Monday, December 22, 2014

Bourbon Salted Caramels

I started making caramels around the holidays a couple years back, just on a whim. It seemed easy, and the homemade caramel I'd eaten was delicious, so I knew the payoff would be worth the effort. And it is.

Patience isn't my strong suit, and it does take a little while for the caramel to reach the perfect temperature. Like 45 minutes. The sugar mixture hits 220°F pretty quickly, but it takes f  o  r  e  v  e  r for it to get another 20 degrees hotter. I usually try to find something else to do in the kitchen to pass the time, like work on dinner. It's not a good idea to leave the room while sugar is cooking, because sometimes it rises up while boiling, and hot sugar spilling all over the stove top would be bad news. I have found that caramels made with sweetened condensed milk, rather than heavy cream, are a bit less likely to boil over, but I still watch that pot like a hawk.

These caramels have a rich, dark, flavor, because of the brown sugar. You can use white sugar instead, if you want, for a lighter flavor. And I suppose, if you don't like bourbon, you can use another type of liquor. Rum might be nice, for example, or Kahlua.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Salted Caramels

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sea salt

Cut a length of parchment to fit the bottom of an 8" square metal baking pan, with about 6" overhang on each side. Set aside.

Put both sugars, corn syrup, and water in a 2 quart saucepan. Turn heat to medium and stir sugars to combine. Cook until bubbly, 3-4 minutes. Add the can of sweetened condensed milk and the butter, and stir until the butter is melted. Clip a candy thermometer to the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer is in the syrup, but not touching the bottom of the pan.

Close, but no cigar. 
Continue to cook syrup over medium heat until thermometer reaches 240°F. It's likely the temperature will jump to 220° pretty quickly, then take half an hour or so to get the rest of the way to 240°.

Once the syrup has reached temperature, remove from the heat, remove the thermometer, and quickly stir in the bourbon and salt.

After pouring into pan. The stuff sets up pretty quickly, but should be completely cool before cutting.
Pour into prepared pan, sprinkle with sea salt, and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Wrap each in waxed paper and store in a zip top bag in the fridge (they'll stay fresher that way). Allow to come to room temperature before eating.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Cherry Almond Biscotti

It's become a holiday tradition to get together with my brother to bake cookies. We tend to stick to the basics: chocolate chips and snickerdoodles. And while those are both delicious, I like a bit more variety. Sometimes I insist on making oatmeal cookies, and every once in a while I like to bake biscotti.

Because biscotti need a double baking to attain that special crispness that is so perfect when dunked in a cup of hot coffee or tea, they seem like they are extra work. But they're really not. The dough first bakes in large loaves; that's where they do their rising. Once those loaves are sliced up, you can crowd baking sheets with as many cookies as will fit, as they won't get any bigger. The second baking is merely to dry them out and make them crisp. But while they only require two trips in the oven, each baking takes a bit of time and there are two oven temperatures, so don't bake these at the same time you are attempting to make chocolate chippers.

This recipe makes 40 or so cookies, depending on how anal-retentive you are with cutting them to exactly 1/3" inch wide.

Cherry Almond Biscotti (adapted from

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, sugar, oats, baking powder and soda, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle. Blend for a few seconds to combine. Add the eggs, oil, vanilla, and two tablespoons of heavy cream and mix on medium speed until dough comes together. If the dough still seems dry, add the other tablespoon of cream. Fold in the cherries and almonds.

Using floured hands, shape the dough into two logs, about 16" long. Place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet about 5" apart. Flatten each log to about 2" wide. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the sheet, and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven to 250°F. Line a second baking sheet with parchment. Slice the logs into 1/3" thick slices. Arrange them, cut side down, on the two baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the sheets and bake an additional 20 minutes, until cookies are crisp. Allow to cool completely on wire racks. Store in airtight containers at room temperature.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lasagna with Celery Root and Mushrooms

While flipping through the November issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, I was struck by the recipe for celery root and mushroom bread pudding. I love savory bread pudding but don't make it very often because it seems a lot of work for what is essentially a side dish. But I thought the combination of mushrooms and celery root could be interesting in a main dish like lasagna.

I love love love the idea of using a celery root puree as a substitute for béchamel. I love love love celery root, period, which is odd, since I'm not a big fan of regular celery. A rich root vegetable puree + mushrooms seems so fallcozy, but maybe too rich, so I added some chard and leeks, just so there was a green vegetable present. I found spinach lasagna noodles to add even more green. The end result was very rustic and pretty darn tasty. But highly non-photogenic. :(

It might seem like this dish has lots of steps, but no more so than regular lasagna (assuming you don't just use sauce from a jar!) I like to make something like this on a weekend and spread out the various tasks during the day. When dinnertime comes, I just pop the pan into the oven and wait for the delicious smells to come wafting out.

Fall Lasagna

1 celery root
2 cups light cream
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cayenne
1 lb mushrooms (I used cremini and oyster)
Olive oil
1 medium leek
1 bunch rainbow or Swiss chard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese or Italian cheese blend
Salt and pepper

Peel the celery root and cut into medium dice. Place it and the cream into a 2 quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until celery root is tender. Season with nutmeg, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature, then puree in a blender. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Clean, slice, and finely chop the mushrooms. Saute in a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt until they have released all of their liquid and have begun to brown, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Slice the leek in half lengthwise and cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Rinse well in cold water to remove any grit.

Wash chard very well to remove any grit. Cut off the stems and chop finely. Remove the center rib and slice leaves into thin ribbons.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the leek and the chard stems. Cook until the stems are tender, 8-10 minutes. Add the greens and the garlic and stir to combine. Cover the pan and cook, stirring regularly, until greens are completely wilted, 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Place leek and chard mixture in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble lasagna: Spoon some of the celery root puree onto the bottom of an 8" or 9" square baking dish. Cover with lasagna noodles. Spread another layer of celery root puree onto the noodles. Top puree with 1/3 of the chard and 1/3 of the mushrooms. Add another layer of sauce, more noodles, and more sauce. Repeat chard/mushroom and sauce/noodle/sauce layers, until all of the chard and mushrooms are used up. Finish with a sauce/noodle/sauce layer. Cover pan with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake.

To bake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place covered baking dish into the oven and heat for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and test doneness of noodles by poking a sharp knife into the center. If there's still some resistance, put the pan back into the oven for another 10 minutes or so. If the knife slides through easily, remove the foil and sprinkle on the 1/2 cup of cheese. Return to oven and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese and top layer of sauce browns.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Serves 4.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Ware House 518

The large townhouse at 518 North Charles Street was once Louie's Bookstore Café, a popular haunt for the artsy and literary set (and us). Then it became Ixia, then Creme, and now Ware House 518. It's still owned by Creme's Ezra Tilaye, who has given the space a bit of a renovation, and hired a new chef, Christopher Vocci, formerly of the late Oyster Bay Grille in Towson.

Ware House's fare is Southern-inspired, with lots of references to New Orleans cuisine. There's also a good dose of Maryland favorites like rockfish and crab cakes.

We were invited to a private media dinner (as in just the two of us) to sample both chef Vocci's food and Bar Manager Pat Raley's libations. I started with the Hulu Hideaway, a combo of honey rum, bitters, and champagne made aromatic with a generous curl of lime peel.

Mr Minx had the Pink Boots, a dry campari, vodka, and sparkling wine combo that was indeed pink.

For starters, he had the fried oysters: three mammoth molluscs, lightly breaded and fried until they were crisp on the outside yet still moist on the inside. They were served with a bit of slaw and house-made cocktail and remoulade sauces.

I went for the cider-braised pork belly, served with caramelized apples, a spicy "autumnal vegetable mash," apple cider jus, and crispy onions. The pork belly had all the right things going on: moist meat, a bit of luscious fat, and a crispy crust. Everything on the plate screamed "Fall," even if the weather outdoors felt more like full-on winter.

The mister chose the Dr Pepper-glazed Berkshire pork chop for his entree. The chop was fat and juicy, still a bit pink inside, and coated with a lightly sweet glaze. The accompanying mashed potatoes were lumpy and homey, and the braised greens were tender and tasty.

I went for the shrimp and grits. The shrimp and the tomato cream were swell, but the real star of the dish was the grits, which were fortified with goat cheese. They were addictively decadent and worth every calorie.

Ezra brought out a couple of desserts for us to try, a decent yellow cake that was topped with a sprinkle of coconut, and an inventive chocolate pretzel bread pudding served with salted caramel sauce and a dollop of Bailey's-infused whipped cream. Pretzel bread is a bit sturdier than challah or other breads typically used in bread pudding, so chef Vocci's version was firmer and less-custardy than what we were used to. Still, quite tasty, especially the whipped cream.

We were happy to have tried Ware House 518, a restaurant we might have otherwise overlooked as we find ourselves in Mount Vernon more and more seldom. We appreciate the quality ingredients, locally-sourced when possible, and the Southern flair. I'm curious to try the gumbo (one of my all-time favorite dishes), and the burger (topped with bacon jam and pimento cheese) sounds like it could be outrageously good. Oh, and the braised brisket with red-eye gravy. Pulled brisket sliders with crispy onions, slaw, and sriracha mayo, too....

Ware House 518 on Urbanspoon

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Crab Country Gourmet

It's always tough to come up with the perfect holiday gift. Some folks are easy to buy for, some others are impossible. But I have found that even the most difficult people like food gifts. Everyone needs to eat! And one of the best food gifts a Marylander can give is...the gift of crab. Especially to friends from out-of-town.

Crab Country Gourmet, owned by Tom and John Knorr, will ship crab cakes, crab dip, and crab soup, all made fresh daily in Maryland, to anywhere in the contiguous 48 states. They recently shipped a box of all of the above to us to sample.

Our "dinner for 2" package, which included 2-5oz crab cakes, 10 ounces of crab dip, and 16 ounces of crab soup, arrived packed in dry ice, along with small containers of remoulade sauce and reheating instructions.

Half the crab dip, a classic creamy concoction of cheeses, crab, and seasonings, was scooped into an oven-proof ramekin and topped with a little bit of shredded cheddar before going into the oven. Pita chips were employed as the ramekin-to-mouth vehicle, and when we ran out of those, we used a spoon. Yummy stuff. It was pretty good cold, too, straight out of the package.

We used the remainder of the dip the next day, mixed with some shell pasta, to make a rich crab mac-and-cheese.

Crab Country Gourmet's tasty crab soup is a lighter version than what we're used to, with a mix of still-crisp vegetables and bacon in a tomato-based broth.

The crab cakes were baked for 10 minutes at 450°F, then put under the broiler for another minute, to get them nice and brown on top. The plump 5oz mounds were mostly meat, lightly seasoned, and with very little filler. We found them to be proper crab cakes, moist, yet firm, and full of crabby flavor. These are the same crab cakes you'll find served at the Red Roost in Whitehaven, MD, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

The Knorr brothers also own Evolution Craft Brewery in Salisbury, and two other restaurants. They should offer a beer-delivery service, too, to wash down all this crabby goodness. ;)

If you'd like to send Crab Country Gourmet products to your kith and kin this holiday season, just head on over to their Web site: Use promo code bmore10 to get 10% off your order.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chinese Cassoulet?

A while back, we tasted a seafood cassoulet made by B&O American Brasserie's new chef, Mike Ransom. While it had multiple proteins and white beans, I suggested that it could do with a bit of sausage, perhaps Spanish chorizo. Of course Spanish chorizo wouldn't be typically used in cassoulet, which is a French dish, but I am no traditionalist. (Neither is the chef, it seems.) That got me to thinking about what other sausages would work with beans. As I was nibbling on leftover dim sum, Chinese sausages came to mind. Cold weather was afoot; why not warm up the house with a cassoulet-style dish of duck and beans and...Chinese sausage?

I've decided that it's a fine idea to keep a package of duck legs in the freezer. We get them at Great Wall, a Chinese grocery store in Catonsville, but you can pick them up at most Asian grocers or a fancy supermarket. They're not cheap, but they take up far less room in the freezer than a whole duck, with the added benefit that they thaw more quickly and are less hassle to roast. Roasting duck really makes the house smell great. Great, that is, to a carnivore. Not sure how vegetarians would feel about the fatty aromas that emanated from my oven not too long ago, but I was a happy camper.

I had originally wanted to try the type of Chinese sausage we normally buy, the long, slender, and wrinkled type that are cured, dried, and lightly smoked, but we were out. Mr Minx popped over to Asia Foods on York Road but could only find stubby, fat, uncured sausages. Fortunately, they turned out to be absolutely perfect for this dish.

While the duck got a head start on roasting, I opened up a couple cans of cannelini beans and added a bit of flavoring. I didn't want to overdo it, so started with equal parts doubanjian (a spicy Chinese bean paste), soy sauce, and black vinegar. If you've never used black vinegar, you're missing out on some amazing caramelized goodness. One tablespoon of each was perfect - the beans were spicy, salty, and tangy, with that lovely molasses-y flavor of the black vinegar. Then I added a bit of sugar to round everything out. Mixed with sauteed onions and scallions, the beans, studded with chunks of Chinese pork sausage, made a tasty bed for the duck legs as they finished roasting to a brown crispness.

Cassoulet with Asian Flavors

2 duck legs
1/2 cup duck or bacon fat
Kosher salt
1/2 pound Chinese pork sausages, preferably xiang chang--small, fat, uncured sausages
1 medium onion, chopped
6 scallions, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
2-15 1/2 ounce cans of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 tablespoons doubanjian
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
Pinch sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Pour the duck or bacon fat into the bottom of an 8" or 9" baking pan. Put the legs on top, rolling them around in the fat to get them coated. Sprinkle with salt, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan. Pour out a tablespoon of fat and reserve; prick the duck skin all over with the point of a knife to help render out more fat. Add the Chinese sausages to the pan. Turn oven temperature up to 350° and put duck and sausages into the oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes.

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion and scallions in the reserved tablespoon of duck fat. When they are translucent, stir in the garlic. Add the stock, beans, doubanjian, soy, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat.

After the duck has been in the oven for the additional 15 minutes, remove sausages and duck from the pan. Pour out the fat and discard (or, reserve for a later use). Cut sausages into thick diagonal slices and stir into the bean mixture. Pour the bean mixture into the pan, then top with the duck legs. Put pan back into the oven and cook for an additional 45 minutes or so. The duck will get crispy and brown, as will the exposed areas of beans. If you want a saucier cassoulet, you can add more chicken stock. Personally, I like the beans on the dry side.

Serve 1 leg per person, with some of the beans. Garnish with cilantro.

Serves 2, with extra beans for lunch.

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Monday, December 08, 2014

The Restaurants at Horseshoe Casino

In August, Maryland's newest casino opened a bit south of the Ravens' ballpark, bringing several new dining establishments to an area not exactly teeming with good places to eat. The Horseshoe Baltimore, on Russell Street, offers the usual iniquitous pursuits--slots, poker, craps--but even if you're not a gambler, you may want to stop in for the food.

Several of the Horseshoe's restaurants have local roots. In the Baltimore Marketplace area of the casino you'll find Heavy Seas Burgers, Tark’s at the ‘Shoe, Lenny’s Deli, The Mallow Bar, and Piezzetta (a Mama Ilardo's concept). Upstairs, Ruby 8 Noodles and Sushi features flavors from China, Vietnam, and Korea. There are also three larger restaurants, Johnny Sanchez, Guy's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar, and Jack Binion's Steak. I was able to sample items from these three during a media tasting last month.

We started at Johnny Sanchez, a joint effort by chefs and old friends John Besh and Aaron Sanchez. Besh is a James Beard Award winner and owner of several New Orleans restaurants including August and Luke. Sanchez, son of famed Mexican food authority Zarela Martinez, is probably best-known for his appearances on various Food Network shows, like Chopped and Chefs vs City (he battled Gypsy Queen food truck owners Annmarie Langton and Tom Looney in one episode); he's also a restaurateur. Together, they've combined names--but not cooking styles--in a restaurant concept that borrows heavily from Sanchez' Mexican heritage.

Because we were going to eat at two more restaurants, we started light at Johnny Sanchez. Or, that was the idea. Platters of tacos and tostadas, along with helpings of freshly fried tortilla chips, salsas, and two huge bowls of guacamole, were offered for our delectation. Drinks, too, as we were encouraged to sample items from the restaurants neat list of margaritas, tequilas, beers, and wines. I chose the roasted jalapeno margarita and enjoyed the smooth combination of tequila and lime juice, accented with a hint of jalapeno heat.

We tried four each of the tacos and tostadas. The tacos, above, made with tender corn tortillas made in-house, were filled with carne asada, chicken, fried red snapper, and fried shrimp, each with its own accompaniments and a wedge of lime for an added pop of acid. The tostadas were topped with roast pumpkin, lobster ceviche with mango, raw tuna and caviar, and blue crab. My favorite of the lot were the surprising pumpkin tostadas, which were lightly sweet and flavored with pumpkin seed pesto, pomegranate, and grilled queso fresco.

More images of our meal at Johnny Sanchez can be found in the slide show.

Our next stop was at Guy's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar. To be honest, I am no fan of Mr Fieri and his personal brand of excess. I am still not, but I must admit that I did enjoy a couple of things at his casino restaurant.

I definitely was enamored of my cocktail, the "Lemon Drop...Not," a fresh and lightly herbal concoction of Ketel One Citroen vodka, St-Germain, fresh rosemary, fresh lemon sour, and rock candy syrup. (I even took it with me to the next restaurant on the list because I didn't want to give up a drop of it. One of the benefits of drinking at a casino--potables are portable.) My generous dining companions also let me have sips of their drinks, and I can tell you that the Austin Sweet Tea, Rattlesnake, and Crazy Hagar are all worth ordering.

We also sampled some food, including the won ton tacos, onion rings, a selection of wings, and the "B-More fries," an obscene pile of waffle-cut potatoes topped with crab dip and sprinkles of Old Bay and scallions. My favorites were the wings, which had cleverly been converted into lollipops, so fingers stay (mostly) tidy. The tuna filling in the "won-tacos" was generous, as was the amount and size of the onion rings. (Their sweetness comes from Frosted Flakes in the breading.) You definitely get a lot of food at Guy's; you might want to bring a friend or two to help you eat all of it.

More images of our meal at Guy's Baltimore Kitchen & Bar can be found in the slide show.

Our final stop on the tour was Jack Binion's Steak. The casino's signature restaurant, Binion's is named after the son of casino magnate and original Las Vegas Horseshoe owner, Benny Binion. More elegant and low-key than either of the other two restaurants we visited, Binion's offers traditional steakhouse fare to high-rollers and newly-minted paupers alike.

First there were the sizzling oysters, the bivalves coated with a garlic and herb butter before being dropped back into their shells, which had just emerged from a 1800° radiant broiler. Then came the enormous 40-oz Porterhouse "for 2," garnished with a large marrow bone topped with caramelized onions, the roasted cauliflower and spinach "carbonara" sides, and a couple of crab cake appetizers. Not just a crab cake, the servings also sport an entire blue crab, marinated crab claws, and a little pile of crab cocktail. There's lots of meat and very little filler in these babies. But when you come to a steak house, that's exactly what you expect - meat. Jack Binion's delivers on that front.

They also serve Charm City Cakes by the slice. We tried two, the bananas foster and the red velvet. At this point in the evening, I was so full, I couldn't fully appreciate the jumbo servings of cake. They did, however, taste like cake.

More images of our meal at Jack Binion's can be found in the slide show.

I'm definitely not a gambler. I put $10 of my own money into the slot machines, and as soon as I came out $20 ahead, I cashed out. Just not a risk-taker, I suppose. But, I would definitely go back to the casino for more pumpkin tostadas, tacos, and a couple three rounds of drinks. Yes, even drinks at Guy's. Speaking of alcoholic beverages, it seems that the casino's Happier Hours (Monday–Friday from 4–7 p.m.) is the perfect time to make a return visit, what with 2-for-1 drinks and half-priced appetizers at all of the casino's bars and restaurants. (There's also $10 blackjack until 10 p.m. and free self-parking in their garage all day.) Jack Binion's is also offering a swell-sounding Jazz Brunch for the holidays that just might tempt me back downtown early on a Sunday (but I'm more likely to hit that Happier Hour).

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Lamb Tagine Chili

Yet another football-filled Sunday rolled around posing yet another dinner dilemma. Should I make something that cooks up quickly, or something that can stew on the stove for a bit while the game is on? On days when the Ravens lose, I am often too dispirited to put a tasty meal together, so it's best that I get dinner started well in advance. Chili is usually my go-to long-simmered meal, but honestly, I am so tired of it. I've made green chilis and red chilis, chilis with turkey, chicken, beef, and lamb. With cubed meat and with ground meat. Just about the only thing I haven't tried making chili with is tofu, and as much as I like the stuff, I don't think I could make it work.

Forget tofu. I went with lamb.

Rather than use a typical chili flavor profile, I switched things up and added things that one might fine in a Moroccan tagine: orange, lemon, olives, cinnamon. But it still has the coriander and cumin flavors of more familiar Tex-Mex chili. Except for the chile powder. If you want it spicy, feel free to add chiles.

Lamb Tagine Chili

2 leeks
Olive oil
2 pounds ground lamb
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Generous pinch cayenne
1/2 cup orange juice
Rind from half a lemon, julienned
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 roasted red peppers, diced
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon honey
1-2 tablespoons of flour
Salt to taste
1½ tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 cup green olives, sliced
Cilantro leaves (optional)
Basmati rice

Cut the leeks in half and slice thinly. Wash thoroughly to get rid of any sand or dirt. Add a bit of olive oil to a large pot or dutch oven and saute the leeks for a few minutes. Add the lamb and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is broken up into smaller chunks and browning in spots, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook an additional five minutes. Add the orange juice, lemon rind, tomatoes, peppers, and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low and simmer for at least an hour, until meat is tender.

Skim fat from broth and bring to a boil. Combine the flour with twice as much warm water (or stock, or sauce from the pot) and stir well to make a runny slurry. Dribble into the chili and stir to combine. Add as much or as little as you need to achieve a consistency you like. Stir in the honey and add salt to taste (at least a couple of teaspoons).

Serve over basmati rice with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, some olives, and cilantro, if you wish.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014


Plantbar, a new venture from Daniela Troia (Zia's Café), has opened in Belvedere Square Market.

"Plantbar is more than a juice bar, it’s a wellness hub,” says Troia. Plantbar will partner with local wellness mentors including nutritionists, health coaches and holistic health counselors, to name a few, and offer wellness workshops and cooking demonstrations. In addition, Plantbar will offer cold-pressed juice cleanse packages.

Plantbar specialties include made-to-order and create your own juices, superfood smoothies, wellness shots, elixirs and acai power bowls. In addition, customers can purchase wellness add-ons such as Gogi powder, sprouted rice protein powder, hemp seeds and bee pollen and more. (See menu below.) The Plant Bar produce stand will provide fresh fruits and vegetables, locally sourced, whenever possible. “We are excited to continue to nourish our community with truly healthy food, said Troia

Plantbar Hours Of Operation are Monday - Thursday 8am - 8pm; Friday & Saturday 8am - 10pm and Sunday 10am – 5pm.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Caramel Apple Cobbler

I love apple pie, but I don't like making pie crusts. There's just not enough counter space in my little kitchen to roll one out properly. Sometimes I use store-bought crusts; they're ok, but not quite good enough. So I was a bit stymied as to what to do when there were too many apples in the crisper.

An apple crisp would be a perfect solution, but I found out recently that Mr Minx really doesn't like crisps. Unbelievable, I know. He made the announcement after I had made a rather large peach crisp, which resulted in my having to eat just about the entire thing myself. (I loved it!) If not a crisp, then what? I didn't think a traditional biscuity-cobbler would work as well with apples as it does with a juicier fruit, but found a couple recipes for cobblers topped with a sweet cookie-type batter. That seemed absolutely perfect.

A combination of brown sugar and Lyle's Golden Syrup (a British product found in some supermarkets) makes a lovely caramel-y sauce for the apples. Chunks of nuts in the batter add a lovely crunch to the topping. The result is delicious when eaten warm with a scoop of ice cream, or cold, straight out of the pan.

Caramel Apple Cobbler

For apples:
6-8 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch ground cardamom

For cookie topping:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 stick of butter (4 oz), melted
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole almonds, crushed roughly
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F.

To make apples: Place apples, brown sugar, flour, and butter in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until butter and sugar melts and starts to bubble. Add the golden syrup and spices. Cook for about five minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a 8" or 9" square baking dish.

To make cookie topping: In a mixing bowl, beat together brown sugar, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients, minus almonds, in a smaller bowl. Add flour mixture to sugar and butter mixture and stir until combined. Stir in almonds. Dollop batter over apples in baking dish.

Place baking dish on a sheet pan to catch drips. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is nicely browned and firm to a light touch.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm with ice cream or chilled without.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

New Winter Menus at Vivo and Grillfire

Grillfire and Vivo, the restaurants at The Hotel at Arundel Preserve, are ringing in the holiday season with new menu offerings. Grillfire is introducing new starters, salads, and a surf and turf dish, and Vivo has added five new wood fired pizzas. I'm all over that buttermilk fried chicken and oysters dish with andouille gravy and creamed spinach and the burrata and pistachio pizza!

Flash Fried Chesapeake Oysters $12
“Rockefeller” with creamy spinach, gouda, caper butter and Pernod

Roasted Beets, Arugula and Goat Cheese $10
Rainbow baby carrots and toasted walnuts with champagne-honey vinaigrette

Add a side salad, Caesar or iceberg wedge, for $6
Baked Brie Chicken $24
Balsamic-cherry glaze, wild rice, grilled asparagus and butter-toasted walnuts

Braised Durham Ranch Bison Short Rib $26
Asparagus and onion “casserole,” charred fingerling potatoes and pan jus

Includes one accompaniment. Add a side salad, Caesar or iceberg wedge, for $6
Ribs and Shrimp $25
Half-rack baby back ribs and chili-glazed jumbo shrimp

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Oysters $24
Andouille gravy and creamed spinach

Seared Ahi Tuna Wrap $17
Tomato-jalapeno salsa, black beans, avocado, baby greens and wasabi mayo

Prosciutto and Arugula $16
San Marzano tomatoes, oregano, basil and fresh mozzarella

Baby Clam Neapolitan $15
Garlic, lemon, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, oregano and parsley

Burrata and Pistachio $15
Garlic, olive oil, Pecorino Romano, sopressata and crispy kale

Il Porco $14
Braised pork, housemade sausage, rapini, Pecorino Romano, provolone and taleggio

The Hotel at Arundel Preserve
7793-A Arundel Mills Blvd.
Hanover MD 21076

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Monday, December 01, 2014

The Boathouse Canton

 (photo: Downtown Diane)
For two decades, the Bay Cafe used to be the place to hang out on the water in Canton. It's gone now, but its replacement, the Boathouse, looks like an even better place to be.

Owners Gene Singleton and Maureen McEnerney put quite a bit of money into renovating the building at Tindeco Wharf; the result is airy and modern, feeling like a place on the water should feel, without being overtly nautical. Al fresco dining on the new outdoor patio is the big draw in warm weather, but the food should be a draw all year long.

Chef Matt Campbell, a Virginia native, works hard to make sure the food he serves is what the customer wants to eat. This being Baltimore, that means plenty of seafood and lots of things that taste good with a tall drink in hand.

We were introduced to the Boathouse's fall menu at a media tasting, and were impressed with the food, the starters especially. We tasted the seared ahi tuna on won ton crisps, and loved the hint of sesame oil in the dressing. We also enjoyed the pimento cheese, a southern specialty that's not seen in these parts too often. Chef Campbell's version is packed into small crocks, baked to an appealing crustiness, and served with crostini and crudite.

Oysters  (photo: Downtown Diane)
The rest of our dinner spread included some very fresh oysters, both local and otherwise...
Chicken Chesapeake  (photo: Downtown Diane)
and interpretations of classic fare like chicken Chesapeake and steak frites.

The chicken Chesapeake included thin slices of prosciutto sandwiched between a moist chicken breast cutlet and a mini crab cake, the whole thing topped with an Old Bay Gruyere cream sauce. The steak dish featured hanger steak cooked to a rosy medium, served with crisp fries.

One of the more popular dishes we sampled, judging from the speed the dish disappeared from the buffet, was the lobster mac and cheese. In addition to nicely sized bites of lobster, the dish contains four cheeses, andouille sausage, plus peas and roasted tomatoes. It's got vegetables, so it's healthy, right?

Lobster Mac & Cheese (photo: Jess Mayhugh)
My favorite dish was the grilled salmon. The salmon itself was fine, but the accompanying pan-seared brussels sprouts with caramelized pearl onions, bacon lardons, and rosemary balsamic butter were So. Good. And, the sprouts are available by themselves, as a side dish. Gimme.

Steak frites, fried cod (the "fish" portion of fish and chips), chicken Chesapeake
We also sampled two desserts, the seasonal fruit crisp, which featured apples (but in the summer contains peaches), and what was billed as a flourless chocolate cake, but was more like a rich classic chocolate cake. Both were pleasant ways to add a sweet finish to our meal.

Flourless chocolate cakelets (photo: Downtown Diane)
Let's not forget the beverages here. We tasted a sangria made with rosé, ruby port, triple sec, and cinnamon spice syrup that was quite nice and a change from the normal. There are also about a dozen beers on draft, with selections from local breweries Union, Heavy Seas, and Brewer's Art, plus bottled selections, wines, and crushes in several flavors. All this, including food to please many palates, seems like a pretty good reason to check out the Boathouse.

The Boathouse on Urbanspoon

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Brunch at Wit and Wisdom

Mr Minx and I were recently invited to try Wit & Wisdom's revamped brunch buffet. Despite our usual lazy weekend mornings that involve eating breakfast in the vicinity of noon, we don't consider ourselves to be brunch people. Our experience at Wit & Wisdom might just change that.

The brunch buffet there is serious. Executive chef Zack Mills' offerings include everything from soup to nuts. (Almost literally--we didn't see any nuts.) There are plenty of familiar breakfast options like scrambled eggs, potatoes, Belgian waffles, buttermilk pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and omelettes. But there are also salads and soups, raw oysters, smoked salmon, poached shrimp, and more substantial items like pulled pork, roasted salmon, and teres major.

Raw oysters with mignonette, tuna tartare, lamb chop, pita, labne
Near the front of the line was a chef's choice table featuring flavors of the Middle East, including some lovely lamb chops that, despite resting under a heat lamp, were perfectly pink and juicy inside and nicely crusty on the outside. There was also hummus and labne with pitas, a spiced rice pilaf, and a pot of ful medames, an Egyptian fava bean stew.

Smoked salmon, shrimp, rice pilaf, scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, bacon, tuna tartare
There's also a section of items for the kids--thoughtfully arranged on lower, child-height tables--with chicken fingers and fries, mac and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Bacon, eggs, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, roasted root vegetables, biscuit with sausage gravy
We had to try a little of everything. Well, almost everything, because two people couldn't do the expansive buffet justice. Everything we tried was quite good and served at the proper temperature. My favorites were the lamb chops (I was so tempted to make a pig of myself and eat two) and the roasted root vegetables.

Rice pudding and assorted Viennoiserie
The dessert table was hard to resist. Pastry chef Dyan Ng's tiny croissants and other sweet morsels are a perfect ending to the meal. Even if you pig out on savories, there's always room for a tiny cream puff or a couple of spoonfuls of rich rice pudding. Or both.

In addition to all of the various eats, Wit & Wisdom's brunch also features a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and bottomless Mimosas. A full array of cocktails crafted by lead bartender Aaron Joseph are also available. (We chose to stick to more traditional breakfast beverages: coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice.)

Wit & Wisdom's brunch is served on Sundays from 9am - 2pm. The cost is $49 for adults and $19 for children 12 and under. Yes, the price is steep, but you probably won't need to eat for the rest of the day....

Wit & Wisdom on Urbanspoon
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