Friday, May 30, 2014

Caesar Salad

When I got home from work one day, I found a small box from an unknown sender waiting for me. Inside was a can of Wild Planet White Anchovies. And then I remembered a Facebook message from a representative of Wild Planet, urging me to enter my tuna casserole recipe in their tuna casserole contest. She then offered to send me some free samples of their brand. I was expecting tuna, maybe a couple cans. But I got one can of anchovies. And they don't even have the anchovies on their Web site, so do they even sell them anymore?  ::::shrugs:::

What does one do with one can of anchovies? Make Caesar salad!

I have never been a fan of anchovies, although I appreciate the wonderful Asian condiment made from the tiny fish. Fish Sauce adds just the right amount of funky umami to foods, including Caesar salad. But this time, I used actual, whole, anchovies.

I admit I was a little afraid to open the can. Would it be full of unpleasantly hairy stink-beasts that aren't worth picking off an old-school pizza? Or would they be more like the boquerones we had on our salad at the Arthouse? Thankfully, they were the latter. The can was full of small whole fish, minus head and tail, packed like, er, sardines. They were in there so tightly, it was difficult to pull out a whole fish without mangling it somewhat. That of course did not affect the flavor at all. They were pleasantly mild, just fishy enough to make the salad taste like a proper Caesar.

We did not use all of the anchovies for our salad--there were far too many in the can. But, mashed with a fork and added to puttanesca sauce later in the week, they were amazing.

Caesar Salad (adapted from The Reluctant Gourmet)

1 large egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
2 medium heads of romaine lettuce -- outer leaves removed
Parmesan cheese
White anchovies

Bring a small pot of water to boil, add the egg and cook for 60 seconds. Remove the egg from the water and run under cold water until cool enough to handle.

In a bowl or a food processor, combine the Worcestershire, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper, and mustard. Gently crack open the egg and add to the rest of the ingredients. Whisk or pulse until smooth.

Slowly dribble the oil in a thin stream while whisking the dressing, or pour through the feed tube of the food processor while processing. The dressing should be emulsified.

Tear the romaine into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing and toss well. The leaves should be coated but the salad shouldn't be drenched or soggy. If it needs more dressing, add it, otherwise refrigerate leftover dressing and use within 2 days.

Toss in the croutons and top with Parmesan cheese shavings and anchovies.

Serves 4.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Korean-style Pork Meatball Tacos

The flavors of Korea and Mexico work well together, disparate though they may be. Cuisines that seem more similar, like Indian and Mexican, which share the use of strong flavors like cumin and cilantro, are almost never combined. Have you ever seen a chicken tikka taco or vindaloo burrito? Why not? But there is a proliferation of bulgogi burritos and tacos garnished with kimchi in the current culinary world. And they work.

I've fallen in love with making my own corn tortillas, so tacos are a common occurrence in our house. Ground pork called out to become meatballs, and because we had a tub of the Korean red pepper and soybean paste called gochujang in the fridge, they fell into the whole Korean-Mexican melting pot. While I also flavored a bit of sour cream with some gochujang, sesame oil, and sugar to make a sauce, the rest of the elements, avocado, cilantro, and roasted corn salsa, were more likely to be found in a traditional taco. And they all worked deliciously together.

Korean-style Pork Meatballs

For meatballs:
1.15 lb ground pork (amount approximate...some packs may weigh slightly more or less)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon gochujang
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil for frying

For glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon gochujang
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

To make meatballs: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Form 30 small meatballs.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. Add meatballs and cook until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel-lined plates. Wipe out frying pan.

To make glaze: Place ketchup, vinegar, soy, sugar, and gochujang in a sauce pot and bring to a boil. Stir to make sure sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in sesame oil.

Place drained meatballs into cleaned pan. Pour over the bbq sauce and stir well to coat. Heat over medium heat until sauce coats the meatballs like a glaze. Sprinkle sesame seeds over and toss to coat.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Red Quinoa Salad

Sometimes I don't know where my mind is. We went out to eat one Saturday, but I completely forgot that the next day, Sunday, even existed. So I certainly didn't have anything planned for dinner. Consequently, we didn't have anything much in the fridge for me to work with.

This is where having a well-stocked pantry comes in handy. I try to have several kinds of grains on hand, plus canned beans, sturdy vegetables like carrots and onions, and copious seasonings. The freezer is usually stocked with sausages of various types, chicken thighs, and frozen vegetables. I was feeling vegan, so opted only to use a box of kale from the freezer, which I combined with some red quinoa to make a salad. There were a couple of cara cara oranges in the fridge, which I had purchased weeks ago on a whim. Although I love oranges, I seldom eat them out of hand, so when I buy them, they tend to languish. I thought a nice orange vinaigrette, punched up with some lemon juice and champagne vinegar, would be a nice dressing for the bland kale and quinoa. I didn't want to waste the lovely pinkish orange flesh of the oranges, so rather than wring the juice out of them, I borrowed some of Mr Minx's orange juice (he likes to drink it with breakfast, while I prefer grapefruit juice).

Our chive plant was growing nicely (the only thing in our garden being productive besides a lone strawberry plant and a pack of ginormous, knee-high, dandelions that have taken over our cherry tomato planter) so I grabbed a handful, including the pretty lavender flowers, to add a bit of extra onion-y savor to the salad.

For something I made up as I went along, it was pretty damn good. I mean, really. It'd be a great dish to take to a party of vegetarians/vegans, and would be fantastic alongside a pork chop.

Red Quinoa Salad with Kale, Carrots, and Orange Vinaigrette

For vegetables:
1 cup onion, diced
Olive oil
Pinch salt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup julienne carrots
1 box frozen chopped kale, thawed and squeezed dry

For quinoa:
1 cup red quinoa
2 cups water
Pinch salt

For dressing:
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Splash champagne vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

To serve:
1 orange, cut into supremes
2 tablespoons snipped chives + whole  chive blossoms

To make vegetables: Cook the onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt over medium heat until translucent. Stir in the garlic and the carrots. Add the kale and stir well to combine. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, until carrots are slightly soft and kale is warmed through.

To make quinoa: Combine quinoa, water, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove quinoa from heat and allow to cool. When cool, transfer to a large bowl.

To make dressing: While quinoa is cooking, combine the orange and lemon juices, olive oil, cayenne, sugar, and vinegar in a bowl and beat vigorously with a fork to combine. Taste for seasoning, add pepper and salt to taste, keeping in mind that the dish will be served at room temperature or cold, so it should be well-seasoned.

To serve: Add vegetables to quinoa in bowl. Pour dressing over and mix well to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Toss in the orange supremes and chives. Eat at room temperature or cold.

Serves 4-6

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce

For the second issue in a row, I found a recipe in Martha Stewart Living that I simply had to make. It seemed pretty easy: toss tiny tomatoes with some oil, vinegar, and seasonings, and roast in a moderate oven for an hour. I planned to make it one Saturday afternoon, but then I got called away

At about 4pm, realizing I wouldn't make it home in time I put the sauce together before our usual early dinnertime, I called Mr Minx. I was at an animal rescue, you see, petting fuzzy puppies, and couldn't drag myself away. I eventually did, and Mr Minx had the sauce in the oven when I got home. All I needed to do was start the pasta.

Super easy. And the taste? Delicious. The tomatoes were soft but not mushy and had an intensified flavor from being in the oven. The olive oil, vinegar, and brown sugar combo was the perfect sauce. And there were leftovers, which were combined with anchovies, capers, and olives to make an equally delicious puttanesca sauce.

Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce (adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put tomatoes and garlic in a glass 9" square baking dish. Combine oil, vinegar, brown sugar, and salt in a bowl and drizzle over tomatoes.

Bake until tomatoes are softened and caramelized, about 1 hour. Toss with your favorite pasta.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Aggio Popup at Artifact Coffee

Bryan Voltaggio, owner of Volt and Family Meal in Frederick, Range in DC, and Aggio, an Italian restaurant within Range, is opening a second outpost of Aggio in Power Plant Live! here in Baltimore sometime early this summer. To introduce the restaurant to locals, Spike Gjerde hosted a two-night Aggio pop-up at Artifact Coffee. We managed to snag a table for the first seating on the first night.

First appearances are important, and Aggio hit all the right notes there with a generous bread plate that included ethereal grissini and heartier foccacia. They were served with two dips, one an intensely salty whipped goat ricotta with lemon and olive oil, and an unusual whipped mortadella. At this point, we were pretty happy campers and looking forward to the rest of the meal.

The first of four courses were equally successful. I chose the chioggia beets. Voltaggio likes to play with textures, and in this dish, the naturally sweet beets were presented in both chunks and paper thin slices. I didn't really taste the charred rosemary component of the dish, but really enjoyed the fishiness of the tonnato sauce (made with tuna) and the bottarga (an Italian salted fish roe). It was an inspired combination.

Chioggia beets, tonnato sauce, charred rosemary, pine nuts, bottarga, arugula
Mr Minx's impeccably fresh raw tuna served with orange was also a nice combination of flavors. And because the house lights dimmed dramatically a little while earlier, Mr Minx wasn't sure what he had on his fork at any given time. He enjoyed the little game of "is it orange, or is it tuna?"

Tuna, pistachio, castelvetrano olive, blood orange sugo, citrus pith, radish
For the second course, Mr Minx chose the asparagus and I had the shrimp and polenta.

Asparagus, fava and pea ragu, wild herbs, smoked pecorino, almond
The asparagus was a big disappointment. While the stalks were nicely cooked and juicy/tender, the only flavor in the dish came from the smoked pecorino. It was perhaps a bit too subtle.

Prawns, polenta from buckwheat and yellow corn, sauce fra diavolo
Also too subtle was the prawn dish, a homely festival of brown. I felt it was bland and uninteresting and lacking the promised heat and flavor of the fra diavolo. Clearly the Washington Post's Tom Sietsema, who gave Aggio three stars, was served a different dish. "The seafood choices include a raft of grilled prawns adrift in a dark orange froth of shellfish stock, tomato paste and red chili flakes. 'Too pretty to eat' comes to mind. Ignore the thought and dive in. Beneath the tender seafood is soothing buckwheat polenta."

On to the pasta course, which was much more successful. We passed on the spinach pasta with crab and buttered popcorn to try the whole wheat lumache with lamb ragu and the spaghetti alla chitarra with meatballs.

Lamb ragu, whole wheat lumache, oak smoked pecorino, mustard leaf pesto
The ragu was rich and delicious, with a hearty lamb-gamy flavor. A perfect dish to cozy up with on a cold winter's night.

Meatballs braised in ragu pomodoro, chittara, basil, parmesan
I am not Italian, so I like my pasta drenched in sauce (IMHO, the reason to eat the pasta in the first place). Voltaggio's spaghetti alla chittara was cooked properly al dente and was coated with a rich tomato sauce. The terrific meatballs were fluffy and soft, and according to Sietsema, are made with a portion of mortadella. In other words, they were full of baloney.... 

Dessert was hit or miss. Mr Minx had the cookie plate, featuring lemony "taralli" and chocolate biscotti. Despite the incorrect nomenclature (taralli are crunchy ring shaped crackers, and these were pillowy soft cakelets, more madeleine than cookie), Mr Minx enjoyed both. The "taralli" were especially tasty.

Cookie plate, Meyer lemon taralli, chocolate almond pistachio biscotti
My pistachio and olive plate tasted of neither. The kumquats were the star, as far as I'm concerned, sweetly bitter and bursting with citrus flavor. I wanted the sorbet to be more tangy, and the soft cake to taste like...something. But Voltaggio's textural contrasts are always fun and almost made up for the lack of pistachio.

Pistachio in olives, olive oil cake, pistachio cream, cara cara orange sorbet, crispy pomegranate, kumquats
We're eager to visit Aggio in its eventual destination downtown, realizing that part of the inconsistency of this meal may have been due to the tiny kitchen space at Artifact. It will be interesting to see how well the restaurant does in Power Plant Live!, which is still the Brokerage in my mind (a lame place, even when it was popular).

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Coconut Macaroon Cake

I'm a huge fan of coconut. I can remember when my Dad used to impulsively buy sweetened coconut flakes and we'd tear it open and eat the stuff straight out of the bag with our hands. (Each of us have always had a huge sweet tooth.) Mounds and Almond Joy were among my favorite candies, and I looooved macaroons. (That's macaroons, with a ROON, not macarons, with a RON, although many pronounce the latter like the former. Wrong, wrong, wrong. They are completely different confections.) Flipping through the April issue of Martha Stewart Living I found a recipe for a coconut cake that combines both cake and macaroon and immediately decided it would be the perfect dessert for Easter dinner.

The only problem? Mr Minx hates the texture of grated coconut. He says it's like eating plastic shavings. He does like the flavor of coconut, however, so he said he'd force himself to eat it if he had to. Now that's a good husband.

The way the recipe read, it seemed like it would be a coconut-flavored cake layer topped with a layer of macaroon. I figured he could just cut off the top and eat the bottom. Alas, the macaroon layer was heavy and sunk down into the batter, which, containing leavening, rose up and around the shredded coconut. So while there were cake-y bits within the cake, the shredded coconut pretty much permeated everything.

He ate it anyway, and I promised that I'd try it again, omitting the macaroon-y bit altogether. The bottom part, flavored with both coconut oil and Coco Lopez, might be an interesting base for a pineapple upside-down cake. Or just fine on it's own.

Here's the cake recipe, from the Martha Stewart web site.

I didn't have heavy cream on hand to make her recommended chocolate sauce. I wanted something runnier anyway, that could be made well in advance and didn't need heating to loosen up before drizzling. I found David Leibovitz' recipe online and added some sour cream and vanilla, just because I felt it needed more flavor.

Chocolate Sauce (adapted from David Leibovitz)

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons sour cream

Whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup, and cocoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it starts to simmer, remove from heat and stir in the chocolate chips until melted. Whisk in the vanilla and sour cream and allow sauce to cool to room temperature. Pour into a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Drizzle over cake. Or squeeze directly into your mouth--I won't tell.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Apple

During the tasting at B&O American Brasserie last month, chef Matthew Kane told us that his brussels sprout dish was inspired by one he tasted at Geoffrey Zakarian's now-defunct South Beach restaurant, Tudor House. It involved creme fraiche, mustard, and apples, and Kane borrowed heavily from those elements to create his own version.

I happened to find Zakarian's recipe (posted on his Facebook page) and was determined to make something that resembled Kane's. Sorta.

Kane's version involved bacon. I didn't want to buy bacon because I'd feel compelled to make the entire package and then eat the entire package, so I used the pancetta from Zakarian's version (which comes in much smaller amounts and thus is somewhat less lethal). It was hard to tell that Kane's version had creme fraiche on it at all, but if I had used the same proportion of sprouts to sauce in Zakarian's version, my sprouts would have been white and soupy. (As it turns out, my local supermarket didn't have creme fraiche at all, so I used sour cream.) Zakarian's recipe also called for deep-frying both the sprouts and the pancetta. While that's nice to do if one has a fryolator handy, there's no reason for a home cook to deep fry vegetables when oven roasting does a swell job of producing crispy and flavorful near-burnt bits. And Zakarian's recipe called for two apples, which is an insanely large amount for something that is basically going to be used for garnish. After all, 8 cups of brussels sprout halves shrinks down to about 4 or 5 cups after cooking, and a medium-sized apple produces almost a cup of julienne pieces. He also calls for a cup of apple cider to be reduced down to one tablespoon. It's spring, so cider isn't available. Also, that seems somewhat wasteful for a home cook. Just use something else flavorful and sweet, like agave syrup.

My version, with all of its adjustments, was pretty good. I think I preferred Kane's use of bacon over Zakarian's pancetta, and the vinegar flavor wasn't as obvious in Kane's version. If you put my dish and Kane's side by side, I'm sure there would be little or no resemblance. After all, I'm not a professional chef! But still...I liked my dish, and I will definitely make it again (with bacon).

Sorta Kane, Sorta Zakarian Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Apple

8 cups of halved brussels sprouts
Olive oil
4 pieces thinly sliced pancetta
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/2 apple, cut into julienne pieces (eat the other half)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the brussels sprouts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet with sides. Sprinkle on a few glugs of olive oil and a couple pinches of salt and toss well with your hands to make sure everything gets coated.

Place the pancetta on another foil-lined baking sheet with sides.

Put both pans in the oven. After about 5 minutes, using tongs, stir the brussels sprouts and flip the pancetta pieces. After another 3 minutes, remove the pancetta from the oven. It should be browned and crisp (if it seems more greasy than crisp, a few minutes of draining on a paper-towel-lined plate should crisp them up).

Continue cooking the sprouts, turning them occasionally, until they are tender and the leaves have brown spots and some are brittle and crispy (mmm!).

Remove sprouts from oven and place into a large bowl.

Combine agave, sour cream, mustard, and vinegar in a bowl. Season to taste. Toss sauce with brussels sprouts. Top with pancetta and apple. Serve immediately.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

13.5% Wine Bar

Back sometime before last Christmas, I purchased an Amazon Local deal for 13.5% Wine Bar. We had every intention of using it around the holiday, perhaps during our annual pilgrimage to see the Miracle on 34th Street. Instead, we went to Arthouse, next door, and I can't remember why, Soon, the months slipped by until I realized our deal was about to expire. Before it was too late, we got ourselves to Hampden to enjoy the drinks, appetizers, and entrees to which we were entitled.

Honestly, I'm not much of a wine person. I used to think I preferred reds to whites, but now I feel the opposite. I prefer wines that are bright, crisp, and cold to tannic red vinos that are usually served entirely too warm. And I would much rather have a beer or cocktail than a glass of wine. And though I could have tried any alcoholic beverage on the menu as part of my deal, I started off with a glass of Chateau Gaillard Gamay, a bright rose with a lovely strawberry aroma. Mr Minx, who does prefer reds, had a fruity Reunion Malbec.

For our first courses, I chose the braised pork belly with cabbage. While it could have been a bit warmer in temperature, the pork belly was lusciously fatty and tender. The cabbage accompaniment had been dosed with vinegar, which cut the fattiness nicely, and the crispy shallots added a nutty, burnt-onion crunch. The sauce was very subtle, and I wouldn't have called it a bbq sauce at all.

BBQ Pork Belly: braised pork, red wine BBQ sauce, shaved cabbage, crispy shallots

Mr Minx's duck confit spring rolls were slightly less successful. While the rolls were greaseless and contained a nice amount of duck, they perhaps resembled actual Chinese carry-out spring rolls a bit too much. He felt that they fell flat, and the pungent mustard sauce was the dish's saving grace.
 Duck Confit Spring Rolls: cabbage, red onion, ginger, sriracha honey mustard
His entree, the confit chicken carbonara, was pretty damn good. While the menu listed fettuccine, the pasta he received was actually papardelle, but no matter. The rich sauce, gilded with a raw egg yolk, had just the right balance of smoky and cheesy flavors, and the pasta was silky and well-cooked. The shreds of chicken were completely superfluous, albeit tasty.

Confit Chicken Carbonara: fettuccini, grana padano, fresh egg
I had the lobster and grits. I love shrimp and grits, pretty much every version I've ever tried, and thought that lobster and grits had to be even better. While I enjoyed the dish overall, and it certainly was pretty, it was not without its problems. The grits were what I think of as breakfast-style, lumpy and plain, not creamy and rich. The lobster was extremely salty and a bit overcooked. But the peas tasted fresh and spring-y (the last time we had fresh peas in a restaurant, they were elderly starch-blobs) and the charred lemon added just the right amount of acid.

Lobster & Grits: spring peas, buttermilk grits, charred lemon, lobster jus
I enjoyed my glass of wine so much, I had a second, as did Mr Minx. While the meal was a tad uneven, we enjoyed the experience. The black leatherette chairs at 13.5% are plump and comfortable, making it too easy to sit back and enjoy yet another drink. We were able to snag a table behind a short wall so we could take flash photos without being too obnoxious. And our waitress/hostess was dynamite. I would not be averse to going back to enjoy one of the restaurant's cheese flights with a wine flight to wash it down.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Skirt Steak and Watermelon Radish Tacos

We almost never see skirt steak in the average supermarket, so when we did see it, we bought one and tossed it in the freezer for later. And then promptly forgot about it.

Digging through the freezer some months later for something else entirely, I stumbled upon the skirt steak and figured it was high time to put it to use. I wanted to make something fajita-like (the word fajita actually refers to skirt steak) but not exactly. After an inspirational online search, I thought something in an Asian vein might be tasty and put together a marinade with various Asian elements like miso, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce. I also added honey for sweetness and a ton of garlic. Because what doesn't taste good with a ton of garlic? (Don't tell me--chocolate cake.)

After briefly contemplating frying some onions, I was lazy and chopped scallions to use raw. I also saw this to be a good time to use the watermelon radish we bought at MOM's Organic Market a few days earlier. Quick pickling seemed like the way to go. And of course, homemade corn tortillas, because they are so easy and better than store bought.

The resulting tacos had nicely spiced and garlicky meat, and a nice sweet/tartness from the pickle. I stirred some powdered coconut milk (from a trip to H Mart) into a bit of Greek yogurt to use in place of crema, and threw together a simple tomato and scallion salsa. However, the best addition to the steak-and-radish taco was a bit of crumbled feta cheese, which added a nice bit of funky saltiness.

Marinated Skirt Steak

1 tablespoon red miso
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 1-lb skirt steak

Combine first six ingredients in a bowl. Place the steak in a zip-top bag and pour the marinade over. Massage the marinade into the steak for a few seconds, then close the bag, making sure to squeeze out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.

When ready to cook, preheat your broiler. Place oven rack in highest position. Remove steak from marinade, wipe off any chunky bits and place steak onto a baking sheet with sides. Broil 3-4 minutes per side, to medium-rare. Remove steak from oven and allow to rest 5 minutes before cutting against the grain into thin slices.

Serve as a filling for corn tortillas, with some pickled radishes, feta cheese, and sour cream or crema.

Pickled Watermelon Radish

1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 watermelon radish, cut into thin rounds

Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add the radish and toss well to coat all radish pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Drain liquid before serving.

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Celery Root Hash with Andouille

Sometimes one has to make do with what one has. And sometimes it's not all that much.

Usually I plan weekend dinners a couple of days in advance. Until the time comes that I don't. Sometimes I get so busy, things get away from me, you know? And it's usually those times that I open the fridge and find....nothing. Or in this case, one celery root and two andouille-style chicken sausages. 

I love celery root, but usually eat it raw, shredded into a nice remoulade sauce, or mashed with potatoes. Bo-ring. I wanted to do something different with it, and the andouille sausage prompted me to make something with a New Orleans bent. Down there, the flavors of celery + bell peppers + onion = the Trinity. I had something celery flavored in the celery root, so I needed the onion and pepper part. We didn't have any fresh bell peppers, nor did we even have a jar of roasted red peppers hanging around. What we did have was a big jar of pickled peppers.

At this point, I had decided to make a hash with the celery root and andouille and some onion, but those peppers wouldn't work there. Instead, I decided to make a ketchup of sorts with a bit of tomato paste, to add a bit of bright acid to the dish. And of course hash needs a poached egg!

Celery Root and Andouille Hash with Red Pepper Ketchup

For the ketchup:
Pickled sweet red peppers
Tomato Paste

For the hash:
2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 medium celery root, peeled and diced
1 potato, peeled and diced
2 links andouille sausage, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the ketchup: Place the equivalent of a whole pepper into the bowl of a food processor or mini prep. Add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste and puree. Taste for seasoning and add salt. Add a generous squirt of sriracha too, to spice it up a bit. Remove to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

To make hash: Heat bacon fat or oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, celery root, and potato and stir to coat all of the vegetables with the fat. Turn heat down to medium low, cover the pan, and cook until vegetables are browned and tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Add sausage and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Serve topped with a soft-boiled or poached egg, a sprinkle of chopped scallions or parsley, and some of the ketchup on the side.

Serves 4.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Savory Oatmeal

I have never been a big fan of oatmeal. The snotty, somewhat gelatinous texture always turned me off. Fortunately, my mother never liked it, either, so she didn't force us kids to eat it. In fact, Cream of Wheat ruled in our house, at least until I hit school age. Because I usually had a hard time waking up in the morning, instant oatmeal was occasionally called into play to get me fed and out the door, pronto. (We tried instant Cream of Wheat, too, but that was like eating sawdust soaked in hot water. Truly horrible stuff. My mind can still conjure up the malevolent taste of the apple cinnamon flavor.)

I managed to go decades without ever touching oatmeal again, but when the spectre of high cholesterol loomed, I thought I'd give the stuff another chance. Mr Minx was also of the yay Cream of Wheat/nay oatmeal way of thinking, but he was willing to give it a try as well.

The snotty texture of oatmeal is due to the whole boiling and stirring technique of cooking. With those two elements eliminated, the stuff is actually quite palatable. Turns out, oatmeal just needs to rehydrate, and that can be done quite efficiently with the heat off. Just bring water to a boil, turn off the heat, and stir in the oats. Allow them to rest for 10 or 15 minutes and they will absorb all of the water without getting slimy.

I first tried savory oatmeal at Blue Grass Tavern. It was served as an accompaniment to a sausage-stuffed quail topped with a poached egg and hot sauce. A riff on breakfast, if you will. I liked it, but wasn't sure if I should try it at home. But I realized I was getting tired of the usual weekend breakfast of either oatmeal with Nutella or oatmeal with maple syrup. Out went the sweet stuff and in went some cheese and hot sauce. The usual pat of butter was replaced with a spoonful of bacon fat. And it was delicious.

Savory Oatmeal

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon bacon fat or butter
1 heaping tablespoon grated cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Splash milk

Place 1 cup of water in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and stir in oats. Cover pot and walk away for about 10 minutes. If the oats haven't absorbed all the water after that time, give them another few minutes.

While oats are "cooking," place bacon fat or butter and cheese in a bowl. Top with hot oats and stir well. Season with sriracha, salt, and pepper to taste, and add a bit of milk to the bowl to loosen the texture a bit.

Serves 1

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Saigon Remembered

We were going to spend the day in Fells Point, but my allergies were kicking my ass so much, I couldn't walk and breathe at the same time. And there's lots of walking to be done in Fells Point. So we stayed home. I scrounged around the medicine cabinet and found a decade-old Sudafed, which I popped while cursing the fact that the stuff is hard to get a hold of these days. Fkn meth addicts. Eventually I was able to breathe well enough to walk from the parking lot to a restaurant, so we discussed where we should go for dinner. Not to Fells Point, since Towson and environs were so much closer. Granted, there's not as much choice for good grub in the 'burbs, but we do ok.

One restaurant we hadn't been to in ages had moved to a new location a couple years back, so it seemed like a good idea to revisit the place. Saigon Remembered, once across the street from the Senator Theater, is now in a shopping center on Cranbrook Road in Cockeysville. The new digs are smaller and prettier, simple and elegant with light colors and white tablecloths. The menu seemed less voluminous than in the past. I once found it a bit intimidating, but now it was easy to navigate.

I knew right away that I wanted their grape leaves appetizer. Absolutely nothing like the familiar Mediterranean preparation stuffed with rice and sauced with lemon, the Vietnamese version is stuffed with tender marinated beef before being skewered and grilled. While not as charred as the ones I've eaten at Saigon Remembered in the past, these were still delicious, especially when dipped in the little ramekin of nuoc cham. Nuoc cham is the ubiquitous dipping sauce of Vietnam, made with fish sauce, garlic, sugar, and rice vinegar and/or lime juice. It's savory, sweet, and tangy all at the same time and perfect with pretty much everything on the table.

That include the rolls that we also ordered. Saigon Remembered has a large selection of the soft rice paper-wrapped rolls that are sometimes called summer rolls. They are typically filled with vermicelli noodles, herbs, and a protein or two. We chose grilled shrimp for ours, and I must say I was a bit disappointed. While Mr Minx seems to have received a whole shrimp in his roll, mine was mostly noodles. For $7.50, I expect a bit more, especially since I can make these at home fairly easily.

We also tried the papaya salad, which was quite different from the spicy and sour Thai version we are used to. At Saigon remembered, the shredded green papaya has a sweet, but not spicy, dressing, and includes a generous amount of both medium shrimp and bits of pork, plus the unexpected addition of Thai basil. The accompanying dish of nuoc cham and giant fried shrimp chips added punches of extra flavor and crunch.

After we polished of our appetizers, we headed on to entrees. I ordered the golden crepe, which I had never had before. It was huge and resembled a giant omelette. The crepe itself was light and crisp, embedded with bits of shrimp and onion and filled with a plethora of bean sprouts. The filling was a bit bland, but livened up when I added the nuoc cham, pickled carrot and daikon, and Thai basil on the side.

Mr Minx went for the chicken in a clay pot. The chicken and black mushrooms over a layer of steamed rice were bathed in a rather pungent and savory ginger sauce, without a hint of the sweetness we're used to in Vietnamese food (keep in mind we've never been to Vietnam!). I'm not sure how I felt about the dish, but Mr Minx seemed to like it quite a bit.

I remember being disappointed when Saigon Remembered closed its doors a few years back, mostly because of the terrible loss of those beef-stuffed grape leaves. But now I can rest assured I can have them any time I want, along with a plethora of other Vietnamese dishes. Next time: pho.

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