Rather than the somewhat chewy Korean-style cut, these ribs were western style and had been braised to fork-tenderness. So delicious.

Pretty much everything we ate at Don Angie was great, but my favorite dish was the tonnato vitello, a cold dish of spicy veal tartare flavored with bits of celery, topped with a veil-like slice of tuna crudo. The flavors and textures were marvelous. Somehow it didn't even seem like we were eating a dish of chilled raw meat covered with more chilled raw meat.

At White Bear, a little hole in the wall on Prince Street, we had the crowd favorite #6 dumplings, chili oil wontons. (Literally every customer that came in after us, along with the three already waiting for their food, ordered this dish.) With just the right amount of heat, these tender and juicy dumplings were a good introduction to our dumpling tour of Flushing.

Even better were the lamb and carrot dumplings in the New World Mall. I can't even describe how tasty these plump morsels were. They were seasoned so well, they didn't need any sauce at all.

My new favorite breakfast spot in Manhattan is Pondicheri Cafe. The saag and egg toast can beat the pants off avocado toast any day, even if the accompanying kale salad tends to get stuck in my teeth. The sourdough bread, well-toasted and buttered before being topped with spicy spinach sauce and a perfect sunny-side-up egg, is alone worth the price of admission.

Back in Baltimore....

We dined at Cosima twice this year. I cashed in my OpenTable dining points for a gift card to Cosima, and we used it in March. I am never disappointed in their pizza cape sante e pancetta. In fact, it might be my favorite pizza in town.

One of the many reasons 2019 sucked so badly was the demise of Grace Garden. I've eaten there dozens of times over the years and blogged about the place ad nauseum. It was my favorite restaurant. And the crispy eggplant, which was crunchy, soft, sweet, and spicy all at the same time, was one of my favorite dishes.

Another favorite (though maybe I shouldn't use that word--it's bad luck) place is Hersh's, where the pizza is always close to perfection, with a thin blistered crust and flavorful (and often unusual) toppings. We only got there once this year, but we were not disappointed.

We also found ourselves at R&R Taqueria in Perry Hall an awful lot. It was one place that we knew my Dad would enjoy. In fact, his last meal outside of the hospital before he passed in November was at R&R. He loved the spicy tacos, like the chicken tinga, and he always added extra hot sauce, always remarking on the heat factor but never breaking a sweat. Me, I enjoy the tacos, but when I tried their fluffy tamales bathed in a not-too-spicy mole sauce, I fell in love.

We had quite a feast at Sullivan's steak house in 2019. Though the steak was well-cooked and tasty, I really enjoyed the decadent white cheddar and bacon au gratin potatoes. I'm not a potato person, but I thought about this dish a lot this year.

La Cuchara has the best happy hour in Baltimore. Hands down. Argue with me if you will, but it's a fight you cannot win. Who else serves generous pours of very good wine for $5 and offers half price appetizers? And I don't mean chicken fingers and onion rings. I mean these scallops. Three fat beauties, perfectly seared and still a tad raw on the inside are already a bargain at $15 if you order them while sitting anywhere other than the bar at a time other than 5-7pm or 9pm-closing (or all evening on Sunday). During Happy Hour, they are $7.50. Three scallops anywhere else will cost nearly $30. Let's go over that again. If you eat at the bar anytime between opening and closing, except between 7pm and 9pm, you can get all primeros and pinxtos for half price. Recently, Mr Minx and I had 4 glasses of wine, generous plates of lamb meatballs, shrimp with preserved lemons, and roasted carrots with chanterelle mushroom puree, plus two orders of cheese and potato croquettes, for $52. On a Monday night. Beat that.

I can eat the lemony calamari alla plancha from Birroteca all day and not get sick of it. Always a favorite. I need to give a shout-out to restaurant owner Robbin Haas, who also passed away this year. He was a good guy.

Then there was Fogo de Chao. We got to eat there twice this year, on their dime, and we were amazed at how good everything was. We used to frequent a churrascaria in Rockville called Greenfields. They were good, but Fogo blows them out of the water. (They're closed anyway.) Every cut of meat that we tried at Fogo was juicy and perfectly seasoned. The pork ribs were a favorite, but all the varieties of beef were impressive too. Can't wait to go back. I'd even pay for my own food.

Fogo also served my favorite dessert of the year, a warm creme de coconut served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a flurry of lime zest.

La Calle, in the downtown business district, serves some mighty fine salmon. I had it for lunch three times in 2019, and every time it was perfectly cooked (salmon should be super moist and fatty-textured, "blubbery" is the way Tyler Florence describes it) with a crisp skin. I should really try the tacos there, but then I'd have salmon FOMO.

Last, but not least, was the pork belly tostada from La Food Marketa. Big-ass slabs of juicy and super porky pork belly on top of a thin and crispy round of fried masa. What else does one need? I'm also a fan of their octopus, which I ate at least twice last year, and pretty much everything else on the menu. That goes for Chad Gauss' other restaurant, The Food Market, as well.

I'm sure there were other tasty things eaten last year that I've forgotten to mention. But also a lot of mediocre stuff. Here's hoping that 2020 is at least as good as 2019 and hopefully a lot better, cuisine-wise and with everything else.

Check out next week's post, which will feature some of the best things I cooked at home.

* 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, December 06, 2019

Flashback Friday - Toss

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on December 7, 2011.

For several weeks I kept my eye on a "coming soon" sign on the building at 5716 York Road, just north of the junction of York and Bellona, and right next door to the establishment bearing bold black on yellow signage emblazoned with, "Chicken, Steak, and Chocolate Cake." What was coming soon was Toss, the umpty-umpth pizza joint on the short stretch of road between Bellona and Belvedere. Unlike most of them, however, Toss offers "gourmet" pizzas, on your choice of regular, thin, or wheat crusts. Additionally, they offer sandwiches, salads, and chicken wings baked with olive oil and herbs.

The day after Thanksgiving, I wasn't ready to face turkey leftovers (still not) and it seemed like the perfect time to order a pizza. To be delivered, because Mr Minx was attempting to crank out the remainder of the 50,000 words required to win NaNoWriMo and didn't want to leave the house merely to refuel. We used Toss' nifty online ordering system to try the Pizza Prosciutto topped with caramelized onions, proscuitto, and mixed greens on a "regular" crust.

Toss is smart. Rather than pile the greens on the pizza and have them go soggy on the way to our house, they put a pile of mesclun in a separate container.

DIY pizza topped with greens
The crust was the perfect thickness for us, on the thin side, but not crackery. It had a generous amount of fresh mozzarella melted over sautéed onions and bits of proscuitto. I would have liked the onions to have been really caramelized to a nice dark brown, to add a bit of sweetness to the pie, but otherwise the pizza was pretty good. Definitely one of the better delivered pizzas in the area.

We like fries with our pizza, but Toss' menu indicates that "Mediterranean" fries are only included with any of fourteen sandwiches they have available. I decided that we needed to try the roasted eggplant sandwich with mozzarella, feta, roasted peppers, red onions, olives, and pesto - just to get the fries.

The fries were unevenly cut strips and blobs of potato, flavored with garlic and herbs and fried until crisp. Definitely something that should be offered separately. The sandwich was just short of outstanding. Its roll (probably made from the same dough as the pizza) was lightly crisp on the outside, fluffy inside, and still warm. The filling tasted mostly of pungent kalamata olives and could have used more pesto, but otherwise was a nice melange of soft, melty, and salty bits. Mr Minx, who is not a fan of eggplant at all, happily scarfed up an entire half. far so good. We enjoyed both the pizza and sandwich and look forward to an occasion to order from Toss again. I'm thinking wings, a meatball sandwich, and a mushroom pizza are in our near future.

5716 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21212
(410) 433-8677

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Flashback Friday - Pumpkin Butter

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on on November 8, 2011.


The other day, I had a dream about making pumpkin butter.

In the dream, I stood in front of my stove, stirring a pot filled with pumpkin purée, brown sugar, and spices. As the mixture bubbled, it perfumed the air with the delicious scent of Fall. And Thanksgiving.

When I awoke, craving pumpkin butter, I knew I had to make the dream come true. (Considering how hard that is to do with most dreams, I couldn't let this opportunity pass!)

I dumped a can of pumpkin into a saucepan, added some brown sugar and spices, and hoped for the best. Both in my dream and in real life, it was a simple and relatively quick process. Not to mention inexpensive. For a couple of bucks ($1.50 for a can of pumpkin, a few cents more for the bits of sugar and spice I already had on hand), I had a heaping pint of deliciousness that would probably cost between $5 - $8, had I bought the product ready-made at the store.

Pumpkin Butter

1 15oz can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to lowest setting. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a pint jar. Unless you want to go to the trouble of sterilizing/canning, do not store pumpkin butter unrefrigerated. Eat within two weeks.

Makes about a pint.

Note: if you want to make your own pumpkin purée with a fresh pumpkin, I won't stop you.

Spread thickly on your favorite bread, or eat straight from the jar with a spoon.

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