Thursday, September 30, 2010

Choice Bites 9.30.10

Beef carpaccio from Arby's? Osso Bucco from Burger King? Coq au Vin from Bojangles? Yes, yes, and yes. You can find it all at Fancy Fast Food.

Want to know more about Joe Bastianich, son of Lidia, partner to Mario Batali, and judge to Gordon Ramsay? Me, neither. But there's a piece on him in the New York Times.

Ack! Real Housewife of New Jersey Teresa Giudice has a deal for a second cookbook. What's this world coming to?

When I was a kid, one could get a sandwich with a side of "Saratoga chips" at Hutzler's lunch counter. I always thought that potato chips were named thusly because of the store's relative proximity to Saratoga Street. In actuality, the favorite snack food was apparently invented in Saratoga Springs, NY. The NY Times has the original recipe, plus an update.

School lunches in France are fancy. Check this out:

(Click here if the video isn't cooperating.)

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dining Out for Life at Clementine

I had heard from several sources that Clementine was "awesome," so I was happy to see that the restaurant was not only participating in Dining Out for Life, but it was also one of the handful that were offering 50% of the night's proceeds to Movable Feast.

Couldn't be a more perfect reason to check it out.

Clementine, located on Harford Road in Hamilton, is an entirely charming restaurant. The decor is rustic, with sturdy wooden tables and chairs, window lamps made from colanders, and a hodgepodge of art-for-sale decorating the walls in the original dining room. The music playing that evening was country with a Texas twang. And our waitress was an absolute doll.

The eclectic beer and cocktail menu took longer to peruse than the food menu. Eventually I settled on a Tokyo Iced Tea - a mild-tasting but potentially lethal concoction containing mint tea and sake, among other things. Mr Minx had a draft Chimay, which honestly was pretty dull for a Belgian beer that cost nearly $8.

As for food, we knew we wanted to try both charcuterie plates - meat and seafood.

The meat version held a slab of Danish fontina, a chubby sausage of Duroc pork seasoned with black mustard seed, fennel, and pear liqueur, a blob of chicken liver paté with thyme, rye whiskey, and honey, and a pile of house-made bread & butter pickles.

The paté didn't look like much, but boy howdy was it good! (And they sell it by the pound!) The whiskey and honey lent a subtle sweetness to the chicken livers, which were smooth and rich and simply wonderful. The juicy pork sausage was similarly edged with sweetness. The cheese was fine, but I would have preferred more meaty goodness.

The seafood plate included pickled shrimp, smoked trout salad with remoulade, and a shrimp paté, along with more pickles. I adore smoked trout, which is what sold the dish. Trout isn't as oily as its cousin salmon, and I find that smoking it provides a more gentle flavor. This salad was lemony perfection. I expected the shrimp to be more, well, pickle-y, but was instead pleasantly surprised by an intense citrus flavor. And while I wasn't crazy about the runny texture of the shrimp paté, the nuggets of crustacean had a nice iodine quality.

The bread & butter pickles were a nice tangy counterpoint to the rich items of the meat plate, but were unnecessary on the seafood version. But really, the only thing I would change is the bread. Charcuterie this good needs something with a bit more character and better crust. And maybe cut into less-dainty slices.

(Yes, I know, I've become a breadist like my father. Don't remind me.)

On to our entrées.

Mr Minx, feeling somewhat meat-and-potatoes deprived recently, found the description of meatloaf with smoked gouda mashed potatoes and a red eye mushroom gravy enticing. Apparently not only to read: he devoured the whole thing, citing the herbal quality of the meat as one of its best qualities. For me, however, there was probably a bit too much thyme. Loved the super-creamy mash and the homey gravy, though.

Unlike my husband, I'm always more interested in ordering things that are more odd or interesting rather than soul-satisfying and am almost always content with eating an appetizer as my main course. Although I was tempted by the duck entrée, I instead ordered the smoked duck nachos with chihuahua cheese, cilantro sour cream, and pico de gallo appetizer. And I'm very glad I did, as these were some of the best nachos I've ever eaten - freshly fried chips, a generous quantity of tender house-smoked meat, and a gorgeous cilantro-and-lime cream. Not only gorgeous to look at, either. (My notes said the cream was "killer." God, I love cilantro.)

The portion was huge, btw, definitely share-able if ordered as an appetizer. For sure they don't skimp on portions at Clementine, as our desserts (made by the owner's mom) were oversized as well.

Mr Minx's yellow cake with chocolate frosting and peanut butter filling was like a home-made version of one of the treats of our youth: a Tastykake Peanut Butter Kandy Kake. But ten times better, of course.

If I'm going to eat cake, 9 times out of 10 it's going to be chocolate, but a big white cake with a halo of grated coconut called to me from its very visible spot in the pastry case. It was possibly the best yellow cake I have ever eaten - moist and somewhat dense, with fluffy seven-minute frosting and the perfect amount of coconut. I ate as much of it as I could before I had to admit defeat and a full tummy.

In conclusion: we enjoyed everything immensely. I'd go back again for all of it, especially the charcuterie and cake. And that cilantro cream. I'm thinking that Clementine might just become one of our regular haunts.

5402 Harford Rd
Baltimore, MD 21214-2215
(410) 444-1497

Clementine on Urbanspoon


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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fumetto #5 - Guy's Big Mouth

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Tackling a Classic

Had I made it past the first round of Project Food Blog, this would have been my second post.

The challenge was to tackle a classic dish from an unfamiliar ethnic cuisine. Being a huge fan of fusion food, I've already dabbled with flavors from most Asian and European countries, and a bit of the Americas. Africa however, was pretty much wide-open, uncharted territory for me.

There are so many countries in Africa of which I know nothing - Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zambia - so the question became "which has a compelling cuisine?" I immediately thought about Namibia, because Anthony Bourdain had filmed an episode of No Reservations in that country on the Southeast coast. My next thought was the memory of his dining on warthog anus, a special delicacy bestowed on him as a guest. It seemed easy enough to prepare: slaughter a warthog; remove its intestines; give a quick grilling after an even quicker cleaning, and enjoy al dente. But should I ever want to dine on the digested fecal matter of Phacochoerus africanus, I think I would be hard-pressed to find it in the local supermarket.

Needless to say, I don't want.

My friend Pam's husband is originally from Nigeria, and I briefly deliberated whether I should contact her for recipes before I decided that I should prepare something slightly more familiar. I have eaten authentic Ethiopian food exactly once, about fifteen years ago, at a little hole-in-the-wall that's no longer in business. It was overly hot to my palate, but the method of eating was intriguing. Injera, a crepe-like bread made from the grain teff, was used as both the serving platter and the utensils. A quick trip across teh innernets revealed that injera didn't seem that difficult to make, and I was sold. Within minutes, a bag of teff flour was winging its way from an online purveyor to Casa Minx.

Because I am challenged to make an authentic dish, I dismissed the idea of making fellow blogger John's extremely inauthentic and possibly sacrilegious Bacon and Pancetta Wot. I have tasted it and can attest to its deliciousness, but it would simply not do for my purposes. Instead, I decided to tackle Doro Wat, a classic stew made with onions and chicken and seasoned with the predominately fenugreek-and-chile-flavored spice mix known as berbere.

First, I made the injera, using this recipe. The result was an unmitigated disaster. While the batter fermented nicely within 2 days, cooking it was another matter entirely. The batter stuck to the pan, even when using oil. The texture was extremely delicate and tore in multiple places when I tried to move it to a platter, and even though it seemed done (by recipe directions), it had an unpleasantly mushy "raw" quality to it. And when the pancakes cooled, they became brittle.

The injera disaster. Nice bubbles, though.
With a minor crisis on my hands, not to mention mushy bread dough on my fingers, I scrambled for an alternative. This bread wouldn't stand up to being used as an eating utensil, plus it didn't taste very good. And as the other dishes were cooking already, a solution had to come quickly. Perhaps if the injera was more like a French crepe, it would be more pliable? I tested my theory with a new batter using a 1:1 proportion of teff and wheat flour, plus milk and eggs.

It worked like a charm.

The new bread didn't have the characteristic air bubbles, but it held together and was fairly easy to manipulate to pick up morsels of food.

Perhaps inauthentic, but more authentic than having to eat with a fork!
Because man does not live by crepe-like bread (and chicken) alone, I also made a vegetable stew, Yetakelt Wat, and a salad of tomato, cucumber, and lettuce dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

Although the bread caused problems, the rest of the meal came out beautifully. Piled onto an injera-lined platter (some pieces of the original batch went down first, to lend a stronger teff fragrance), it looked relatively authentic, and tasted FABULOUS. Seriously. The chicken was tender, very spicy and hot, but the heat was tempered a bit by the teff crepe. The vegetables, although similarly spiced, had a different, somewhat sweet, flavor profile due to the tomato paste.

Being unused to such messy finger food made eating a bit awkward, but Mr Minx and I soon got the hang of it and finished up every last delicious bit. Except for the bottom-most layer of all-teff injera, which was sadly relegated to the trash can.

While my experiment wasn't 100% successful, I'd say it was pretty close. And now that I have leftover berbere and the spiced butter known as niter kibbeh, I'm very likely to make Ethiopian cuisine again in the near future. Even the injera (although I'd try another recipe, perhaps this one). Of course, the way my mind works, I'm more inclined to take the flavors of Ethiopia and apply them to Western dishes.

Berbere-spiced spaghetti and meatballs, anyone?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Volt - Table 21

How would you feel about dining on twenty-one courses of delectable cuisine? Yes, 21 courses all in one meal! We Minxes got to do just that last Saturday as we participated in the dining experience known as Table 21 at Top Chef season 6 finalist Bryan Voltaggio's restaurant, Volt.

Two of our original party of four were suddenly presented with another obligation on the same date, so I almost cancelled the reservation. But I'm glad I didn't - we had booked the table ten months in advance and I have to say it was definitely worth the wait.

Partly because Chef Voltaggio himself was in the kitchen that night.

Chef Volt had his back to us most of the night but at one point
worked the grill station side of the passe for a few minutes.
I suddenly remembered that I had a zoom on my camera.
No, I did not see him crack a smile all evening.
Not long after being seated at a semi-circular counter that curved around the garde manger station, we were treated to the sight of our first dish, a cocktail, being prepared with a mixer and some liquid nitrogen. The resulting slushie made with Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, vanilla vodka, and orange topped with a mascarpone mousse was like a grown-up creamsicle. Also like dessert. (Well, life is short!) This was served with "chips and dip" of crisply fried prosciutto with a airy, cheesy sauce. A second "cocktail," a capirinha in a sphere created with the aid of sodium alginate and calcium chloride, topped with salt foam and pop rocks, and served in a Chinese-style soup spoon, followed suit.

And then came the food. Tuna tartare. Chicken Parmesan. Butter-poached lobster. A single perfectly-cooked scallop served with...pea purée (two of Top Chef's famous "gates" in one dish!) Skate. Arctic char. Pork belly. And more. The tuna tartare was sublime - finely diced, gorgeously fresh yellowtail wrapped in a Volt-style rice "paper" wrapper, served with intensely citrus yuzu-flavored and wasabi tobikos, an agar-enriched ribbon of avocado mousse, and a soy air. I could have eaten this and nothing else and been completely satisfied. Ok, so I'd want a bigger portion...or three.

Another favorite dish was the Pineland Farm strip loin, gorgeously seasoned (as was every dish) and practically fork-tender, served with crisp-textured lobster mushrooms. A chilled corn soup with a bit of crab salad had an intriguing bit of frozen coconut milk on top that I will swear had a hint of Kaffir lime.

A sweetbread dish was very similar to the one we had last October, except that instead of being chicken-fried, the sweetbreads were presented as a spring roll (a small slice of a spring roll). Interesting, and very crunchy, but I preferred the original. However, the single Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese-filled ravioli with balsamic brown butter, another dish from the a la carte menu, was one I would be happy to eat again and again.

You're probably noticing by now I didn't take photos of the meal. I wanted to be respectful to the chef, plus taking 21 photos is both time-consuming and distracting to other diners. I did snap one shot of a dessert, the Meyer lemon tart, although it was not the prettiest dish we ate that evening.

The food was delicious, but one of the real highlights of the evening was being able to see exactly what goes on in a busy restaurant kitchen. I was impressed at how smoothly everything ran, and the calm demeanor shown not just by Chef Voltaggio but by everyone in the place. If anyone was in the weeds, it was not obvious; there was no shouting, no raised voices. The only time Bryan seemed perturbed was when his pastry chef tried to get his attention with, "Chef! Chef!" He held a hand up and gently shushed her before checking out the issue.

Gordon Ramsay probably would have thrown her up against the wall, called her a few choice names, and fired her on the spot.

The only complaint I have about the meal is that the service is possibly too attentive. Every dish required a change of silverware - the old setting would be removed in its entirety, even if a spoon or fork was not used, and then replaced for the next course. I don't see the point of taking my clean spoon only to replace it with another clean spoon. Having a server reach around to place and remove plates was annoying enough (except the one time Chef Volt removed my plate) and I had to control the urge to slap one of the hands that seemed always to be coming into my line of vision.

Other than that - perfection. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, although I know that will probably never be a possiblity. Table 21 is currently booked through the end of 2011, and who knows if they'll continue with this particular meal beyond that. So if you are lucky enough to have a reservation, by all means do keep it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hamming It Up

I'm Polish, so I grew up eating a lot of ham. In addition to kapusta i kielbasy - sauerkraut and Polish sausage - we had baked ham for every major holiday. Early on, I grew to dislike the stuff, particularly cold, so my mother would let my brother and I eat as much as we wanted when it was fresh out of the oven.

Not only did we have baked ham entirely too many times during the year, we also ate a ton of imported ham cold cuts, which seemed to be the only kind my mother bought. Occasionally, we could coerce her into buying something different - bologna, or krakowska (a salami-like Polish sausage) - but that was rare. Mom liked ham. Grandma liked ham. So therefore We. Must. Eat. Ham.

I won't even get into my mothers Spam fetish. ::::shudder::::

When I was about three or four, my grandmother had a stroke. The details are quite vague, understandably (and I have no one to ask), but I do remember Grandma being bed-ridden for some months. Her bed had been moved into my Uncle Frank's room so he could keep an eye on her during the night, but during the day, she was under the care of my mother.

Mom would usually send me downstairs in the afternoon, presumably to keep Grandma company, but also perhaps to get me out of the way. During this time, Mom would make lunch for us. Funny how I don't recollect my grandmother's exact issues, but I have vivid memories of what we ate, every day. (Ok, maybe not so funny.)

Imported ham on either toasted white bread or rye, with iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island (or Russian) dressing. And a side of Funyuns.

To this day, a ham sandwich isn't edible unless it has a schmear of dressing and some lettuce. With mustard, it's just not worth my time, but with that sweetened mayonnaise-based concoction, it's downright - tasty. Go on - try it for yourself.

Ham on rye with lettuce and Russian dressing, from Cafe On the Square.

Top Chef Just Desserts

Hey, faithful readers - I won't be recapping Just Desserts here because I need a break, especially since Top Chef season 8 is rumored to start immediately after Just Desserts ends in November.

I will, however, be doing a recap of sorts (sans images) on the All Top Chef blog, make sure to visit me there every Thursday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Choice Bites 9.22.10

Ever wonder how Jelly Belly invents new flavors for its jelly beans? Now you know.

Here's an interesting comment from Frank Bruni on restaurant noise:

 "...a lot of restaurants manufacture that amount of noise because people want to feel like they are at a 'happening' place and sometimes the easiest way for a restaurant to telegraph [the message] 'we're happening' is to be absolutely cacophonous." (Huffington Post)

Manufactured, eh? Well stop it! I couldn't care less about happening joints. I just want good food.

UK newspaper The Guardian picks the 50 Best Cookbooks of All Time. Find 1-10 here and 11-50 here. I only own six of them.

He may have come thisclose to becoming Top Chef on TV, but the food served at Ed Cotton's NY restaurant Plein Sud, has so far garnered nothing but derision from the critics: Village Voice; New York Times

Meat as fashion statement: so what beefy cuts did Lady Gaga wear to the VMAs?

Dining Out for Life

This Thursday, September 23rd, is Dining Out for Life, an annual event that raises tens of thousands of dollars for Moveable Feast, the organization that feeds homebound people with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer.

All you have to do to support this worthwhile charity is to dine out at one of over forty participating restaurant on September 23rd. All restaurants will be donating at least 20% of their sales from that evening to Moveable Feast.

For more information, and a list of participating restaurants, go to

We're going to Clementine. :)

And don't forget, bloggers, to blog about your Dining Out for Life dining experiences at

Tuesday, September 21, 2010