Friday, May 31, 2013

Crazy Crazy Poopy Poop

I realize the title of this post might be less than appetizing for a food blog, but when I started typing the word "crazy," the rest followed automatically. It was something my beloved parakeet, Cuervo, liked to say frequently. But that's apropos of nothing. Maybe even a little bit crazy itself. But that's the theme of this post, so we'll go with it.


By now, almost everyone has heard of Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, owners of Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona. They were the subject of an episode of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares in May, and they proved themselves to be batshit crazy. Now, I'm inclined to believe that half of everything seen on Kitchen Nightmares (and probably the Food Network's rip-off show, Restaurant Impossible) is faked, and Amy's food might not have been as disgusting as Ramsay said it was, but I'm pretty sure the reactions of Samy and Amy were real. Not only did they seem completely off their rockers on the show, but they apparently went on a tirade on their Facebook page after the show aired, later insisting they were hacked.

The Bouzaglos--Amy in particular--maintains that they appeared on Kitchen Nightmares to show the world that they made great food and that the haters on popular restaurant review site, Yelp, were just that - haters. There certainly are a lot of people commenting on the restaurant's Yelp page, but the vast majority seem to be bandwagon whores who have seen the show and feel the need to add their two cents - most of the unfiltered posts are dated May 2013. To see the real crazy, look for the older reviews. In them, you'll find Samy calling a customer who had a bad experience "insane," telling others they are lying about eating in the restaurant at all, and telling another diner that Olive Garden would probably be more to her liking.

And to continue the tide of good press, the Bouzaglos recently kicked out reporters from the Phoenix Business Journal because they had the audacity to find flies in their cocktails. Three times. And things don't seem to be getting any better for the Bouzaglos. Allegedly they have some other issues that may involve criminal records and potential deportation. Of course, neither of those should have any bearing whatsoever on how they run their restaurant or treat their customers.

If you want to keep up with Amy and Samy, you can follow their exploits on Eater.

Oh, and this just in - Amy and Samy might get their own reality show.

The Bouzaglos aren't the only extreme characters in the restaurant business, just the most (in)famous du jour. A local Baltimore restaurateur, Denise Whiting, also appeared on Kitchen Nightmares. Like the Bouzaglos, she wanted her appearance on the show to help right a wrong. Her Hampden restaurant, Café Hon, was losing business because of her unwise decision to claim ownership of the word "hon," a term of endearment used in the Baltimore area way before Whiting blew into town.

What started out as a simple trademark to protect her use of the word on Café Hon-branded merchandise turned into a public relations nightmare. When the public started hearing how she insisted on final approval of the MTA's ad campaign for their CharmCard fare system because it used the word "hon," as well as how she bullied a concessionaire at the airport into giving her all of his hon merchandise, they turned against her. Whiting soon became the Most Hated Woman in Town and eventually conceded in order to save her business. She then played along with Gordon Ramsay and allowed him to change both the decor and menu of Café Hon. Recently, Whiting re-renovated Café Hon, getting rid of Ramsay's alterations. Hopefully they're also changing the menu and getting rid of the "sandwiches served with Utz potato chips and a pickle from the grill." Grilled pickles? (Psst: proper grammar is your friend).

I'm not sure what good any of it did, if putting on a show of pseudo-humility brought customers back to Café Hon. The shitstorm may be over, but I know folks who say they'll never go back. Thank goodness for tourists, huh?

And then there's Alchemy. While the food wasn't bad, the service was atrocious. And judging by the first comment left on the post I wrote about our experience, someone there (owner? server? manager?) is a complete loon. Maybe he or she should go work for the Bouzaglos.

Have you had personal experience with batshit crazy restaurant owners/staff? Have you ever been to Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale? If the answer to either or both questions is yes, we'd love to read your comments!

Posted on

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Just Beer Project

After generations of drinking crappy beer that tasted more like the byproduct of large horses with extremely hairy legs than hops and barley, Americans have started to demand better libations. Craft beers are being produced everywhere, and even Baltimore has been named one of America's best beer cities. Now one can buy beers of every color and strength, flavored with fruits, coffee, and even peanut butter. But sometimes folks just want beer that tastes like beer. And that's where the Just Beer Project comes in. Alan Newman, founder of Magic Hat Brewing Company, and no stranger to craft brewing, realizes that there are some people out there who just want a tasty, uncomplicated brew that they can drink all night long. Just Beer's first product is Just IPA, which comes in at 5.2% ABV (alcohol by volume).

Just IPA is lightly bitter and lightly floral, just enough of both to keep the drinker from getting bored, but not so much that the beer is more interesting than the food that it accompanies. Or doesn't accompany. We're not huge IPA drinkers in this house (but, I must confess, I do rather like the super floral/fruity ones) but both of us were pleased with our sampling of Just IPA. We're hoping there's a Just Lager coming out in the future because we just happen to enjoy lagers with Baltimore's favorite summertime meal, steamed crabs.

Just IPA is available in a limited area for now, and only on draft at the following Baltimore-area locations.

JD’s Smokehouse Bar & Grill
3000 O’Donnell St.
Baltimore, MD

Plug Ugly’s Publick House
2908 O’Donnell St.
Baltimore, MD

Freddie’s Ale House
7209 Harford Road
Baltimore, MD

Mother’s Federal Hill Grille
1113 S. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD

Social Pub and Pie
25 E. Cross St.
Baltimore, MD

Max's Taphouse
737 S Broadway
Baltimore, MD

Kloby's Smokehouse
7500 Montpelier Rd
Laurel, MD

* 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.

Posted on

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kitchen Sink Chicken

Ever look in the fridge and find jars with half a roasted red pepper or three olives or a teaspoon of capers? How about finding half an onion and three wilting stalks of celery in the crisper? This happens all the time at Casa Minx. Every once in a while, I have to concoct something that uses these odd bits and bobs. I empty the fridge while filling the recycle bin.

The fridge isn't the only storehouse of partially-full packages. The cupboard revealed a bag with three dried apricots in it and another with a handful of sundried tomatoes. There was also approximately 1/2 of a home-made preserved lemon in the fridge. Thus armed with a selection of fruits and vegetables, I set to work, basically chopping everything and tossing it into a pot with a bit of olive oil. Hey - no matter what the fancy French chefs would have you believe, saucemaking isn't rocket science.

A couple of the items - the olives, the lemons - were salty and tangy, so I added a bit of brown sugar for balance. But if you have a couple of tablespoons of hot pepper or even raspberry jelly languishing in the fridge, that would work just as well.

I popped some chicken thighs into the sauce, because I always have some in the freezer, but you can cook the sauce separately and serve it over fish (swordfish would be terrific). Or replace the chicken stock with veg stock and use it as a vegetarian sauce over some chunky, frilly pasta like campanelle or farfalle. The sweet and sour + celery flavors are very reminiscent of caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dish with a distinct celery flavor, so if you cooked the sauce down enough (or add less stock), you could even serve it as a side dish.

Mediterranean Chicken

1 cup sliced onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cups roughly chopped tomato
1/2 preserved lemon, diced, or zest of 1 lemon
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced, or 1 fresh pepper, diced
6 sundried tomatoes, sliced
1/4 chopped black and green olives
3 tablespoons finely chopped dried apricot (prunes or cherries work, too)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
4-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper to taste (if you use a lot of olives and preserved lemon, you won't need salt)
chopped parsley or green onions for garnish

Put onion and celery in a large skillet with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute before adding the tomato, lemon, sundried tomatoes, olives, and apricots. Mix well, then stir in the tomato paste, chicken stock, brown sugar, and paprika. Bring mixture to a boil, then add the chicken thighs. Lower heat to a simmer and cover pan. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until sauce has reduced and thickened and chicken is very tender.

Serve with your favorite starch. (I used black rice.)

Serves 3-6

Posted on

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


If you don't have time to read blogs daily, get Minxeats' highlights delivered via monthly newsletter:

Posted on

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day

Whether driving Downy Oshun or firing up your grill, please give a thought to the valiant young men and women who have given their lives over the years to keep America free.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Breakfast Banh Mi

Most weekend mornings, I try to be the first to ask the all-important question, "what do you want for breakfast," because I usually don't want to think about it. Mr Minx doesn't want to think about it, either; his most common response is "oatmeal." But this time, he asked first and I had an answer for him. And no, it wasn't "oatmeal."

I wanted a breakfast banh mi.

We had a partial loaf of French bread, a big bunch of fresh cilantro, cucumbers and carrots. A little marinating here, a little egg-frying there, and voila - a superbly flavorful brekkie.

Breakfast Banh Mi

4 teaspoons mayonnaise (Kewpie, preferably)
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha, or to taste
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon agave syrup or 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
pinch salt
1 3" length of carrot, cut into strips
1 3" chunk of cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, cut into strips
4 large eggs
2 6" long pieces of crusty baguette, sliced lengthwise

In a small bowl, mix together the mayo, fish sauce, and Sriracha. Set aside.

In another bowl, dissolve the sugar or agave syrup in the vinegar. Stir in the salt and add the carrot and cucumber strips. Stir to coat vegetables and set aside.

Cook the eggs to your liking. Over-medium works well - yolks are mostly but not completely set.

Smear the mayo mixture on the inside of the baguettes. Top with two eggs per sandwich, folding the whites to get them to fit. Add slices of cucumber and carrot and a small handful of cilantro.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

Posted on

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just Announced - Chefs Participating in the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament

The starting line-up for the 2013 Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament kicking off on June 17th at Mari Luna Bistro (1225 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201) has been chosen, and looks to be a great field of chefs with several returning competitors as well as a number of newcomers.

Tickets for this live, interactive, local culinary event are on sale now at, and are just $25 with 10% of the net proceeds going directly to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland (

Here is the 2013 line-up; complete details and bios of all the competing chefs are available on the Mason Dixon website:

Monday, June 17: The Point at Fells, Chef Jeff Keeney vs. C&R Pub, Chef Sean McClure
Tuesday, June 18: Barracudas, Chef Billy Hughes vs. Waterfront Kitchen, Chef Andrew Kopp
Monday, June 24: Admiral’s Cup, Chef Steve Hardison vs. Adam’s Eve, Chef Mark Littleton
Tuesday, June 25: Gourmet Again, Chef Melissa Fordham vs. Leelynns, Chef Joel Southworth
Monday, July 15: Regi’s American Bistro, Chef Mark Dunaway vs. Chef to be determined
Tuesday, July 16: Iron Bridge Wine Company, Chef Christopher Lewis vs. Chef to be determined
Monday, July 22: Bond Street Social, Chef Neill Howell vs. Chef to be determined
Tuesday, July 23: Chefs Expressions, Jake Hack, vs. Skycroft Conference Center, Christian Welch

Note, there are still a few spots available to be filled. All professional chefs in the Baltimore/Washington area who are interested are invited to apply online at:

Posted on

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

J. Paul's Summer Menu

J. Paul's restaurant in Harborplace is welcoming the impending summer by adding several new items to their menu. We were invited in for a taste, and remembering how we enjoyed our last dinner there, we jumped at the chance to try some of the new goodies.

I feel bad that we don't get down to the Inner Harbor area more often. As longtime county residents, we find city driving to be a bit of a pain, especially in the business district (if one can call it that). But, on the occasions we persevere, grit our teeth, and venture downtown, we find ourselves well-rewarded for the effort.

This particular evening was clear and temperate, so we chose to eat on J. Paul's patio, (as did every other diner in the place). We started things off with two of their new cocktails, the "Oriole Magic" and the "Paul Red Handed."
Left: Oriole Magic - Bacardi Rum, banana liqueur, orange, pineapple, and lime juices with a sugar rim
Right: Paul Red Handed - muddled strawberries, Absolut Citron, fresh lemon, elderflower, Champagne
The Oriole Magic sounded interesting, but I let Mr Minx order that one because I had my eye on the PRH. I struck gold with a light and sweet easy-drinkin' kind of beverage strongly flavored with strawberry. It was one of those dangerous concoctions that begs for guzzling, but sipping is definitely in order. The Oriole Magic was much less-strong and, um, sorta weird. I always expect anything with banana liqueur to taste like that peanut-shaped marshmallow candy, circus peanuts, and it almost did. Not that that would have been a good thing, mind you. We just thought the drink's elements didn't blend well, and the bartender didn't help things by salting the rim instead of sugaring it. Oh well....
Philly Rolls: caramelized onion, rib eye, cheddar cheese and cherry pepper cheese sauce
The appetizers were far more successful. We originally wanted to share the new shellfish bucket of various bivalves and crab with lemon butter, but after we were told the restaurant was out of clams, we switched gears and tried two separate apps. Mr Minx's Philly Rolls - egg rolls stuffed with what one might normally find in a cheesesteak sandwich, served with a pool of house-made "cheez whiz" -  were really tasty. The fried shell was actually an improvement on the usual sub roll (hey, we're not from Philly). Just be warned that this appetizer is fairly heavy and filling, so you might want to share if you plan to have an entrée as well.
Crab cake, Boursin-stuffed fried local tomato, corn relish, arugula and cherry pepper remoulade
Several people - from the restaurant's PR ladies to the servers - mentioned that the new crab cake appetizer was a favorite, and as a crab cake fanatic I had to try it. While the cake had too much shredded meat for my taste, it played well as a soft textural counterpoint to the super-crisp slice of tomato that shared its crunchy coating with a schmear of garlicky and herby Boursin cheese. The peppery arugula and dollop of spicy remoulade added to the lively flavors on the plate.
Grilled salmon, lemon mashed potatoes, spinach, key lime butter sauce finished with tomato and avocado
There are several new sandwiches, salads, and entrées on the menu, including a sushi-grade seared tuna salad, an 8oz New York strip sammie, and Chicken Milanese, all of which sounded tempting. We settled on the grilled salmon and the Buffalo chicken wrap.

Mr Minx's salmon was simply grilled, a bit crusty on the outside, and topped with a light-tasting butter sauce and vegetables. Very nice, but the best thing on the plate was the mashed potatoes, which were unusually flavored with lemon juice and zest. I wouldn't necessarily put citrus on mash, but it worked really well and I plan to try it at home.

My Buffalo chicken wrap came with a choice of cucumber salad, cole slaw, or fries, and remembering the tasty slaw that Mr Minx had with his fish and chips last time, that was my choice. Cilantro should be an ingredient in all slaws, IMHO, and it was as good as I remembered. The wrap was good, too. Crispy fried-and-hot-sauced chicken strips shared the tortilla with chunks of celery, feta, tomato, and lettuce, a hot wing experience wrapped into a tidy little package.

It's clear that the chef at J. Paul's cares as much about his food's appearance as its flavor. How much more attractive than a plain white tortilla is that spinach one?
Buffalo chicken tenders, spinach tortilla, celery, feta, tomato, romaine, cilantro aioli
Stuffed to the gills (I doggie-bagged half my sandwich) we ordered dessert anyway. There were three selections that night - the flourless chocolate torte that we had sampled on our other visit, no-bake cheesecake, and creme brulée. Stereotypically for us, Mr went for the chocolate, and I went for the cream.
Flourless chocolate torte, raspberry sauce and berries
The torte is really too decadently sweet and fudgey to be served in a slice that large, but the very tart berry sauce helped a bit. A great dessert for sharing.

Three cremes brulée: plain, chocolate chip, berry
My full stomach was dismayed to see that I was receiving not one, not two, but three ramekins of creme brulée. I really didn't have room for one, but when I discovered there were three flavors, I ate more than a few bites of each. My favorite was the berry, which had a welcome lightness and fruity acidity. Most importantly, I appreciated that the creme was cold. This dessert should properly be refrigerated after brulée-ing, so the creme is cold and the hot sugar forms a hard, crackable, layer on top. Recipes that instruct one to "serve immediately" are wrong, wrong, wrong because that gives the molten sugar an opportunity to melt down into the custard, ruining the effect.

:::stepping off soapbox:::

Anyhoo...if you find yourself hungry in the Inner Harbor and don't relish the idea of eating at Bubba Gump's or Cheesecake Factory, we can recommend J. Paul's. We like the food and the service. We like half price bottles of wine on Wednesday and half price raw bar after 5pm on Thursday, too.

J Paul's
301 Light St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 659-1889

Posted on

Monday, May 20, 2013

Viente de Mayo

After seeing several Internet items extolling the virtue of making one's own corn tortillas, I thought I'd give it a go. Why not try it to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that means nothing to most Americans but, like St. Patrick's Day, is a good excuse to drink?

But we had a pack of corn tortillas in the fridge already, and, truth be told, Mr Minx isn't all that fond of tacos made with soft corn tortillas. (I know!) So instead of tortillas, I figured I'd make some other sort of fried thingy with my newly-purchased bag of masa. 

I noodled around online and found recipes for things called sopes, which appeared to be thick fried tortillas with a rim around the edge. But some of those recipes were similar to the rimless gorditas, which may or may not be split open and filled, depending on the recipe consulted. This blog (and others) calls them Salvadoran enchiladas, but if there's no chiles on them, etymologically speaking, how is that even possible? 

If I did call them sopes or gorditas and, heaven forfend, topped or filled them with something non-traditional or not from the proper region, the spirits of Mexican grandmothers will haunt me forever. Or so my research led me to believe.

I decided that the best--and safest--technical term for fried corn thingies made by a gringo like me would be Fried Corn Thingies. Then I would be able to top them with whatever my little heart wanted to top them with, without fear of repercussions from the Great Beyond. For our Cinco de Mayo dinner, that was a combination of chicken and chorizo, plus refried black beans and various condiments. On the side I served my version of esquites, and we washed everything down with passionfruit margaritas. Well, the original intention was to have passionfruit margaritas, but the Ceres brand passionfruit juice I purchased didn't taste very much like the tangy fruit in question. They were ok, but not anything to write home about. Especially if home is Mexico. Everything else, however, was muy bueno.

Fried Corn Thingies with Assorted Toppings

Thingies (recipe below)
Refried Black Beans (recipe below)
Chorizo Chicken (recipe below)
Chipotle Sauce (recipe below)
Easy Salsa (or your favorite salsa) (recipe below)
crumbly cheese, like feta or cotija
sliced avocado
fresh cilantro

Layer beans, chicken, chipotle sauce, salsa, and cheese on a Thingy. Top with avocado and cilantro. Devour and repeat.

Fried Corn Thingies 

2 cups masa
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for frying

Mix masa, water, and 1/4 cup oil into a smooth dough. Divide dough into 10 pieces. Form each one into a flattened disk about 1/4" thick.

Heat a griddle or large frying pan. Add disks a few at a time and cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, until it starts to brown lightly. Flip the disks, cook 2 minutes more on the other side, and remove from heat. Set aside until ready to eat.

When ready to serve, cook the thingies about 2 minutes per side in a bit of oil to crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Refried Black Beans

1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

Put beans and water in a saucepan and cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently and vigorously, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the beans are mostly mashed. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chorizo Chicken

1/2 cup chopped onion
vegetable oil
pinch salt
2 links Mexican chorizo
3 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook onion in a bit of oil and a pinch of salt until softened. Remove chorizo from casings and add to onions, breaking up sausage with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes, until sausage starts to darken. Add the chicken thighs, broth, and cilantro. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer chicken about thirty minutes until tender.

Remove chicken from pot and allow to cool for a few minutes. With your fingers, two forks, or a knife and a fork, shred/chop the meat into small piece and add back to the pan. Turn up heat and cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid has evaporated, skimming off most of the red oil that rises to the top. Stir in the garlic, brown sugar, and vinegar. Cook an additional minute or two and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chipotle Sauce

1 canned chipotle in adobo, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
pinch sugar
pinch salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Easy Salsa

2 large or 4 small tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 tablespoon lime juice
pinch cumin
salt and pepper to taste.

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste.

Posted on

Friday, May 17, 2013

Cooking With the Orioles' Wives

Way back in 1986, the wives of the Baltimore Orioles put together a cookbook to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - Maryland Chapter. Because it was both Orioles- and food-related, I bought a copy of Birdfeed and spent many happy hours reading and re-reading it. Not that it was a particularly good cookbook, but it was entertaining. And it had caricatures of Orioles players and coaches of the time, some of which were pretty good. (I was an illustration major at MICA at the time and caricatures were my thing.)

Like most community cookbooks, the recipes range from the very simple to the fairly complex, depending on the cooking skills of the recipe's owner. Pitcher Mike Boddiker's wife, Lisa, seemed to enjoy cooking, as some of her contributions were the most complex. One recipe she offered is for kolaches, a yeast-raised, fruit-filled pastry of Slavic origin that requires several hours of kneading and resting before eventual shaping and baking. For my first foray into cooking from this book, some 27 years after its purchase, I chose to make Lisa's Oatmeal Cake. With my adjustments, of course.

The recipe originally called for 1 cup each of brown and white sugar - entirely too much - and I reduced the white sugar to 1/2 cup. There was also no instruction as to what sort of pan to use. The amount of batter seemed a bit much for a single 9" square pan, especially as the baking time was a scant 30 minutes, so I baked it in one 9" square pan and one 9" round pan. Both produced adequately tall cakes. I think a single 9" x 13" would work fine, too.

The resulting cake was really quite delicious. Very moist and fluffy, with a pronounced oatmeal and cinnamon flavor. We happened to have some horchata-flavored  ice cream on hand (a Mexican drink made with ground rice and flavored with cinnamon) and it was the perfect accompaniment.

Oatmeal Cake (adapted from Birdfeed)

2 cups water
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a large saucepot, bring the 2 cups of water to a rolling boil. Once it reaches the boil, stir in the oats and turn off the heat. Cover pot and allow the oats to absorb all of the water, about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated. Stir in the oatmeal. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl and slowly add to the wet ingredients, beating only until everything is incorporated. Do not overmix.

Scrape mixture into a greased 9" x 13" baking pan, or two 8" or 9" round or square cake pans. Bake about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack. Eat warm or cold with ice cream.

Posted on

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Oven-roasted Asparagus

My new favorite way to cook asparagus - oven roasting.

I do the same thing with broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Trim and rinse asparagus. Pat dry. Place asparagus on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt. Slice a couple of garlic cloves thinly and scatter the slices on the asparagus. Toss with your hands so everything gets a nice coating of the olive oil.

Roast for 5-6 minutes, turn spears with tongs, and roast another 5-6 minutes. Serve as is, or with a drizzle of lemon mayonnaise or hollandaise.

Posted on

Spicy Fish Soup

Over the years, I've likely posted several variations on this recipe, but I think it's one well-worth sharing. Why? Because: 1) it's so simple; 2) it's so good; 3) it can be altered to your whim.

Put a cup of chopped onion and a sliced bulb of fennel into a soup pot with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until veggies are wilted and maybe beginning to brown slightly. If you like garlic, stir in a couple of cloves, minced, now. Add a 15oz can of chopped tomatoes and their juices and two bottles of clam juice + 2 clam juice bottles of water. Or a bottle of clam juice and a fish bouillon cube (Knorr makes these) + water. Or, if you want to go vegetarian, about 4 cups of your favorite veggie stock/bouillon. If you have leftover tomato paste/Thai red curry paste etc., add about a tablespoon of that here, but if you don't have it, no worries. (I scraped out the last of a jar of Maesri chilli paste with basil leaves.) Squeeze in a bit of Sriracha, turn the heat up, and bring the soup to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for at least 30 minutes so the flavors meld.

Meanwhile, prepare your seafood: shell and devein shrimp; check your crabmeat for shells; cut your fish into thumb-sized pieces. Taste the soup - if it seems flavorful enough, add your seafood. Turn up the heat and cook until the fish or shrimp just turn opaque. (Crabmeat only needs warming.) If you're going the vegetarian route, small cubes of extra-firm tofu would not be out of place here, but you could also add more vegetables, like corn, okra, or greens. Taste the soup again and fine-tune the flavors with salt and pepper, more Sriracha, a bit of lemon juice, a dribble of agave syrup or honey.

Serve soup with crusty bread. Yum.

Posted on

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lamb unKebabs

My favorite flavor palettes come from China and Thailand and I find myself using them pretty frequently in my weekend dinner-making. Despite the vibrancy of seasonings like Sriracha, star anise, and Thai basil, eating similar flavors over and over can get, well, boring. So one recent weekend, I mixed things up a bit and prepared a meal with origins in the Mediterranean. And I don't mean Italy or Greece - Turkey's there too, along with Egypt and Syria, Albania, and Bosnia.

Lamb is a popular protein in that part of the world, and it is often flavored with what we might otherwise consider "sweet" spices. You know, the seasonings most familiar to us in pumpkin pie - cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Combined with cumin and paprika, these sweet spices both camouflage and accentuate the characteristic "gamy" flavor of lamb.

These rather sausage-like lamb patties, borrowed heavily from a kebab recipe found in chef Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume: Cuisine of the Eastern Mediterranean, would be perfect skewered and cooked on the grill, but they were also quite tasty when pan-fried and served with a sprightly salad of tomato, feta, and olives.

Lamb unKebabs (adapted from Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume)

1.5 lbs ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
pomegranate molasses (optional)

Mix all ingredients except molasses thoroughly. Form into eight small patties. Refrigerate on a covered plate for at least one hour and up to overnight to allow flavors to meld.

Cook patties in a bit of olive oil in a hot pan until browned on both sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Serve with tomato salad and a drizzle of the pomegranate molasses.

Tomato Salad

2 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and cut into large dice
1/4 cup chopped black and green olives
1 tablespoon minced chives
splash balsamic vinegar
splash lemon juice
splash agave syrup or honey
pinch salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cubed feta cheese

Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl. Allow to rest at room temperature for at least half an hour so flavors can meld. Add cheese when ready to serve.

Posted on

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spicy Buckwheat Noodles With Leftover Fried Chicken

For weeks, the Minx has been strongly suggesting that I make some recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop's recent cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. A quick scan of the book made me realize why she was so insistent. The recipes not only look delicious, but they are relatively simple and use ingredients we normally keep around the kitchen. Trouble was, we'd been eating out quite a bit lately and, on the few nights when I would cook at home, there was little time to prepare anything but a fast meal.

Then our schedule settled down and I actually had a day when I could truly ponder a proper dinner. However, we didn't have a whole lot to work with in the fridge. There were three pieces of leftover fried chicken that we picked up at the supermarket a couple days earlier, a random jalapeño pepper, and the usual assortment of vegetables. I decided to flip through the book to see if there was anything I could adapt to cold leftover chicken. When I saw the recipe for spicy buckwheat noodles, I knew I was on the right track. Since I'm a hardcore noodle guy, we always have a wide array of pasta and noodles in the pantry.

Aside from the chicken and buckwheat noodles, the rest of the recipe included seasoning elements which we always keep around. I still had to make some adjustments, though. It turned out I didn't have as much of the buckwheat noodles as I had thought, so I tossed in some leftover linguine (it made a nice black-and-tan effect in the bowl). Also, we were out of chili oil, so I replaced it with sriracha. The recipe calls for shredding the chicken and tossing it in with the noodles, but since I had fried chicken, I couldn't just throw away the crispy skin. I chopped up the now slightly flabby skin into pieces and fried them in a frying pan for about 5 minutes until they were super crispy bits. It made for a pleasant crunchy contrast to the slippery noodles.

Spicy Buckwheat Noodles With Leftover Fried Chicken (adapted from Every Grain of Rice)

3-4 leftover fried chicken legs and/or thighs
5½ ounces dried buckwheat soba noodles
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 clove finely chopped garlic
1 finely chopped jalapeño
1 tablespoon sliced spring onion

Put a pot of water on the stove for boiling the noodles. While you are waiting for the water to boil, break down your fried chicken. Remove the skin (with crispy coating intact), chop it into smallish pieces and put it into a hot pan with about half the cooking oil and fry for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. When the skin is nicely crispy, move to a plate with a paper towel on it. Also while you are waiting, mix together the soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar, sugar, sriracha, and garlic in a bowl. Then chop your spring onion and jalapeño and set aside.

When the water is boiling, add a tablespoon or so of salt to the water and put in your buckwheat noodles. The noodles should cook in about two minutes. Drain the water, but leave the noodles in the pot. Put the pot over a medium high heat and add the rest of the cooking oil. Toss in the sauce mixture and the jalapeño. Combine thoroughly, and then add the shredded chicken. When everything is warmed through, place in serving bowls. Sprinkle the spring onion and fried chicken skin on top for garnish.

Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on how hungry everyone is.

Posted on

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Jerked Around

Normally, I'm not a big fan of jerks. Humans, obviously, but also chicken. I really don't enjoy the flavor of dried thyme when used in quantities larger than a pinch, and while I do like hot food, I also like to have the ability to feel my palate, lips, and tongue after eating.

In the naiveté of youth, I tended to give jerks a chance. This often resulted in disappointment - by an imbalance of seasoning or, well, just plain imbalance. Recently, however, I have found that I can have a meaningful relationship with jerks, but only those that spent the majority of their lives flapping their useless forelimbs and shitting copiously. For some, that description may well include the random ex-boyfriend, but for me, it refers to chickens that have been marinated in a mixture of herbs and spices (most notably thyme, allspice, and scotch bonnet chiles) before being grilled.

My friend Raine recently came back from a cruise to the islands and presented me with a souvenir jar of jerk spices. I gave it a taste, right out of the container, and was pleased by the balance of seasonings and heat. I had some cornish game hens in the freezer and thought I'd cheat a bit. Rather than marinating the suckers, I rubbed them with garlic butter and coated them with a goodly amount of my newly acquired seasoning. And while that particular day would have been perfect for grilling, I popped the birds into the oven, instead. The results were succulent, spicy, and just a little bit hot.

Jerky Hens

2 tablespoons butter, softened
4 cloves garlic, crushed (I used 2 cloves of regular and 2 cloves of black garlic, just because)
2 1¼ - 1½ lb cornish game hens
2 generous tablespoons jerk seasoning (if you want to make your own, here's a recipe)

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Mash the garlic and butter together until well-blended.

Using your fingers, loosen the skin on the hens' breasts to make pockets; be careful not to tear the skin. Place blobs of butter under the skin (also using your fingers) and rub the rest of the butter on the skin all over the hens. Coat each hen with about a tablespoon of jerk seasoning.

Place hens, breast side up, in a roasting pan lined with foil and roast for 25 minutes at 450°F. Turn heat down to 350°F and roast for 25-30 minutes more, until a thermometer inserted into the meatiest part of the bird registers 165°F.

Remove birds from roasting pan and allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Using a sharp chef's knife, cut the chickens in half and serve one half per person.

Serves 4

Posted on

Monday, May 06, 2013

Sweet Potato Hummus

I am a horrible, mean-spirited, and cruel person. But you knew that already.

My husband hates strongly dislikes sweet potatoes. And after eating the hoppin' john I made for good luck in the new year, he's decided that he hates is not fond of black-eyed peas, either. Mostly their funky rotted vegetable smell. Meanwhile, I love both, farty fragrance and all, and decided to make hummus with them.

If hubby didn't like it - more for me! Bwahahahahaha!

Hummus makes a terrific snack or lunch, with some carrot sticks or pita or even tortilla chips. It's pretty filling, and if its not made with a ton of oil, relatively lean. And when the nutritional power of a sweet potato is added, hummus is good for you, too. 200g of sweet potato offers 65% of the RDA of Vitamin C, and 769% of Vitamin A. The tortilla chips, not so much. But tasty! Especially the Toasted Sweet Potato ones (Bachman brand) we bought recently, which were a perfect pairing, emphasizing the sweet potato flavor.

Even Mr Minx had to admit that the combination of sweet potato and black-eyed peas was pretty darn good, although it was hard for him to come right out and say it. Especially since his mouth was full of hummus.

Sweet Potato Hummus

1 medium sweet potato (about 1.5 cups cooked pulp)
1 15-oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 large clove regular garlic or 5 cloves black garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice (+ more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt + more to taste
extra virgin olive oil

Poke holes all over the sweet potato with a fork. Put potato on a microwave-safe plate and nuke for 8-10 minutes, until tender. Allow to cool, then remove skin.

Put the black-eyed peas in a food processor with the tahini, garlic, brown sugar, lemon juice, spices, salt, and about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pulse until the mixture forms a relatively smooth puree. Add the sweet potato and pulse into a smooth puree, thinning with a bit of water if it seems too thick. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice and/or salt, if needed.

Serve in a bowl, top with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Posted on

Friday, May 03, 2013

Red-braised Chicken

I recently obtained a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's latest Chinese cookbook, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. Honestly, the recipes are quite simple, only partly because we have most of the more exotic ingredients on hand already (chinkiang vinegar and shaoxing cooking wine, for example). Flipping through the book, I found several recipes I want to make, including a couple of cold chicken dishes that would be perfect for a summer supper, especially if there's leftover rotisserie chicken in the fridge. Dunlop also includes a recipe for red-braised pork, which is also in her Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. I remember it being quite tasty and while contemplating making it again for a weekend dinner, I thought, why not use chicken, instead? There are a plethora of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the freezer, and that seems like the perfect meat for red-braising.

I've eaten red-braised beef, and made red-braised pork more than once. Red-braising is a Chinese cooking technique that involves stewing meat in a mixture of soy sauce and spices like cinnamon and star anise. The resulting dish is subtly flavored, and more of a brownish--rather than reddish--hue. Chicken proved to be an even more subtly-flavored protein, so I upped the amount of soy sauce and star anise from Dunlop's recipe. The chicken cooks gently at a low temperature for a fairly short amount of time, leaving it very tender. I served it simply over steamed jasmine rice with sides of piquant smashed radishes (also in Dunlop's new book) and some asparagus that I roasted with garlic. Delicious.

Red-braised Chicken (adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe for red-braised pork)

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 scallions, white part only
1 thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 4 slices
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thick slices from end to end
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons shaoxing cooking wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 whole star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
salt to taste
chopped scallion for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepot (I used a 3-quart lidded pot). Add the scallions and the ginger slices and stir fry for a few moments. Add the chicken pieces and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (it's ok if they get a little brown in spots, but we're not looking for browning here). Dump in the stock, wine, soy, star anise, and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium. You want the liquid to be lightly simmering, but not at a full boil. Cook for about forty minutes, stirring occasionally, and skimming and discarding any foam off the top. After the cooking time has elapsed, test a piece for doneness. The meat should be supple and tender; if it's still a little tough, cook for an additional 10 minutes or so, but don't cook it so long that the meat starts to fall apart.

If the meat seems a little bland, add a bit of salt. Serve with rice, garnished with scallions. The stock is delicious, so use it as a sauce to moisten the rice, or eat it as a soup.

Marinated Radishes (adapted from Every Grain of Rice)

10 radishes, cleaned and ends trimmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Smash the radishes with the side of a cleaver or a heavy chef's knife. You just want to make them splay out a bit, not break them into pieces. Put them in a bowl and toss with the salt. Allow them to sit in the salt for about half an hour, then drain the liquid that has collected in the bowl, rinse the radishes under cold water, then drain them well again. Mix the soy, sambal, sugar, and sesame oil together in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour over drained radishes and stir to combine.

Posted on

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Birroteca Revisited

A few months back, the Minx and I visited Birroteca for the first time with a friend of ours who happened to be a vegetarian. Although I'm sure she wouldn't have minded if we had ordered meat dishes, we decided to order mostly vegetarian selections so we could share them equally. On the second visit, we chose to assess some of their more carnivorous offerings since we were going with the Minx's meat-loving brother.

We started with the calamari alla plancha, which we ordered on our last visit. Minxbro is a serious fan of calamari, and this has to be the best in town. It's like the best pasta you've ever eaten, embedded with squid flavor. Next came the meatballs with house-made ricotta and tomato gravy. Traditional meatballs tend to be extremely soft, but these offered some resistance to the fork as I sliced through them. They reminded me of my own meatballs when I make them with just ground beef, so the firmer texture was just fine with me. Teamed with a big blob of ricotta, the meatballs were quite comforting.

In the serve-the-dishes-as-they-are-made tradition of Birroteca, our two vegetable courses came next. The pea tendrils (basically the green bits that the peas grow on) were tender and fresh. Served with bacon jam and well-cooked pearl onions, the greens took on a sweet porky goodness. We also ordered brussel sprouts which were roasted to a fair-thee-well. Matched with a slightly gamey tasting coppa ham and a black garlic aioli, the already tasty sprouts were elevated with a delicious richness.

While all of this was quite wonderful, I wanted to experience some meat action, so we ordered that evening's family style special called Sicilian steak. The menu states that the dish serves two or more and they ain't kiddin'. What had to be about a pound of medium rare skirt steak was complimented by ravioli, roasted cherry tomatoes, and asparagus bathing in a basil tomato sauce. The steak was perfectly cooked, and the ravioli, filled with tomato, were toothsomely al dente. The serving was so large that, in spite of our best efforts, we still ended up taking some home.

Of course, part of the reason we didn't fill up on steak and ravioli was because we also ordered the Duck Duck Goose pizza. Fig jam serves as the sauce, fontina and asiago cheese are layered on top of the sauce, and duck confit is sprinkled over the cheese. To top it all off, a duck egg is cooked sunny-side-up in the center. The Minx and Minxbro enjoyed the pizza thoroughly but, while I liked the duck confit and the added luciousness of the duck egg, the fig jam was far too sweet and turned what I had hoped to be a savory dish into something closer to dessert.

The pizzas are the only items I've been disappointed with at Birroteca, but that has more to do with my prejudices about pizza than with the quality of the food. My concept of great pizza is the New York style pepperoni pizzas I got from the corner pizza parlor when I was a kid. The Neopolitan style pizzas served in many restaurants now just don't give me the same soulful satisfaction. The crust is too crisp and I find that, while the toppings may be exotic, they are often too skimpily applied to overcome the quantity of crust. The result is, I'm tasting way too much dry flavorless crust and not enough toppings. I'm probably in the minority with this opinion, however, since I saw lots of happy pizza eaters at Birroteca.

Birroteca has so much to offer and the menu changes so frequently, we look forward to going back again and again. I can't wait to try some of their other pasta dishes and the salumi.

1520 Clipper Rd
Baltimore, MD 21211
(443) 708-1934

Birroteca on Urbanspoon

Posted on