Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Spicy Cajun-style Potato Salad

Potato salad seems so simple, right? Just potatoes, mayo, and celery, maybe some pickle relish. When I was a kid, occasionally potato salad meant that yellow-tinted stuff that dad brought home from the deli on Saturdays, along with Polish ham, Muenster cheese, and bologna for lunch during the week. While I like potato salad just fine, the deli stuff scared me. For one thing, the potatoes were usually undercooked and crunchy, and for another - why was it yellow? I much preferred home-made potato salad, especially if my Grandma was doing the cooking. Her salad was simplicity itself: new potatoes cooked until tender in salted water, sour cream, and lots of chopped scallions. I was usually happy to consider it a meal in itself.

Sometimes when I make potato salad at home, I make it Grandma-style, but it's never quite the same. More often than not, I like to mix it up. Not long ago, after bringing home a muffuletta sandwich from my favorite Cajun restaurant, I decided it needed a side of potato salad. Cajun-style potato salad, with not only celery but also bell pepper and onion (the "Trinity"), Andouille sausage, and lots of grainy Creole mustard. And to make it yellow (because sometimes it just seems right), I used some lovely Idaho® Yukon Gold potatoes.

Cajun-style Potato Salad

3 lbs Idaho® Yukon Gold Potatoes, cut into 1" dice
1 1/2 cups diced chicken or turkey Andouille sausage
olive oil
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Creole mustard
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (I like Emeril's Essence)
couple shakes of your favorite hot sauce (optional)
a few tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
salt and pepper
chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Cook potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain well and allow to cool to room temperature.

Heat a small sauté pan and add a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Cook sausage, stirring frequently until it begins to brown on the edges. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, Creole mustard, Cajun seasoning, and optional hot sauce until well blended. If the sauce seems a little thick, add a few tablespoons of cream and stir well.

When potatoes are cool, place them in a large bowl and add cooked andouille sausage and all of the vegetables. Fold in mayonnaise mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Before serving, refrigerate salad for an hour or two to allow flavors to marry. Makes about 2 quarts of potato salad.

This post was sponsored by the Idaho® Potato Commission. Minxeats has been compensated for recipe creation and posting.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Burger Brothers

Perhaps after so many years of critically examining the food I eat, I'm completely jaded. Or maybe my tastebuds have changed. I can't tell you how long it's been since I had a great burger. As in really really good. Oh, I've had plenty of decent burgers, good ones even, but none that have caused me to drool at the mere thought of it. People rave about Five Guys, and I think they're a decent fast food-style burger. The fries are good, the toppings are ample. And that's about it. Our experience at the new fast-casual version of Gino's was disappointing; while the burger was good, it was also a bit of a salt lick. And that's the problem I have with Burger Brothers - on our recent visit, everything seemed a bit too salty.

My dad goes to Burger Brothers regularly and he thinks they're much better than Five Guys. True, the nicely sized 6oz burgers at BB are grilled, not smashed into oblivion on a flattop, and are juicy and even a little pink in the middle. The rolls are really nice, puffy, brioche-type creations that squish nicely and don't break apart. But the burgers we had were so salty, I had a hard time tasting the toppings (nicely caramelized onions, pickle, 1000 Island dressing, cheddar cheese, and tomato). I could taste the pickle in some bites, but that was about it.

We also tried an order of fries, which were the now-ubiquitous skin-on boardwalk style. They were ok. A little dry. Burger Brothers also offers onion rings, which are unfortunately the type with a heavy, pebbly-textured breading. To me, they were rather indistinguishable from generic frozen onion rings, except without the burns caused by onions pulling loose from the breading and smacking the eater on the chin.

Perhaps we hit the place on the day the salt cellar fell onto the ground beef and we should try again. I can imagine, if properly seasoned, the burgers are actually very good. Just ask my dad.

Burger Brothers
14 W Allegheny Ave
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 321-1880

Burger Brothers on Urbanspoon
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Sous Vide Lamb with Lemony Tomato Pepper Relish

We're on a roll at Casa Minx! After successfully making salmon in the Sous Vide Supreme, we tried some meat! Nothing fancy, just some lamb shoulder on the bone. It was cheap--if it got messed up somehow, there'd be no great investment lost--and Ms Minx was feeling vaguely Moroccan; lamb would go perfectly with her tomato and pepper relish accented with preserved lemon.

The meat was cooked to medium and then given a quick turn in the broiler. It wasn't as tender as expected, but it was certainly easy, and apart from throwing out a piece of foil, cleanup was quick. That's a real benefit to using the Sous Vide Supreme - no roasting pans or pots to scrub!

Sous Vide Lamb

1.5 lbs lamb shoulder steaks (may also use leg meat, cut into slabs 3/4" - 1" thick)
2 cloves garlic
pinch smoked paprika
salt and pepper
canola oil

Pat lamb pieces dry and place in a large sous vide bag. Add garlic, sprinkle with paprika, salt, and pepper. Vacuum seal bag and hold in refrigerator until ready to cook. Preheat Sous Vide Supreme to 120F/49C for rare, 134F/56.5C for medium rare, 140F/60C for medium. (If you want the meat more well done, there's no reason at all to deal with sous vide. Merely overcook it using your favorite method.) Submerge bag of lamb and cook in the water bath for 2 hours and up to 4 hours.

Lamb right out of the vacuum bag. Notice that it's a nice medium pink.
Preheat broiler. Remove lamb from plastic bag and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil on one side for 2-3 minutes until browned.

Serve with Lemony Tomato Pepper Relish and orzotto. Serves 2-6, depending on the proportion of bone to meat in your lamb.

Lemony Tomato Pepper Relish

1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
3/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, cut into strips
1/2 sweet onion, cut into very thin slices
olive oil
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup preserved lemon, very finely chopped (or, the flesh and finely minced zest of half a fresh lemon)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ancho chile pepper
1 teaspoon aleppo pepper
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons agave syrup or honey (or to taste)
salt and pepper

Roast bell pepper over an open flame to char the skin all over. Put pepper in a paper bag and set aside to cool. When cool, rub off skin, remove seeds and stem, and dice flesh. Set aside.

Put sun dried tomatoes in a small saucepan with about half a cup of water (more if tomatoes are very dry). Bring to a boil then lower heat. Simmer until tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow tomatoes to come to room temperature. Drain off any excess liquid and process tomatoes to a paste in a food pro or mini prep. Set aside.

Cook onion in a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt over low heat until very soft and slightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add sundried tomato paste, preserved lemon, paprika, ancho, and aleppo pepper and stir well to combine. Stir in vinegar and agave syrup and taste for seasoning. You don't want the condiment to be sweet or sour, but the flavors should be balanced. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Choice Bites 2.24.2012

I was fascinated by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's account of living as a vegan for a month. Not that I have any plans of joining him, but I think it's definitely do-able for short bursts. Have any of you omnivores tried veganism? Would love to hear your experiences.

Want to know the identities of 2012's 17 hottest chefs? Hot as (No telling if thse folks can actually cook.) Surprised that Baltimore isn't one of the 17 cities? (I'm not.)

Have you heard the story about the child whose home-packed lunch didn't meet USDA guidelines and was forced to eat oh-so-healthy chicken nuggets? Apparently, it's not entirely true.

Back in the early 90s, I had never heard of celiac, or a sensitivity to gluten, until I found out that the son of one of my employers had the disease. Now it seems that everyone has it...or maybe it's just in the news all the time. There are more and more "gluten-free" products on the market, so these unfortunate folks don't have to completely give up bread or pasta or beer...but what exactly does "gluten-free" mean? The FDA doesn't really know, either.

James Beard Award-winning food writer Josh Ozersky thinks Jewish food sucks. Really? Maybe his grandma was just a lousy cook?

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Thursday, February 23, 2012


Top Chef season 1 winner is looking rather like a picnic ham these days.

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Top Chef Texas Finale Part 2 Recap

Welp, we're photo-less yet again folks. Makes it a bit easier on me though, since the images are often the most difficult and time-consuming part of the whole recap process. Unfortunately, this episode wasn't exactly full of humorous moments to write about.

On with the show!

So in this second part of a completely gratuitous three-part finale, the remaining Top Cheftestants - Paul, Lindsay, and Sarah - are off the mountain, out of the flying death-traps gondolas, and settled into a nice hotel in Vancouver. They are all thrilled to be there together because they're such great pals now, and even more thrilled that nasty ol' Beverly is out of the competition again.

The first challenge of the day takes place in Chinatown, where Padma and Emeril meet the threesome at Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie. Hold on...let me go look at their menu. Hmm...looks good. I'll have the shao bing, the mantou, the "kick ass house fried rice," and from the "schnacks" section, the marinated eggplant. What? They don't deliver? Dang. I'll just have to enjoy my bagel from the new Panera down the street. (It just opened this morning, and who's the first person I see in there? Fellow food blogger Nakiya!)

Where was I? Oh, recapping Top Chef. Boo.

Sarah tells us she's super extra happy that Bev's not around, not only because she couldn't stand the clumsy little Korean lass, but also because she'd smoke their asses in an Asian challenge. What about Paul, Sarah? He's Asian, too. Just because he's now your BFF doesn't mean he doesn't want to flatten you.

Emeril is all smiley this week, whereas he looked pretty glum in past weeks. Padma seems fairly perky, too, so maybe they shared a doobie before filming. She tells the chefs they will be cooking Asian-influenced dishes with some Asian-influenced helpers - three people whom Padma introduces as "Top Chef Masters." This would be Anita Lo, Floyd Cardoz, and....Takashi Yagihashi? Who? Was he the invisible Master in season three? I'm guessing he's a cheftestant in season 4, so there's probably a press release from Bravo in my near future. (Stay tuned to for details!) This Yagihashi guy's got a cute accent where he does that L and R mix-up thing; he tells us he's making "gweeduck crams."

In the time it took to write that sentence, the chefs have drawn knives; I pick my head up from my notes to see Lo partnered with Lindsay, Cardoz with Sarah, and Yagihashi with Paul. Sarah remarks that Paul's lucky to have gotten the Japanese chef. Why? Does she think Paul is Japanese? Are they really BFFs if she doesn't know he's Chinese/Filipino?

The challenge starts right away, without any time for the cheftestants to consult with their appointed Masters. It's a tag team match - only one partner will cook at a time, and their other half will take over the cooking at 10 minute intervals. The Masters enter the kitchen first and hope they leave enough clues behind so their partners can get an idea of what they intend to create. After forty minutes and two turns in the kitchen each, time is called and Emeril and Padma taste the chefs' creations.

The dishes are all pretty good, but there are some criticisms. Lindsay used a bit too much Chinese sausage in the scallop dish she and Anita Lo created. Paul was a bit heavy-handed with the amount of Thai chili he sprinkled on his team's sashimi of "cram." And Sarah's and Floyd's cod in curry sauce needed more acid. Nevertheless, their dish is the best of the three and Sarah wins $20,000. Floyd is happy because this is his first Quickfire win EVER, despite winning Top Chef Masters last season.

The Master chefs are bid adieu and the Cheftestants are given their next challenge. They will be catering a "Fire and Ice" cocktail party for 150 of Vancouver's "culinary elite," and are responsible for one dish and one cocktail apiece. Each dish must include both hot and cold elements. The winner of the challenge will get a trip for two to Costa Rica, where presumably it is warmer than it currently is in Vancouver.

After shopping, the chefs have five hours to cook. Sarah is making tons of fresh pasta for a greens-stuffed canneloni dish topped with a frozen brick of gingery spiced mousse. The intention is that the mousse melts into a sauce on the hot pasta. Lindsay is doing halibut and hopes that she can do it right this time since Beverly won't be around to ruin it for her (see: Restaurant Wars). Paul is making an intense crab and lobster bouillabaise and roughly butchers several live lobsters in order to get a rich stock started.

While the chefs are prepping, Tom comes in and asks Paul if the competition was getting to him, implying that because he is Asian, he should have won the Quickfire. Paul seems embarrassed. Would Tom have said the same thing to Beverly? Would he have expected Sarah to win an Italian challenge?

It's really funny how many times the ghost of Beverly comes up in this episode. While the judges are waiting for their food, Gail cracks wise about a special "Last Chance Finale Kitchen" that Tom has to rush off to so Beverly could get back into the competition again. Emeril then says he thinks she's there already, hiding under the table.

Poof! Time is up and the cheftestants have to get their plates ready for service. Paul presents to the judges first and offers them a drink he calls the "Pan Am" along with his crab and lobster bouillabaise. Gail, Emeril, and Padma rave about the rich lobster stock, but all crankypants Tom can do is bitch about the piece of arugula on top. He thinks it should either be incorporated into the dish or left off. Sarah is up next with her canneloni and her cocktail, the "Agrumi." Her pasta is delicious and classic but her mousse - frozen on an antigriddle - is too solid and doesn't melt into a sauce. Finally, Lindsay's halibut is perfectly cooked but some of her other elements - raw kale, a celeri remoulade, a flat Bloody Mary-ish cocktail - don't please.

At Judges Table, all three are questioned as to why they should go on to the finale. Paul states the obvious - as a Texan, he can't lose Top Chef Texas! The other two babble on about how far they've come and how much they have yet to show, yadda yadda yawn we've heard it all before. The cheftestants are then chased back to the stew room - which looks to be a nicely appointed RV or tour bus - so the judges can bicker about the dishes. Tom seems all pleased with Sarah, saying she "went out of her comfort zone." Really? She cooked Italian food, just as she has done for pretty much the whole competition. After some deliberation where Gail and Tom disagree about various petty things and he's definitely still pissed about Paul's single fucking piece of arugula, the chefs are brought out again for the verdict. Sarah's name is called first.... Mr Minx and I just about whoop with excitement as we think she's out, but then they tell her she's going to the finale part 3. Booo! Then Lindsay is told to pack her knives and go. Paul is kinda standing there, stunned, before figuring out he is the winner of the competition and gets that trip to Costa Rica.

I didn't like Lindsay, but I certainly preferred her to Sarah. Go Paul!

Next week: The two Texans battle and then it's over, right? Right?

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Healthy" Nachos

For our Super Bowl nosh this year, I made nachos - "healthy" nachos. I put the word in quotes because you and I may well have completely different ideas of what constitutes "healthy." Basically, I added lots of veggies and swapped out meat for beans; additionally, I tried to use as little oil as possible when cooking the veg and beans. The result was delicious and filling.

Since they're vegetarian, they're completely appropriate to have for Ash Wednesday supper. :)

Veggie Nachos

tortilla chips or tostadas
refried black beans
sautéed or roasted vegetables (I used mushrooms, okra, and onion, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand - bell pepper, corn, fresh chiles, spinach, squash, etc.)
low-fat shredded cheese
chopped green onion
salsa, low-fat sour cream, guacamole

Preheat oven to 400F.

Spread black beans on individual tortilla chips or tostadas and arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet. Top each with a spoonful of vegetables and top with cheese and chopped green onion.

Bake until cheese is melted. Serve with salsa, sour cream, guacamole, whatever toppings float your boat.

Refried Black Beans

1/4 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 15oz can black beans, drained
1 4oz can chopped green chiles
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
pinch cayenne
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt until softened. Add black beans and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, so beans break up and become pasty. Stir in green chiles, paprika, cumin, coriander seed, and cayenne. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the beans have broken down. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jambalaya, My Ass

I saw this and just had to share it with you. You all know how Rocco DiSpirito makes me crazy, right? Once a "genius" chef, he now spends his time writing diet cookbooks and pretending to post on Facebook. (Rocco, honestly, hire an assistant with some grammar skills.) Recently, his assistant he shared that in honor of Mardi Gras, he's developed a low-cal, low-carb (and no doubt, low-flavor) version of the New Orleans favorite, jambalaya. Really? There's a reason the holiday is called "Fat Tuesday," you know; it's the time to indulge before the season of Lent begins.

I don't see the point of eating diet food the other 364 days of the year, much less on Mardi Gras.

Anyhoo...true jambalaya is a dish in which everything--including raw rice--is cooked in the same pot. Think paella and you're not too far off. It starts off with a sauté of the trinity - bell peppers, onions, and celery - in a bit of oil, after which time seasonings, rice, stock, and meat are added. If one uses little oil and lean meats, jambalaya doesn't have to be a gut-buster of a dish. If there's a concern about fat and calories, even on Mardi Gras, then one should eat it in moderation. Or add a larger proportion of vegetables than usual. But Rocco, well, he has to change everything about the dish. So much so that it's really quite a crime to call his dish "jambalaya" at all, since it bears no resemblance to the original.

First of all, he doesn't use rice. Instead, he uses something called "Miracle Rice," which is an orzo-like version of the Japanese yam-based noodle product called shirataki. Shirataki doesn't have the same mouthfeel as flour-based pasta, and I'm pretty damn sure the same is true of the fake rice. DiSpirito also uses adobo powder and chipotle chile powder as seasonings, rather than a classic Creole spice blend, like Emeril's Essence. So right off the bat, both the flavor and texture of the dish will be wrong.

Additionally, Rocco is horribly confused about the combination of vegetables that constitutes the "holy trinity" of Creole and Cajun cuisine. According to the following statement, he seems to think beans are part of the equation.
The rest of this dish is built around the basic trinity of Cajun cooking — bell peppers, onion and beans. 
Anyone who has ever watched even one episode of Emeril Live! knows that the third element is c e l e r y. Oddly, there seems to be evidence of celery in the photo provided with the recipe - check out the object in the lower right side of the bowl on the left:

Also notice that the chicken appears unappetizingly dry, more like breast meat than the thigh meat called for in the recipe. The "rice" looks more like barley. And...doesn't it appear to be garnished with basil? Basil? On the right, is a photo of real jambalaya. that looks goooood! Oh, and if any version of jambalaya would happen to contain beans, then most likely they'd be red beans. Not black beans.

To sum up in one word - WTF?  You know, if he would dare make this dish on Chopped and call it jambalaya, Alex Guarnaschelli and Aaron Sanchez would have Rocco's head on a platter. Calling a dish something it's not is grounds for dismissal! Basically his dish is a mutant combination of jambalaya and red beans and rice, only nothing like either of them.

Here's the recipe. If you make it, be sure to try some real jambalaya first and then see if there's any resemblance at all. I'm betting not.

Shambalaya (taken verbatim from My Journal Courier, so you know I'm not making this shit up)
Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch chunks (about 15 ounces)
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
3-ounces chicken and turkey andouille sausage (such as Applegate Farms), cut in to 1-inch slices
1 teaspoon adobo powder
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
Two 8-ounce packages Miracle Rice, rinsed
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

In a large nonstick saute pan over medium-high, heat the oil. Once the oil has started to smoke, add the chicken. Brown the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the pieces once. Remove the chicken from pan and add the sausage, browning it for about 1 minute, turning the pieces once.

Add the adobo and chili powder and cook for 30 seconds. Add the onions, then reduce heat to medium-low and caramelize them slowly until soft and browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic and cook until soft, about another 2 minutes.

Add the browned chicken, broth, Miracle Rice and black beans. Bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, over medium to low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper and divide between 4 serving bowls.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 233 calories; 8 g fat (30 percent calories from fat) (2 g saturated); 103 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 4 g fiber; 862 mg sodium.

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Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

Today is Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, so it seems appropriate to celebrate with some Cajun/Creole dishes. Here are a couple of recipes from the Minxeats archives. Personally, I'm in the mood for some Cajun Kate's gumbo! Luckily, we have a couple of quarts in the freezer....

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Sous Vide Salmon

So I finally got the courage to cook a meat protein in the Sous Vide Supreme. While my initial experiments with eggs and vegetables were somewhat successful (and somewhat unsuccessful), I'm going to boldly declare that my experiment with salmon was mostly successful.

It's rare that we've managed to cook salmon properly at home. It's a fatty fish that shouldn't dry out easily, but somehow we either grossly over- or under-cook it. Conventional poaching has so far been the most successful cooking method we've tried, but I thought sous vide could be even better. Rather than just plop some salmon in a bag and have at it, I first did some research. I found this blog post regarding brine and cooking temperatures to be very interesting and inspiring. Apparently a brine prevents the excretion of albumen, that white fatty-looking stuff that oozes out of proteins like salmon and chicken breast during cooking. It's a fabulous idea, but I didn't really want to waste a cup and a half of kosher salt on cooking two pieces of salmon. It's just not cost effective. Why not just generously salt the meat ahead of time and rinse off the salt before cooking? Another thing I decided to change was the cooking temperature. While 50-53C seems to be the most popular suggestions, I cranked the machine up to 60C because I just don't like the flavor of raw salmon. Tuna, fine. Salmon, no.

So...I bought two large salmon filets at the grocery store because they were on sale. After removing the skin and cutting each of them in half width-wise, I sprinkled about a teaspoon of coarse Kosher salt over both sides of each piece. After about 45 minutes, I rinsed off the salt, patted the fish dry, and vacuum-sealed the pieces in two bags with a tablespoon of butter in each. After a quick 25 minute bath in 60C water, the salmon was what I consider perfectly cooked. It was moist and flaky and had exactly the right amount of salt. Even two days later, after a couple minutes in the microwave to heat through, the leftovers were moist and juicy. My only issue with the fish was that it seemed to be extra, well, fishy in flavor. Perhaps because all of the meaty juices are retained in sous vide cooking; there's no other liquids to dilute the salmon's oils, nor are they burned off in cooking. Or perhaps this particular fish just had more flavor. In any case, it made me wonder if chicken breasts aren't the perfect protein for sous vide. If the process can keep them tasting as chicken-y as possible, that can only be a good thing, right?

More experiments forthcoming.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Top Chef Texas Finale Part 1 Recap

Sorry this is late, but I spent six hours on Thursday in a hospital waiting room and had absolutely no desire to do this when I got home later that evening. I'm not really in the mood now, to tell the truth, but I shall endeavor to do my best.

Oh, and Bravo must have completely lost control of their internmonkeys, as there are no episode photos on the site yet again.

This week's episode presented part one of what is apparently a three part finale. THREE parts. Why, Bravo, why? That makes 17 weeks of near-torture, as this has been one of the most uninteresting seasons with the most unlikable cast of characters yet. Except for Ed, who didn't make the cut last week, much to my chagrin. (And his too, I'll bet.) Sometimes the finale of a season is its saving grace, because who doesn't like to watch the three or four strongest chefs in magnificent battle? But this year it looks to be all style and no substance. I can't stand either of the Mean Girls, bland-faced Lindsay or gummy Sarah. Paul, however, is adorable and, with five Elimination Challenge wins under his belt this season, should have this competition in the bag. Should. Unfortunately, I do believe Stefan also had five E.C. wins in season 5 before he did something stupid in the finale, ultimately losing to that other bald know, that chef who is so damn popular that I can't remember his name. Um...he's really really famous. In some remote town in Colorado.

And then there's Bev. Honestly, I'd LOVE to see Bev win this thing. But of course she doesn't.

The cheftestants meet up in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The Mean Girls are thrilled to see each other, happy to see Paul, but none of them seem particularly pleased to see that thorn in their sides, Bev. Once loaded into their Toyota Sponsormobile, they're instructed via Post-It on the steering wheel to meet Padma and Tom at Whistler, a ski resort. At Whistler, the four catch one of those slow-moving death traps called a gondola up the mountain. Yes, I've probably seen too many disaster movies in my lifetime, but I must admit that if I was one of the remaining chefs, I'd have to forfeit the prize right then and there. I have such a fear of falling, particularly from suspended objects like ferris wheels and those chair rides in amusement parks, that I couldn't set foot one onto the gondola. Not even if you promised me that George Clooney was waiting for me on the other side with a big mug of hot chocolate and a smile. I'm staying on terra firma, y'all. None of the four seem to have my issues, although Paul does admit to motion sickness, and they manage to make it to the top in one vomit-free piece.

At the top, it's hella windy, and we are nearly treated to a scene of Padma's legs being snapped like twigs in a gale (not a Gail). She and Tom gleefully welcome the Final Four to Whistler and tell them that since this was a site for the 2010 Winter Olympics, they will be holding a Culinary Games there. (Here's where the style over substance thing comes in.) This week's challenge will feature three events; the winner of each event will win $10,000, and, at the end of all three, one chef will be eliminated. The first event involves cooking a dish in a moving gondola. They are already 7000 feet above sea level, and it's cold, so the cheftestants will have to take that into account. Plus, a death trap gondola ride is only 22 minutes long, so that's all the time they have to cook. Additionally, at one point during the ride, they will have to jump out of the gondolas and choose another ingredient to add to their dishes.

Each basket of doom gondola is equipped with induction burners and piles of random food, so the chefs have to think on their feet while trying not to look down. Paul makes lamb chops which don't brown as well as he'd like; Sarah is scattered; Bev wisely chooses to make a cold salmon tartare dish; Lindsay has trouble getting her shit together, but manages at the last minute.

Olympic Snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler is the guest judge for this event. The four dishes are sampled and Lindsay's is chosen as the winner. She gets 10K and an automatic spot in the next round of the finale. Whee.

Mean Girls 1, Bev 0.

Paul, Sarah, and Bev must then compete in what might be the stupidest and most dangerous event in Top Chef history. All of their raw ingredients are frozen into giant blocks of ice which they must remove with the aid of ice picks. Tom provides the soundbite,"flash-frozen food is the next best thing to fresh," and I'm surprised that he doesn't add a plug for Healthy Choice or Schwann's or maybe his own brand of pre-packaged comestibles. (I'm thinking that a kid-friendly dish of hoop-shaped pasta--ColicchiOs--with either mini meatballs or chunks of hot dog, could be a big hit.) The chefs have one hour to retrieve their food and cook, outdoors, in the cold. Presumably medics are standing nearby with such necessities as frostbite medication and bourbon.

Paul manages to hack his ingredients out of the glacier first, then helps the girls somewhat by pushing the ice blocks down on the ground for them. Beverly, probably because she is so small and doesn't have a lot of arm strength, needs almost thirty minutes of their alloted time, many ice picks, frying pans, and screaming, to rescue her items from the ice. It's amazing she didn't stab herself in the process. Or oops!--stab Sarah. (I'm betting that if Heather were still around, she would have contemplated disemboweling Bev. Accidentally!)

Eventually everyone completes the stab-and-grab portion of the program and cooks their dishes. The guest judge for this event is Canadian Skeleton medalist Jon Montgomery. Sheesh. They can't even get interesting guest judges for this episode. How about Apolo Ono, people?  Heck, even Dorothy Hamill would work. Anyhoo...Paul wins with his crab and mango dish, grabs his money and guaranteed spot in Finale: Part Two, and goes off to find a heating pad and a bottle of Jack.

For the final challenge, Sarah vs. Bev, they have to run a "culinary biathlon" in which they cross-country ski for a few hundred feet for no good reason at all, then score ingredients at the shooting range. The teaser before the last commercial break is pretty special. First, Bev is on the ground, gun in hand, shooting at something. Next we see Sarah falling off her skis and onto her ample ass. It's very Claudine Longet. If you don't get that reference, you're too young. Also, you're lucky you didn't have to live through the 1970s, the period I like to call the "Harvest Gold Years." (Thanks, Kristine!)

Neither of them has ever skied, and Bev has never shot a gun, but she smokes Sarah in both parts of the competition. Once they've scored as many ingredients as possible by shooting the corresponding target with one of their ten shots, the two race to a kitchen to cook a dish for the judges, including Olympic Skier Cammi Granato. Both Sarah's and Bev's dishes are delicious, but both have problems with their protein. Bev's is a bit hidden under all of her other ingredients, overcooked as well, but she's gone out of her Asian-fusion comfort zone and that impresses. Sarah's rabbit is dry, but her combination of cherries and hazelnuts is a big hit.

And the loser is...Bev. Of course. She was a fierce competitor in this finale, and she should be quite proud of herself.

Next week: "Only two of you will go to the finale." What? I thought this WAS the finale?

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Pasta with Corn Pesto

I happened upon a recipe for fresh corn pesto a couple of weeks back and fixated on it until I had an opportunity to make it for myself. Fresh corn isn't happening in Baltimore in January, so I relied instead on the trusty bag of frozen kernels that is usually in our freezer. We did, however, have fresh basil growing on the windowsill - I bought a plant at the supermarket at Christmas and have managed to keep it alive all this time, without replanting it!

As is my wont, I tinkered with the recipe a bit. While the resulting yellow goo was pretty tasty, I'm betting it would be better with fresh corn.

Fettuccine with Corn Pesto

1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed and drained well
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup roasted and unsalted almonds, pine nuts, or walnuts or a combination
1 small clove of garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
pinch dried red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb fettuccine, cooked according to package directions
basil and Parmesan for garnish

Place first seven ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it forms a slightly chunky paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Combine with cooked fettuccine. Serve garnished with basil and Parmesan.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Top Chef Recap

There's a little Minx Family Business to be attended to this morning, so the Top Chef Finale part 1 recap will be a little late this week. Hopefully I'll still have some time later today.  Thanks for waiting!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pastore's Italian Delly

Just when I start to feel like there are fewer and fewer kindnesses in the world, I encounter a truly nice person. Back in August of last year, I mailed an autograph request to a certain member of the Baltimore Ravens. He was my mother-in-law's favorite player, and I thought an autographed photo would make a nice Christmas gift.

Christmas came and went; my mailbox remained photo-free. Obviously this Raven is not the nice person in question.

Sometime in January, a Facebook friend who is a local sports authority mentioned having autographed photos of this particular Raven to give away. I took the opportunity to complain about my situation. Another friend of his, non-mutual, commented that he had several autographs of said player and would be happy to give one to me for my MIL. Wow! Was I ever pleasantly surprised! I happily accepted his offer and picked up the photo at his family business - Pastore's. While there, we also picked up some dinner.

I was in the mood for an Italian cold cut sub and ordered half of their "gonzo," so-called because it's made with an entire loaf of Italian bread. Indeed, the sandwich is quite large, so I was glad to have ordered only half (which still made for a couple of meals). I enjoyed the combination of mildly spiced cold cuts, including my favorite mortadella, with a judicious topping of shredded lettuce and tomato, oil and vinegar, hots, and olives. The flavors melded well together, and even the next day, the bread stayed fairly crisp.

Mr Minx tried a hot sandwich. The Italian sausage Parmesan sandwich came on a more managably-sized roll. The sausage was extremely tender, like a meatball, and there was just enough sauce to moisten the sandwich but not make it soggy.

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I had no idea that Pastore's was even there. And now I'm glad I do. In addition to sandwiches, the delly also sells cookies, dried pasta, canned Italian tomatoes, and frozen pasta goodies from Velleggia's. We picked up bags of cheese and meat ravioli for a future dinner, and I'm sure we'll be back to replenish the supply. And to try one of their meatball Gonzos....

Pastore's Italian Delly
8646 Loch Raven Blvd
Towson, MD 21286
(410) 825-5316

Pastore's Italian Delly on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hope you eat something sweet today!

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Pulled Chicken with Cranberry BBQ Sauce

Sometimes I look in the fridge and think, "what am I going to do with all of this random stuff?" While it seemed pretty empty around the holidays, during some point in January, the fridge suffered from a glut of various half-full jars and plastic containers. Add to that a bunch of fresh vegetables because I was starting to feel guilty about eating so poorly in the weeks between Thanksgiving and mid-January. Among other things, we purchased a celery root so I could make one of my new favorite salads, celeri remoulade. I'm not a big fan of celery, but I loooove celeriac. Love it. But woman (and certainly not the man in this house) can't live on celery root alone, so I had to think of something more substantial to eat it with. Luckily, one of the myriad containers held about half of a rotisserie chicken. Another container held about half a cup of cranberry sauce left over from the fruitcake I made for my dad. Yes, I realize that I made that cake a month prior, but the sauce was still fine (acidy things tend to keep well under refrigeration). That became the starting point for a barbecue sauce.

Where am I going with all of this? Why, it's a riff on a classic pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw. Only it's pulled chicken with celeri remoulade. And it was quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

If you don't like celeriac, feel free to substitute your favorite cole slaw.

Pulled Chicken with Cranberry BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup onion, chopped
olive oil
1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1/2 cup, packed, brown sugar
1 teaspoon Sriracha (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 cups cooked chicken, roughly chopped
salt and pepper

In a saucepan, cook onion in a dribble of olive oil and a pinch of salt until soft and translucent. Add next 10 ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook 5 minutes. Add chicken and stir well to coat with sauce. Cook for 15-20 minutes until warmed through. Serve on potato rolls with celeri remoulade.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Fishtail by David Burke, New York

While I'm normally going to New York to attend a fashion or fragrance industry function, my favorite thing about making the trip is exploring the city's many dining options. Whether I want cheap eats or something more pricey and indulgent, there are a thousand examples of both in that town, plus twice as many in between. On my recent trip up north, during which I spent about 36 hours in the city, I had two opportunities for lunch and one for dinner. Dinner was easy - I knew right away that dining at Baohaus with my friend David was ideal. As for lunch, I was completely undecided and made and cancelled several reservations. Eventually I settled on Fishtail by David Burke, since it was very close to where I planned to spend a morning shopping: Bloomingdale's.

I got to the restaurant early, at about 11:40AM. I was completely exhausted from walking all over town the day before, didn't sleep well on the hotel's too-soft bed, and I was lugging my suitcase with me. Other restaurants nearby were already open for business, but Fishtail doesn't open until noon, a fact related to me in a rather brusque way by the manager, who nonetheless allowed me to enter and hang out at the bar. Michael, the bartender who would be my server and chief entertainment for the next hour-and-a-half, hid my luggage for me and brought food and drink menus. He also proved helpful in guiding my food choices. The lunch menu at Fishtail was available both a la carte and as a three course prix fixe with two price levels, one at $24.07 and another at $37 even. The two price levels seemed to me a bit bizarre, as none of the menu's prices varied wildly enough to require a $13 difference, but it was Restaurant Week.... In any case, I stuck to the less-expensive end of things and settled on the cracker crab cake, the whole roasted branzino - which came highly recommended - and the chocolate torte.

I'm always curious to see how chefs interpret Maryland's iconic dish, the crab cake. At Fishtail, "crab cake" is really just a play on words. What I received was actually more like a light crab salad flavored with a bit of bell pepper, the sides coated with what appeared to be tiny senbei, or rice crackers, stacked between two ultra-crisp Ritz-like crackers. A tomato marmalade sat atop the tower, and a spicy gastrique decorated the plate.

I loved it. The crunch of the crackers was a perfect compliment to the crab meat, which tasted fresh, sweet, and briny. While not a classic crab cake, it was far better than literally dozens of "real" crab cakes I've eaten in the past.

I had a book to read while waiting between courses, but I had a hard time concentrating because I really wanted to sing along to the music playing in the background - a melange of Van Halen, Journey, Aerosmith and other popular hard-rock bands from my youth. Michael and the sushi chef stationed next to the bar did not experience the same compunction and sang randomly here and there while going about their lunchtime tasks.

My branzino was plated simply, with a pile of wilted spinach and a tomato-mint sauce. It was a great choice for lunch. The fish's flesh was fluffy and soft inside a nearly fried-chicken-skin-crisp exterior, and I appreciated the generous quantity of perfectly-cooked spinach. The sauce was rich and tomato-y with a hint of heat and was a welcome accompaniment that jazzed up the otherwise very straightforward flavors.

The final course was a square of very rich chocolate torte topped with chocolate frosting. It was much like a brownie, but a bit too sweet for my palate. The almond ice cream was nicely almond-y, but also too sweet. And the swath of what I think might have been creme anglais was again too sweet, and rather unnecessary with ice cream also on the plate. Something tart, perhaps raspberry- or apricot-flavored might have worked better for me. I found no fault, however, in the accompanying cup of full-bodied coffee.

Overall, a very good and relaxing lunch. I sat at the bar the whole time and pretty much had the place to myself. (I guess people eat lunch late in NY.) Nobody rushed me, and at one point the now-friendly manager encouraged me to go upstairs and check out the dining rooms. I didn't take his suggestion, but maybe I will in the future, as I would very much like to dine at Fishtail again.

Fishtail by David Burke
135 East 62nd Street
New York, NY 10065
(212) 754-1300
Fishtail by David Burke on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Top Chef Texas Episode 14 Recap

So, hey, sorry for the crappy recap last week. I can promise you this one will be just as bad, if not worse. See...Mr Minx and I went to a wine dinner last night, one that didn't actually start serving food until 7:30, and by the time we finished our dessert and got our drunk asses home, it was 10:25. Missed the Quickfire and the whole gist of the Elimination Challenge. And did I mention it was a wine dinner? And that I might have been a little drunk? That was probably a good thing, as the alcohol took the edge off the cold hard truth. And now that it's morning and I've had lots of water and caffeine and aspirin, I can react properly.


Whew. That's off my chest.

Thanks to blogger extraordinare, Jordan Baker, I am able to fill in what I missed last night. Thanks, lady, for getting your recap up so early in the morning! MWAH! But no thanks and giant raspberries to Bravo, who hasn't bothered putting up screen shots from the episode for the second week in a row. The previews offered very little in the way of usable images, so this recap will be imageless. Sorry.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. The moment everyone has been anticipating for the last umpty-three weeks: the reveal of the winner of Last Chance Kitchen. It was down to last week's eliminee, Grayson, versus the much-reviled Beverly. And you know how that had to turn out - Beverly won the final LCK challenge and is once again in the competition, turning what was for about 12 hours the "Final Four" back into the "Final Five."

Now that that messy bit of business is over, it's time for the Quickfire. The cheftestants have to use all of their senses to create a dish while blindfolded....even while picking their ingredients. And they have to use all of the ingredients they put in their baskets. Kinda like a DIY Chopped, but without douchebag Scott Conant, his perfectly-groomed stubble, and his hatred of raw red onion. The winner of the challenge gets a choice between a brand new Prius V or a guaranteed spot in the final Final Four. You know, I've seen so many commercials for those damn Priuses (Prii?) that it is now officially on my list of "Wouldn't Buy if It Were the Last Automobile on Earth," along with anything the hosts of Top Gear call a "Supah-Cah."

Ed and Sarah make the best dishes of the five, but the win goes to...Sarah. And she's not stupid--she doesn't want a damn Prius, either--she takes the guaranteed spot in the finale as her prize.

For the Elimination Challenge, it's announced that people who had "a small hand" in their careers are coming - their mentors. Paul cries at the sight of Tyson Cole. Lindsay cries at the sight of Michelle Bernstein. Sarah cries at the sight of former Top Chef Masters' competitor Tony Mantuano. Bev cries at the sight of Sarah Stegner. But Ed's a tough guy and doesn't cry when he sees Frank Crispo, who is pretty scary-looking and would probably make me weep a little.

A thought: don't be surprised to see Stegner, Cole, and Crispo on a future season of Top Chef Masters.

The chefs have to make a meal that will impress their mentors. They have 2.5 hours to prep and another hour to finish cooking at the Hotel Valencia; the winner of the challenge will get Sarah's unwanted Prius V. The chefs have $500 to shop; four of the five of them head out while Sarah hits the bar with Mantuano. Ed has it in his head that he wants to use oysters in his dish, can't find fresh ones, so buys canned ones. Thank goodness I didn't see this part because I would have been screaming at the TV at that point. While Ed can make sauerkraut soup taste fantastic, I have doubts that he could work any kind of magic on canned smoked oysters. He may as well have picked up a can of SPAM.

The next day, there's a flurry of cooking.  Ed is using those damn oysters. Beverly is woking her dish, which is quite a challenge when you're serving eight people. Lindsay second-guesses her decision to emulsify her seafood stew with cream. Paul is making a soup. Soup. A cold soup. And Sarah is somewhere sleeping off a tequila hangover.

The judges for this challenge are the four mentors, Padma, Tom, Gail, and Hughnibrow. Bev serves her Singapore noodles with shrimp first, and gets praise. Lindsay's seafood stew has perfectly cooked proteins but doesn't need that cream. Paul's sunchoke and dashi soup is well balanced. Ed's pork belly is amazing, but his smoked oyster sauce makes Tom make a face. And when Tom is unhappy, well, you know the outcome.

::::making slashing motion across the throat::::

Bev and Paul are the top scorers in this challenge, both guaranteed a spot in the finale. Paul's dish is the favorite and he wins the sponsormobile. Good thing he won all of that cash earlier in the competition, because he'll need it to pay his income taxes. That leaves Ed and Lindsay to face elimination. Unfortunately, Ed's use of smoked oysters was a more grievous error than Lindsay's use of cream, and he gets sent home.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOObreathebreathebreathe!!!! Not Ed! I has a serious sad right now. I think he really deserved to be in the finale, and not just because he was my favorite chef in the competition. Now it's up to Paul to win this thing for me. I'd be ok with Bev winning, too, but I don't like Sarah or Lindsay, which means one of them will win.


Next week: Finale in British Columbia! It's cold!

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

NY Eats

When I go to NY, I try to poke my head into as many food-related shops as possible. For educational purposes, of course. I have my favorites that I visit every time I'm in the city, but I'm always on the lookout for something new and exciting. Here are some places I visited on my most recent trip.

(Photo credit: Midtown Lunch)
Flex Donuts For the time being, this pop-up spin-off of Flex Mussels (by pastry chef and Top Chef Just Desserts season 1 cheftestant Zac Young) is sharing space with Zócalo in Grand Central Station. Stop by and snag a couple three salted caramel donuts and maybe some of the maple bourbon bacon as well. Pure, delicious, evil.

Dylan's Candy Bar Dylan's is primarily a shop for the kiddies, as it's chock full of gummy this and sour that, but there's also a nice collection of nostalgic regional candies like the Big Hunk, Valomilk, and Idaho Spud bars. It's the perfect destination for those, who, like me, have read Steve Almond's Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America and want to know exactly what he's going on about.

David's Teas Canadian tea company, David's, has two shops in the US so far, both in New York: at 275 Bleecker Street and at 1124 3rd Avenue. Their selection of black, green, rooibos, herbal, pu'erh, etc., is comprehensive and includes both familiar and exotic flavors, from an organic English breakfast to Coffee Pu'erh (both of which I purchased).

Rocco's Pasticceria
 A trip to Rocco's on Bleecker has long been a Minx Family tradition. While I'm a big fan of their nutty biscotti (which are chewy when fresh), Mr Minx prefers anything chocolate, including the chocolate shortbreads. I'm also partial to their baba rum. They have gelato, too.

While you're on Bleecker, you should also check out Amy's Bread at Leroy St. and Murray's Cheese, right next door. Delicious sandwiches may ensue.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

More Recipes from Rachel vs Guy Celebrity Cook-Off

In addition to the much-sought-after recipe for Coolio's lemon pudding cake, there are a whole list of other Coolio recipes available on the Food Network Web site, including his "Gitalian" bread, "fork steak," and arugula salad with apple vinaigrette. You can find these and more here.

The site also has several more of Lou Diamond Phillips' recipes available, including his chicken saltimbocca, "Lousagna," the risotto Milanese crab cake appetizer from the finale, and Cio-Filipino. Find those here.

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Baohaus - New York

Back: two Chairman Bao flanking a House Bao. Front: two Birdhaus Bao.
I had never heard of Chef Eddie Huang until he recapped Top Chef Masters season 3 for Eater, and then I just figured he was some insane and possibly drug-addled loon. Honestly, half the shit he wrote had more to do with basketball and hip hop than it did with the show he was recapping. Not being a fan of either, it pained me to pore through them in order to glean a usable bit for the weekly All Top Chef Recap Roundup. Then he did a special for Cooking Channel called Cheap Bites, in which he traveled around the country, eating other people's food - basically being Guy Fieri, without the greasy sunglasses - and eventually showing off his own restaurant, Baohaus, in New York's East Village.

Baohaus, not to be confused with the German art school, the Bauhaus, or the 80s band by the same name, serves several varieties of bao, or Chinese steamed buns. You may be most familiar with char siu bao, the steamed buns filled with Chinese bbq roast pork often served during dim sum. Those things that, if allowed to sit around for too long, take on the texture of a damp washcloth. Properly made, they should be light, fluffy, and tender. As they are at Baohaus.

On a recent trip to NY, my friend David Dust and I paid a visit to Huang's hole-in-the-wall establishment. Literally, the place is tiny - a long, narrow corridor with a sort of kitchen in the front and three counters with about 5 stools in the back. The menu is small - 7 varieties of bao, taro fries, minced pork on rice, Taiwanese fried chicken, and that's about it. But that's enough. Mr Dust and I placed an order for three types of Bao and an order of taro fries and took seats at one of the counters in the back, where we shouted at each other over the loud hip-hop music. Random people straggled in and out, some ordering food, some seemingly employees, and others appearing to be controlling the musical selections on an open laptop. Or maybe they were just playing Free Cell - who knows? What I do know is that the food was good. Damn good. The pork belly in the Chairman Bao was meltingly tender, the beef cheek in the house bao was too, and combined with their toppings of crushed peanut, cilantro, Haus Relish, and Taiwanese red sugar, were finger lickin' good. And then there was the Taiwanese fried chicken in the Birdhaus bao, which could put the Colonel to shame. Juicy, tender, and crispy, it tasted like more. So we ordered more. I also tried the "oyster po bao," a humongous, crispy, fried oyster topped with marinated daikon and carrot, paté, and lemon mayo. More like a Vietnamese banh mi than a Cajun po' boy, but whatever. It was good. Taro fries were good, too, super duper crispy with fluffy insides and served with a little cup of sesame-oil-scented Haus sauce.

We ended up making pigs of ourselves, but who can blame us? The food was damn tasty, and with the most expensive bao at only $3.99, cheap eats in New York. I'd go back. With earplugs.

238 E 14th St
New York, NY 10003
(646) 669-8889

Baohaus  on Urbanspoon

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Pork Spareribs, Santa Fe-style

Who doesn't love pork ribs? Ok, apart from vegetarians and those who eschew eating pork...I'm betting they'd love them if they tried them! Not long ago I was looking for a rib recipe that didn't involve a lot of work. I found one with a flavor profile that I liked, and simplified it so it was easy-peasy. Just mix up the sauce, pour it over the meat, and braise. There's nothing more strenuous in this recipe than using a can opener, and the results are quite delicious. The sauce is mildly spicy, so if you want more heat, just add more chipotles.

Southwest Pork Ribs

1 15oz can tomato sauce
1 8oz can red chili sauce, or 1 cup homemade
2 canned chipotles en adobo
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 - 2 lbs well-marbled pork country ribs (with bones, if possible)
Fresh cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven to 300F.

Combine first five ingredients in a bowl, mixing well to dissolve brown sugar.

Place pork country ribs in a single layer in a 9 x 13 baking pan. Pour over sauce. Cover pan and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours or until meat is very tender.

Degrease sauce and serve on the side.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Sautéed Radishes

Radishes are a very underrated vegetable. Most people think they're just for salads or crudité platters, but I think they work best when cooked. That's right - I said cooked. We discovered cooked radishes back in 2005 and now consume them fairly often - far more often than we eat them raw.

January's Food & Wine magazine had a lovely recipe for sautéed radishes with orange butter, provided by Emeril Lagasse. The local Safeway just so happened to have bunches of big radishes with their greens attached, so Mr Minx used them to whip up a version of the recipe, substituting some bacon jam for the freshly cooked bacon, and using about half as much butter. The radishes themselves were a little bland (cooking them in chicken stock with onions gives them much more flavor), but the greens were outstanding! They were similar to collards, but required far less cooking, and were simply perfect in the orange/shallot/bacon sauce.

If you happen upon radishes with greens in your supermarket, I strongly recommend you try Emeril's recipe. If you can only find them in little bags, try the chicken stock recipe. While radishes taste a wee bit turnip-y, it's definitely turnip-y in a good way.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Top Chef Texas Episode 13 Recap

Pee Wee takes the chefestants on a Big Adventure this week on Top Chef! When the five remaining chefs enter the Cordon Bleu kitchen, they find a table covered with stacks of what must be, according to Sarah, 80,000 pancakes. Padma, looking quite pretty for once this season (since she's gained a few pounds and is not wearing a romper, jumpsuit, sparkly pants, or yellow jeans), tells them that they will be cooking for a special which point none other than the somewhat elderly Pee Wee Herman comes in on his bicycle.

Ok, not "somewhat." Clearly Paul Rubens is too old for the Pee Wee schtick anymore. But it's his claim to fame, other than that unfortunate movie theatre incident. Back in the day, I was a fan of Pee Wee's Playhouse and all of its denizens. One year, a bunch of friends and I went to a Halloween party dressed as Pee Wee, Miss Yvonne, and the Flowers from the window box (man, I wish I had photos!) And I still try to watch Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special every year.

Anyhoo...Pee Wee tells them their challenge is to make him some creative pancakes in 20 minutes. The winner will get $5,000. So the chefs get to cooking. Since pancake making isn't the most exciting spectator sport, I'll spare you the bloody details. Soon 20 minutes is up and Padma and Pee Wee get to tasting.

At every chef, he chews thoughtfully - so thoughtfully, it seems to some that he might be having a stroke - and declares it the "best pancakes he's ever eaten." Oddly, some of the chefs tell him that these are the first pancakes they've made. Really? Not even with Bisquick? And they call themselves chefs?

The pancakes that pleased Pee Wee the most were the ones that were most unique - Ed's crispy pancake bits with bruléed marshmallows and fruit. I think I want some of those now! Mostly because I haven't had breakfast yet.

For the Elimination Challenge, we get to share Pee Wee's bad memories of the Alamo. In the 1985 movie, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, his precious bike gets stolen; Pee Wee is told that it can be found in the basement of the Alamo. So he travels across the country only to find that...the Alamo has no basement! Twenty-seven years later (!), he's still quite bitter about the whole deal and intends to take out his anger on someone...anyone. Ed, Paul, Grayson, Sarah, and Lindsay will have to do.

So now he sends them on their own Big Adventure, complete with Pee Wee-style short-bus bikes with baskets and bells. They must individually source ingredients and find kitchens in which to cook them in order to prepare a family-style lunch to be served at the Alamo. All on bicycle. Well, the meal won't be served on a bicycle...

Before they set off on their journey, Pee Wee meets with the cheftestants to give them an idea of the sort of food he likes best. Basically, he eats everything, from Thai food to egg salad sandwiches.

The next day, the cheftestants put on lots of sunscreen and bicycle helmets and go off wandering about town. They hit the farmer's market for ingredients first, with most folks picking up chicken or eggs or both. Lindsay gets beef cheeks but doesn't find a whole lot of other stuff she wants to use. Ed wants to use shrimp, but there's no shrimp at the market. He figures he can find it elsewhere. They chefs can also use their $100 budget to buy ingredients at the restaurants in which they cook.

Off they pedal, looking somewhat like idiots. I think bicycle helmets look like Alien heads. Grayson beats Paul to a restaurant he wants to use for his home base. Ed finds a B&B that doesn't have shrimp, but it does have a willing kitchen and spare chicken in the fridge. Lindsay finds a kitchen at the Mad Hatter, but when she leaves to find other ingredients for her dish, Sarah usurps her spot. With half her cooking time wasted, Lindsay manages to find a kitchen to use. Her beef cheeks are slightly frozen, so she needs to get her ass in gear.

Meanwhile, Ed is undercooking his chicken slightly so it doesn't overcook on the long, hot bike ride to the Alamo. While he's in the kitchen, the B&B owners take advantage of his cheffiness and ask him to make some eggs for the guests. He obliges because even though he's a crank, he's also a nice guy.

Grayson is making chicken stuffed with "spinage" and raw eggs. The aluminum pan she uses to transport the dish gets red hot, but it doesn't fit in her basket and she doesn't want the egg yolks to break and ooze out, so she bikes with one hand and holds the pan with the other. Unfortunately, Pee Wee didn't equip the bikes with pot holders.

Back at the Alamo, the chefs have only 15 minutes to reheat and plate their dishes. Apparently the Alamo doesn't have a basement, but it does have a kitchen and a dining room - who knew!

There are only four diners for this meal - Pee Wee, the long-lost Gail Simmons, Padma, and Tom. The chefs bring out their creations then scurry to hide in whichever room the Alamo lets them use to curse, smoke, and drink beer. All of them made pretty good dishes, but all had flaws. Sarah's egg salad with chicken skin vinaigrette was very tasty, but the eggs had not been seasoned. Lindsay's beef cheek-stuffed zucchini boats were fun, but her salad was a little limp and she used too much goat cheese. Ed's chicken was on the verge of being undercooked, with an odd texture that Pee Wee found unappealing. Paul's Thai-style chicken salad had a too-sweet gastrique that was balanced by sour pickles. And Tom was not exactly pleased with Grayson's decision to mix winter squash and tomatoes. And when Tom is displeased about something, well, watch out.

After the meal, they head over to the studio. Pee Wee tells Tom he should ride in the basket of his bike.Cheeky Pee Wee! Back at the stew room, Padma flounces in and morosely tells the cheftestants that their presence is needed in front of the firing squad. The judges give the chefs their good and bad points, and Lindsay is declared the winner, mostly because her dish was most "fun." Tom tells us that one of the first things he ever cooked as a kid was stuffed zucchini. So rah rah for fun childlike food! Paul is also deemed safe, leaving Sarah, Grayson, and Ed behind for more whining and complaints from Tom.

Once again it looks like Ed's going to be sent home, but instead it's Grayson who has to go face bulldog Beverly in Last Chance Kitchen. Indeed, at the end of the show, Padma comes in the stew room one more time to tell the chefs that the evening is not over yet. In front of the judges once more, the cheftestants find out about Last Chance Kitchen and watch a video montage of clips from the competition thus far. They seem baffled, excited, and horrified all at the same time.

Next week: One chef returns. Paul seems to be crying about something. Final Five again!

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