Saturday, August 30, 2014

Congratulations Conrad's Chef Jake Hack!

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, a live, local, interactive culinary competition concluded this week in front of a sell-out crowd at the Inn at the Colonnade a Doubletree by Hilton Hotel (4 University Parkway, Baltimore). The bracket-style single-elimination tournament started back in June with 16 area chef teams vying for over $10,000 in cash and prizes, and the title of “2014 Mason Dixon Master Chef Champions."

After 14 events, and seven weeks of competition, Conrad’s Seafood and Chefs’ Expressions went head-to-head for one final match on Sunday, August 24th. Both teams brought their expertise and creativity to “Battle Craft / Local Artisan,” but only one emerged as the Champion – Conrad’s Seafood!

Both chef teams were required to use a variety of featured products including an award-winning Berkshire Hog supplied by Autumn Olive / AM Briggs, horseradish from Tulkoff Foods, oysters from E. Goodwin and Sons, sweet country sausage from Logan’s Sausage, domestic wild rice from Roland Foods, Milano hot coppa from Atalanta, and unsalted Vermont butter from Emmi Roth USA. In addition, each chef team had two secret ingredients they had to incorporate at the last minute. Conrad’s secret ingredients were guanciale and Vidal Blanc wine from Boordy Vineyards (who also hosted the wine tasting for the Final Match), Chefs’ Expressions secret ingredients were pancetta and a Boordy Reisling.

The Conrad’s Seafood team (Executive Chef Jake Hack, Sous Chef Joe Lancelotta, and Chef Assistant Gary Citterman), had 30 minutes of cold prep and just one hour of cooking time to produce their winning dishes of DECONSTRUCTED MARYLAND COBB (Artisan greens, fried oyster, chicharrones, sweet sausage viniagrette, quail egg), THREE LITTLE PIGS (Roulade of pork with oyster and sausage stuffing over cured pork grits and fried lollipop kale), and PORK AND PEACHES (Pork and peach cake, bruleed peach, and pecan brittle), a dessert that “wowed” all three expert judges.

The Chefs’ Expressions team (Executive Chef Adam Snyder, Sous Chef William Jones, and Chef Assistant Adelaide Kachur) created equally impressive dishes of CRISPY WILD RICE PANCAKE and OYSTER FRITTER (with horseradish sausage aioli and crispy fried coppa salad) for the appetizer, PETERMAN’S MAPLE SUMAC GLAZED PORK SHOULDER (with farmstand black walnut romesco, and purslane salad with baby potatoes) for the entrée, and STICKY PAW PAW PUDDING (paw paw Riesling sorbet, wild mint gastrique, and Jenny's apples) for dessert.

The expert judging panel for the night was Mitchell Platt, General Manager of The COSMOS Club in Washington, DC, Chef Marc Dixon, Owner of Barconcina, and Chef Neill Howell, owner of The Corner Pantry and last year’s Mason Dixon Master Chef Champion. This panel, along with audience members who purchased ‘Judging Experience’ tickets, tasted and voted to determine the night’s winner.

The winning Conrad’s Seafood team received almost $10,000 in prizes, including: $1,000 cash from the organizers, a Wisconsin cheese making trip with sponsor Emmi Roth USA which includes airfare and an overnight stay with behind the scenes education and tours of cheese making facilities as well as a beer brewery tour (valued at approximately $3,000), a Vulcan convection oven (valued at $3,000), a professional Robo Coupe food processor ($800), a bar basket from American Metal Craft, a day of training with German Certified Master Chef Edwin Scholly, the official Chef a la Mode Championship jacket, a plaque for the winning restaurant, metals for each member of the winning team, and of course bragging rights as the 2014 Mason Dixon Master Chef Champions! The First runner up also receives culinary prizes from sponsors valued at over to $1,100.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Nectarine Soup with Crab Salad

It has long been a tradition to have steamed crabs for Mr Minx's birthday. We usually get two dozen, which comfortably feeds four adults, but for some reason, we had a ton left over this year. We did our part, putting away a dozen between the two us (along with hush puppies and corn on the cob), but there were still several crabs left by the time we were done. These were meaty suckers, so once we picked the remaining critters, we had a whole pound of meat (.984 lb, to be exact) left over.

I can probably eat a pound of crabmeat served with nothing but a fork, but that's no fun, and maybe more than a bit piggy. I didn't want to only make crabcakes, especially since I feel I've done that recently. I thought back to a soup I made with avocados and garnished with crab salad and decided that would hit the spot. Only we didn't have any avocados. But we did have a big bag of nectarines and white peaches that I had purchased at the farmers' market earlier in the week. Rather than going to my old stand-by soup, gazpacho, I decided to let the nectarines speak for themselves. Blended with a bit of Greek yogurt and seasoned with savory spices, it went nicely with the rich, sweet, blue crab (the best crab!).

As for the salad, I went with a ceviche-style preparation, with citrus juices, jalapeno, and tomato. Mr Minx and I agreed that it was a restaurant-quality dish, and not really all that difficult to prepare. And made entirely from things we already had on hand in the pantry and fridge.

Nectarine Soup with Crab Salad

For soup:
5 nectarines
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chicken stock (you can use veg stock, or water)
1/4 cup mint leaves, loosely packed
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon harissa powder
Pinch cayenne
Large pinch salt
Agave syrup, to taste

For salad:
1 small shallot, minced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced, or 5-6 cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1/2 lb fresh blue crab meat

To make soup: Peel nectarines and cut into chunks, discarding pits. Place nectarine flesh into a blender or food processor with remaining ingredients except cayenne, salt, and agave syrup, and pulse to a puree. Season to taste with the last three ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To make salad: Place vegetables in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together citrus juices, olive oil, and agave syrup. Pour over vegetables. Add crab meat and gently fold to coat with dressing. Refrigerate for at least an hour for flavors to meld and to tame the oniony-ness of the shallot.

To serve: Pour soup into bowls or cups. Top with a generous portion of crab salad.

Serves 4-6, with extra crab salad.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sailabration Events

So what are you doing for the Sailabration on September 13th? Waterfront Kitchen is having two parties, both with harborside seats for the fireworks.

Sailabration Spectacular Cocktail Party

There's no better place to party during Charm City's Star-Spangled Sailabration Spectacular than with us on the harborfront promenade at Waterfront Kitchen. Stoked on great food and drink, surrounded by friends, you won't have to ask, "Oh say, can you see?," when the fireworks start. They will be bursting in air in full technicolor directly overhead. Join us for a great party. We're celebrating the good life, Chesapeake style, in this land of the free and home of the brave.

Party: 7:30-10:30 p.m. Fireworks: 9:30 p.m. Cost: $59.

On the Table
Buckets of Housemade Celery Salt & Cayenne Pepper Potato Chipswith Blue Cheese Dip
Buckets of Sweet & Spicy Applewood-smoked Bacon

From the Grill
Brown Sugar and Espresso Marinated Flank Steak Sandwiches
Grilled Onions, Housemade Steak Sauce
Soy, Orange and Ginger Marinated Pork Loin Sliders
Asian Slaw
Maryland Sweet Corn, Old Bay Butter

To be Passed
Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Spicy Chicken Satay, Hoisin Dipping Sauce
Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Brioche Pizzas

Local Beers and Wine

For tickets: EventBrite.

Sailabration Spectacular All-American Wine Dinner

Could there be a more fitting way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Francis Scott Key's national anthem? We don't think so. Join Chef Jerry Pellegrino for a five-course, eight-wine All-American Wine Dinner, with seats on our harborfront promenade and a spectacular fireworks display overhead. Yes, it's the very same harbor from which the Star Spangled Banner was penned. And no, we won't mind at all if you break into a patriotic chorus or two during dinner. That's what the entire celebration is about.

Dinner: 6:30 p.m. Fireworks: 9:30 p.m. Cost: $159.

Chef’s Amuse
Domaine Chandon ‘étoile’ Rosé

To Start
Pan Roasted Rockfish
Chanterelles, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Corn & Thyme
Peter Michael ‘L’apris Midi’ 2012 (Sauvignon Blanc)

Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Sweetbreads atop a Veal Crepenette
Braised Fall Greens, Griottine Cherry, Sweet Potato
Martinelli ‘Bella Vigna’ Pinot Noir 2012
Martinelli ‘Zio Tony Ranch’ Pinot Noir 2012

Great Napa Cabernet
Fall Spice Braised Beef Short Rib
Truffled Potato Cream, Grilled Figs, Braising Jus
Axios 2003
Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Robert Foley Claret 2010

The Undeniable King of Syrah
Pan Seared Foie Gras
Plum & Rosemary
Sean Thackrey Orion 2010

To Finish
A Study in Chocolate

For tickets: EventBrite

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Shrimp Salad

I love when dinner ideas come to me while I stroll through the supermarket. It was a warm summer afternoon and I was in the mood for something cool and refreshing. That means nothing fried, nothing with red meat or particularly carb-laden. I lingered in the produce section for inspiration and spotted plump heads of Belgian endive. I thought, "I love endive salad!" A few feet later, I saw ripe red watermelon and a similar thought came to mind. "I love watermelon salad!" A walk past the seafood counter and, you guessed it, "I love shrimp salad!"

Ordinarily I'd make shrimp salad with mayonnaise, celery, and Old Bay. Endive and watermelon are similar in that both work nicely with a balsamic vinaigrette and some sort of cheese, like feta or bleu. And walnuts. Walnuts go with everything. (My apologies to those with tree nut allergies.) Why not just make an endive salad that just so happens to have both watermelon and shrimp? And, just to be different, use a mustard vinaigrette in place of the balsamic. Anyway, balsamic vinegar makes the endive look like it's old and turning brown.

Once I peeled the shrimp, I tossed them in a quick poaching liquid made up of lemon juice, a bay leaf, and peppercorns in plain water. I found some Knorr shrimp bouillon cubes in the cupboard and tossed half of one of those in, too. (Knorr seafood bouillon cubes are commonly found in Asian markets, like H Mart.) The shrimp cooked quickly, and once they were done I set them aside to cool a bit while I worked on the dressing. Mr Minx was called in to dice the watermelon.

While there were a few steps to the process, the dish came together pretty quickly. By the time the chopping and dressing-making was complete, the shrimp were cool enough to handle. I tossed everything except the cheese and walnuts together and put them in the fridge to cool completely. Once it was chilled, all I needed to do was to fill the large endive leaves (optional - I thought it would be pretty) and sit down to eat.

Summer Shrimp Salad

This would be great with crab, too.

1 bay leaf
5 peppercorns
Juice of half a lemon
Half a Knorr shrimp bouillon cube (optional)
1 tablespoon of salt (divided use)
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 heads Belgian endive
1 cup diced watermelon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts
Bleu cheese crumbles

Put 3 cups of water in a 2 quart saucepan and add bay leaf, peppercorns, lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and reduce to a simmer. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 minutes, until shrimp are opaque. Turn off heat and allow shrimp to cool in the liquid. When cool enough to handle, drain the shrimp and cut each into 3-4 pieces. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the dijon, honey, rice wine vinegar, and shallot in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, or to taste. Toss half the vinaigrette with the cooled shrimp.

Thoroughly rinse and dry the endives. Cut the stem ends off and set aside 8 - 10 of the largest leaves. Chop the remaining endive and place in a bowl. Add the watermelon, parsley, and walnuts. Toss with the remaining vinaigrette. Add the shrimp and toss again. Season with the remaining salt to taste.

Spoon some of the salad into the reserved endive leaves. Mound the remaining salad in the center of the plate. Sprinkle all with bleu cheese.

Serves 3-4

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Monday, August 25, 2014


We've been getting some fabulous peaches from the local farmers' markets this summer, big juicy beauties. Sadly, I'm allergic to peaches (plums, apricots, cherries....). It comes from an overdose when I was a kid. My Dad used to work in Philadelphia, and on his way home from the office, he'd stop at a PA roadside stand and bring home half bushels of luscious peaches. Mom wasn't a baker or canner, so we ate the peaches raw by the bowlful. After two or three summers of indulgence, I could no longer eat stone fruits without feeling weird. My eustachian tubes would feel swollen and my eyes would itch, and I figured it was best to just give up the fruits rather than risk potential anaphylaxis.

Thankfully, it turns out my allergy is to raw fruit. Once it's cooked, even a little bit, I'm good. Because of my allergy, I nuked the sliced peaches for 2 minutes and let them cool before putting them in the blender. You, of course, can use raw peaches. White or yellow will do. White peaches are a bit sweeter than yellow, which can be a little tangier. I used yellow because I thought white peaches (which become pink when cooked) + cilantro = the color of barf. Yellow peaches and yellow peppers work much better with the green of cilantro. Of course, you may choose the omit the cilantro, if you're one of the unfortunate who think that it tastes like soap.

By this point, after I've posted so many tomato-less variations on gazpacho, you probably think I'm allergic to tomatoes, too. I am happy to say that's not the case. I just like variety.


2 yellow or orange bell peppers
1 pound ripe peaches
2 medium cucumbers
1 handful cilantro
3 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the bell peppers over an open gas flame, under the broiler, or on a grill, until skin is blackened all over. Place peppers in a paper or plastic bag, close bag, and allow to steam. When cool enough to handle, remove the blackened skin, stem, core, and seeds, and chop peppers into chunks.

Peel peaches and cut into chunks.

Peel cucumbers and chop.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts, so you'll probably want to make this in two batches. Put half of the ingredients into a blender and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Do the same with the remaining ingredients.

Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to blend the flavors. Eat chilled or at room temperature.

Serves 4-8.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Peach Mostarda

The farmers's markets had a plethora of peaches in July, and I was happy to buy them. Sad thing is--I am allergic to stone fruits. Fortunately, the allergy is peculiar in that if I cook the fruit, even for a short time, whatever compound within it that makes me itchy is neutralized. This means microwaved peaches, but once they cool down, I can barely tell they've been cooked. And they're still tastier and fresher than canned peaches. (I chop them and put them in a bowl before cooking them...I don't recommend microwaving a whole peach. I haven't tried it, but I can imagine an explosion might ensue.)

Sometimes I buy more fruit than we can eat out of hand (or out of the microwave), so that means getting creative. One batch of white peaches inspired me to make a mostarda, an Italian chutney-like concoction of fruit flavored with mustard. After checking out several mostarda recipes online, I decided to concoct my own. What I really wanted to do was make the pickled mustard seeds I had read about in David Chang's Momofuku cookbook. Since prepared mustard has vinegar in it, Chang's seeds (which he confesses to have stolen from Tom Colicchio) are like the ultimate whole grain mustard. Why couldn't I combine them with peaches to make a savory-sweet condiment?

So that's what I did. I made the pickled mustard seeds first, then I combined the peaches with more vinegar, some sugar, and powdered mustard to make a quick-and-dirty mostarda. Added the mustard seeds to the mostarda and voila! a lightly crunchy condiment that adds a bit of punch to a simple grilled chicken breast or pan-fried pork chop. That's how I served it the first time, as a sauce over a simple salt-and-pepper-seasoned pork chop.

Peach Mostarda

1/3 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided use
3 firm ripe peaches
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon powdered mustard

Combine the mustard seeds, water, vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the mustard seeds are plump and tender, about 45 minutes. Add a bit more water if they look like they're going to dry out. They'll be plump and resemble caviar when they're done. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut an X in the skin of each peach and blanch them in boiling water for a minute or so to loosen the skins. Peel peaches and cut into large dice. Combine the brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and powdered mustard in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the peaches and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Simmer for 10 minutes, until peaches are tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

When both are cool, add 3 tablespoons of the pickled mustard seeds to the peaches. The remaining pickled mustard seeds can be stored in a covered container in the fridge indefinitely. Both can be served with meats and cheeses, or used as a sandwich topping.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Farmstead Grill Inaugural Wine Dinner

Join the Farmstead Grill for their inaugural wine dinner on September 3rd! Details below.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014


"Ananda" is a word that means "bliss" in Sanskrit and other Indian languages. It's also a pretty good word to describe the meal that Mr Minx and I had recently during a media dinner at Ananda, a new restaurant in Maple Lawn by the folks who gave us the Ambassador Dining Room. While their usual menu comprises many of the Punjabi-style dishes that are familiar to most of us (tandoori dishes, biryani, bengan bartha, bhunas, naan), we were served a selection of special seasonal offerings, some of which had a fusion aspect.

We started our party in the bar, sampling the restaurant's tasty house beverages, like the Mumbai Mule, made with a light but still quite peppery ginger beer, and a cosmo made with goji berries. The decor at Ananda borrows heavily from the old-world ambiance of the Ambassador, and even has a spacious terrace area with garage doors and a corner fireplace that will come into play during the colder months. For right now, it's a perfect spot to enjoy an elegant, yet exotic, meal.

We started off with a couple of appetizers. One was a moist lamb meatball version of classic seekh kabab...
Kulu Kofta, aka lamb meatballs
...and the other was wee crab cakes with local corn and toasted mustard seeds, one for each of us. Both were a delicious way to start off the meal, but I did prefer the lamb meatballs. They were the most "Indian" in flavor, which I hoped was a harbinger for the rest of the meal.

Kerala crab cakes
That was not to be the case. Instead of the usual collection of richly-sauced family-style dishes, we each received our own beautifully-plated servings. Haute cuisine with Indian flavors, if you will.

The first of our individually-plated courses consisted of a giant shrimp, prepared tandoori style, and served with the restaurant's mint, mango, and avocado chutney. The chutney, both spicy and fresh, was the highlight of this dish. It's also available on its own. They should sell it by the jar.

Shrimp Adrak
After the shrimp, we received a bowl containing chunks of spiced pear chutney. It looked a bit sparse until Bindi Singh, one of the restaurant's owners, poured over a soup of summer squash and carrot. Billed on the menu as a classic dish from the foothills of the Himalayas, the soup was served cold. The chilled soup spoons were a thoughtful touch.

A palate-cleansing salad of locally-grown watermelon, Breezy Willow Farm feta, watercress, onion, and pistachio came next. I loved the way the sweet watermelon absorbed some of the tangy dressing, a combination of lime, chile, mint, olive oil, and white balsamic vinegar.

Halibut, basmati rice, potatoes, onions
Our entree was a nice slab of well-cooked halibut, dressed with sesame, soy, and tamarind, served with grilled leek and both red potatoes and basmati rice. The sauce, which did not seem typical at all, was inspired by Tibetan cooking experienced by the owners on trips to Dharamshala, northern Indian home of the Dalai Lama.

Peach and strawberry crisp with cardamom ice cream
Finally, we were served a dessert of peach and strawberry crisp topped with a wee scoop of cardamom ice cream. Despite being full, I ate every bite and wished for more ice cream.

Ananda is a bit of a haul from Baltimore, and not exactly easy to find, despite being in a stand-alone building on Maple Lawn's main drag. There's no signage (as yet), so look for the street number on the side of the building (7421). There's plenty of parking in the back. It's definitely worth the trip to try the restaurant's seasonal menu as well as more traditional offerings. However, if you don't want to make the drive to Howard County, Ananda's sister restaurant, the Ambassador Dining Room in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood of Baltimore City, is there to satisfy your Indian food cravings

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament - RIVALRY!

The Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, a live, local, interactive culinary competition is down to two finalists in its summer-long single-elimination tournament.

The competition started with 16 top area chefs in June, and after seven weeks of head-to-head competition two have emerged as the top in the field. These two teams, Conrad’s Seafood and Chefs’ Expressions, will compete in the final Championship match this coming Sunday, August 24th.

But, that’s just part of the story. The two executive chefs: Chef Jake Hack of Conrad’s Seafood and Chef Adam Snyder of Chefs’ Expressions, were actually teammates last year in the competition, with Chef Snyder acting as Sous Chef to Chef Hack in the Tournament. So, this year, the teams may be competing for more than just the $10,000 in cash and prizes, there are also some bragging rights to be won with these two amazing chefs and friends.

The winning team will emerge with $1,000 cash from Mason Dixon Master Chef, a $3,000 convection oven donated by sponsor Vulcan, an all-expense paid 2-day trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the winner will tour Crave Brothers, the New Glaris Beer Plant, and the Emmi Roth USA Plant, as well as attend the Culinary Executive Center for Cheese Course Plates and Fondue, provided by sponsor Emmi-Roth USA and estimated at approximately $3,000, numerous other culinary prizes from various sponsors, the official Chef a la Mode Championship jacket, a plaque for the winning restaurant, and of course the title of 2014 Mason Dixon Master Chef Champions!

10% of each ticket sold goes directly to Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, the competition’s charity partner.

Tickets*: $35 for general admission (includes tax)
$55 for judging experience (includes tax)
Available for purchase at:
*Tickets must be purchased in advance for the above pricing. $45/ $65 at the door (if available).

The $35 General Admission ticket price includes admission to that night’s competition, wine/spirit tasting, passed hors d’oeuvres during happy hour (5:30 – 7:00pm), dessert and coffee bar, all taxes and a 10% donation to charity. Tickets are on sale now, and are expected to sell out quickly!

Final Championship Match: “Battle Craft / Local Artisan”

Sunday, August 24 – Chef Jake Hack of Conrad’s Seafood versus Chef Adam Snyder of Chefs’ Expressions

Featured products for the semi-finals will include:

· Award-winning Berkshire Hog from Autumn Olive/AM Briggs
· Horseradish from Tulkoff
· Oysters from E. Goodwin & Sons Seafood
· Sweet country sausage from Logan's Sausage
· Domestic wild rice from Roland
· Milano hot coppa from Atalanta
· Unsalted Vermont butter from Emmi Roth USA

Event Timeline:
5:30 -7:00p.m. – Happy Hour (free appetizers and wine/spirit tasting)
6:30 p.m. – Cold Prep Begins
7:00 p.m. – Chef Competition
8:00pm – Judging Begins (complementary dessert and coffee bar for all guests)

Inn at the Colonnade (A Doubletree Hotel)
4 West University Parkway, Baltimore MD 21218

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Tomatillo Soup

Once in a while I taste something in a restaurant that I feel I must duplicate at home. The tomatillo soup with caramelized tomatoes and cilantro that my brother ate at SoBo Cafe recently was one of those dishes. I had coincidentally just purchased a pound of tomatillos at the farmers' market, so it seemed like something I *needed* to make.

It seemed simple enough to reconstruct the dish. I could tell there was a creamy element to the soup, as well as a nice smoky dose of chipotle pepper. For the caramelized tomato element, I'd just make some oven-roasted tomatoes, like the ones in this recipe, only with a bare tablespoon each of the balsamic and olive oil, and no garlic.

With the help of a blender, I put together a soup that seemed pretty darn close to SoBo's version. It was tangy, creamy, and refreshing, with a bit of sweetness from the tomatoes. I loved it, but Mr Minx thought it was too tart. If you make it and find that to be the case, you could always add a bit more honey or agave syrup to the soup to balance out the tangy tomatillos.

Creamy Chilled Tomatillo Soup

1/2 onion, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
Pinch salt
1 pound fresh tomatillos, rinsed after husking
1 big handful cilantro leaves and stems
1 teaspoon chipotle powder (you could also used minced chipotle in adobo, but it could affect the color of the soup)
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1/2 cup full fat or 2% Greek yogurt
Salt to taste
Caramelized tomatoes
Cilantro for garnish

Cook the onion in the olive oil and salt until translucent. Set aside to cool. When cool, add to the pitcher of a blender along with the tomatillos and cilantro. Puree the vegetables and then add the chipotle, honey, and yogurt and process again until smooth. Season with salt to taste (a half teaspoon or so).

If you want a smoother soup, pass the tomatillo/cilantro mixture through a sieve before adding the seasonings and yogurt.

Garnish each serving with 3-4 tomatoes and some cilantro leaves.

Makes about a quart.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Three Cheese Ravioli with Raw Tomato Sauce

It's high tomato season at our house, and in addition to the plethora of green tomatoes in our little garden, we have some ripe ones as well. And our basil is finally looking healthy. What better way to enjoy the fruits of our labor than to devour them raw? And while I love me some Caprese salad, and especially a tomato-mayo-white bread sandwich, garden-fresh tomatoes are fabulous in pasta sauce. Raw pasta sauce.

A raw tomato sauce is not unlike a salsa. This one, redolent of basil and garlic, would be smashing on bruschetta. (Allow me a Giada moment here: that's pronounced broo-sKetta, not broo-sHetta.)

As for the ravioli--they are cheese-tastic. And as we had a bit of pesto left over from other endeavors, that went into the filling as well. Won ton wrappers make a fine substitute for fresh pasta. We just don't have enough counter space for pasta-making, and certainly not enough patience to make both the pasta and assemble the ravioli. I don't know how those Italian nonnas did it.

The combination of room-temperature sauce and warm pasta was quite summery and nice. And while the dish was light, the flavors were big and bold. Don't skip the garlic!

Three Cheese Ravioli with Raw Tomato Sauce

To make ravioli:
1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon pesto
2 packages won ton wrappers

To make sauce:
4-5 ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Pinch sugar
Salt and pepper

To make ravioli: Combine filling ingredients in a bowl. Lay out several wrappers on a flat surface. Top each with a teaspoon of filling.

Using your finger or a pastry brush, dampen the edges of the wrapper with water. (You can use an egg wash, if you prefer, but I find that water works fine.) Top with a second wrapper and press down to seal, making sure to eliminate any air bubbles. Place filled ravioli on a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet until you've completed all of them. You may only use half of the second package of wrappers.

Cook 4-5 at a time in a large pot of boiling, salted, water, for 2 minutes. Do not overcook, otherwise they'll fall apart. Remove with a slotted spoon to an olive oil-coated baking sheet. Try not to overlap; these buggers will stick together.

To make sauce: Quarter and deseed tomatoes before dicing them. Make little stacks of the basil leaves, roll them and slice into ribbons.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste. Allow to sit out on the counter for at least an hour so the flavors can meld.

To serve: Place several ravioli on a plate and top with sauce. Garnish with basil.

Serves many.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Corner Pantry

Chef Neill Howell won the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament in 2013, when he was working at Bond Street Social. I managed to snag the restaurant for a slot in our cookbook, Baltimore Chef's Table, but chef Howell had other plans. When he left Bond Street Social to open his own place, I transferred his info to a sidebar. Sadly, that sidebar was cut by our ruthless editor (along with a bunch of other stuff). Yes, Neill, I am apologizing again.

Turns out, change is good. Although he's not in the book, he is cooking up a storm at the Corner Pantry, a Balto-British cafe in Lake Falls Village. Recently, Mr Minx and I were invited to a media dinner hosted by chef Howell and his wife, Emily.

The Corner Pantry is located in the spot that used to house Banksy's. Gone are the faux-Burberry wall decorations; they've been replaced by fresh white subway tile and a large stainless counter atop which sit the day's wares. The first thing one notices is the pastries made by pastry chef, Julie Sutula: scones; crumpets; pop tarts; cookies, muffins; biscuits; and even Cornish pasties (a meat pie). Next to that is the cold counter, which holds the day's selection of salads and proteins. For $10.99 a pound, customers can load up on goodies like salmon, kimchi soba noodle salad, rice and cauliflower salad, etc., to eat there or to take home. A variety of breakfast and lunch sandwiches are also available, plus a few other dishes from the kitchen.

A selection of menus
We were served items from both the cafe and the catering menu. It was quite a lovely spread, and I'm betting chef Neill and Emily do a bang-up job with catering. The crab and corn fritter, which we were served as a passed app, was delightful. Scrummy, as they say across the pond.

Biscuits with tomato bacon jam
On the table were plates of Sutula's moist biscuits, which were hard to stop eating with a dollop of Chef Neill's tomato bacon jam.

Ploughman's Board
We started dinner in earnest with the Ploughman's board. Typically, a ploughman's lunch includes bread, cheese, and a thick brown vinegary chutney-like stuff called Branston pickle. After having a particularly constipating one in England in the 80s, simply hearing the word "ploughman," saddens me. But the ploughman's at Corner Pantry is a delight of tangy, toasty, and meaty elements. We were served tender ham hock, some toasted raisin spelt bread, a dollop of goat's cheese, a wee Scotch quail egg, and a bowl of piccalilli relish.

Kimchi soba noodle salad
The main course was served family style and included the restaurant's popular kimchi soba noodle salad. We're big fans of soba, our noodle of choice for cold salads. Chef Neill's was spicy and garlicky and so good we came back for more a couple days later.

Lamb Kofte with buttermilk tahini
Another dish off the catering menu is lamb kofte lollipops, which were served with a buttermilk tahini dressing. The kofte, elongated meatballs of Middle Eastern origin, were moist and redolent of cumin. (We also snagged a couple more of these when we came back for a repeat visit on the weekend.)

Roasted peach salad
The roasted peach salad included local peaches and Big City farms greens (which are also available for purchase in the grab-and-go case at the back of the restaurant) along with red onions--a delicious combination of ingredients for a simple tossed salad.

Roasted rockfish
We also tasted rockfish, simply roasted and served with lemon. This is something that would typically be a featured protein on the cold counter, like the roasted salmon that was available recently. Simple but very good. There was also a side dish of lemony rainbow chard (not pictured) that I could not stop eating.

Donut hole on passion fruit butterscotch and tiramisu
Dessert, of course, was also served. There was a lovely little tiramisu served in a mason jar, and a donut hole with passion fruit butterscotch. Say yes to passion fruit butterscotch! It was fab. Donuts are a Saturday special at the Corner Pantry, and if you're lucky, that donut hole/butterscotch combo will be featured. (Check their Facebook page for Donut Saturday announcements.)

We also took home a selection of the Corner Pantry's baked goods, all of which were uniformly delicious and made a fine breakfast the next morning.

Just a couple days later, I decided I didn't want to cook dinner. We don't live far from the Corner Pantry, so we popped in for some carry-out, which included roast salmon, kimchi soba salad, kofte, and a crab cake, which was one of the week's kitchen specials. And I must was very special.

Crab cake and salad with homemade tartar sauce
Made with Maryland crab meat, this baby was almost all meat. I didn't notice any filler at all, and the seasoning had a lovely lemon flavor. Chef Neill may be from the UK, but it seems that his soul is firmly in Baltimore. I highly recommend this crab cake, so be sure to give it a try if it's available!

We recommend everything at the Corner Pantry, actually, and are happy that we finally had a chance to get there. We hope to become regulars. :)

For more info on menus, catering, etc., check out the Corner Pantry Web site:

The Corner Pantry on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Happy Hour at George Martin's Grillfire

George Martin’s Grillfire Arundel (in The Hotel at Arundel Preserve, 7793-A Arundel Mills Blvd., Hanover MD 21076 [410] 799-2883) hosts happy hour every Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Drink specials include: half-priced cocktails, $5 house wines, $4 draft beers and $3 domestic bottled beers. A special bar menu is also available including:

Japanese Peanuts $5 Edamame tossed in garlic and chili oil
Chicken Wings $5 Choice of: buffalo, chili glazed or teriyaki sauce
Turkey Chili Nachos $6
Chili Pop Shrimp $5
Plancha Fish Tacos $6 Shaved cabbage, pico de gallo, chipotle sour cream and lime
Slider of the Day $5
Lime Marinated Chicken Egg Rolls $7 With a spicy mango dip

For reservations or further information, call George Martin’s Grillfire Arundel at 410-799-2883 or visit Find the restaurant at or

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Green Gazpacho

I love gazpacho and can eat it every day in the summer. There are very specific and authentic ways of making this Andalusian dish, and not-so-authentic ones as well. I like all of them. As long as there are cucumbers and peppers of some sort in the mix, I think almost any fruit can be used in place of the tomato. I've made versions with watermelon and strawberries, and have eaten both mangospacho and cantaloupespacho. I've made it both with and without bread, and seasoned with champagne, balsamic, rice, and apple cider vinegars as well as the traditional sherry vinegar (basically I use whatever is in the front of the cupboard). When I got the email from Bon Appetit touting their latest version, made with tomatillos and Greek yogurt, fortuitously received the day we planned to go grocery shopping, I decided we'd be eating it for dinner on the weekend.

Of course I can't follow a recipe to the letter. I'm a tinkerer.

The original had too much Greek yogurt in it for my taste. I don't think gazpacho should be creamy. However, I did have a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt in the fridge, left over from another cooking project, and threw it in. It didn't make much of an impact, but I got to use up something that otherwise might have been wasted. The Bon Appetit recipe also called for a green bell pepper. I'm with Nigella Lawson, green peppers are "an abomination." Instead, I used a yellow pepper, which I roasted first to remove the belch-inducing skin. Roasted poblanos would be good too, I think. And then there was the method. The original recipe calls for tossing all of the ingredients together and allowing them to macerate before pureeing. There's not enough room in my fridge for a bowl full of veggies and soggy bread. I say just bang it all in the blender and put it in the fridge to allow the flavors to develop.

I did, and it was delicious.

Green Gazpacho (adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 yellow bell pepper
1 1/2 medium cucumbers, chopped roughly
12 ounces of fresh, raw tomatillos, husked and quartered
4 ounces ciabatta or country-style bread, crust removed, bread torn into 1” pieces (about 2½ cups)
4 scallions, roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, seeds removed, chopped
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more

Place whole pepper over gas flame on stove or on a grill. Turn regularly, until pepper is charred all over. Place pepper in a bag to steam/cool off. When cool enough to handle, rub off skin. Remove stem and seeds and cut pepper into chunks.

Place roasted pepper, cucumber, and tomatillos in a blender and process until smooth. Add the bread, scallions, and jalapeno, and process again until smooth. Season with the vinegar, lime juice, yogurt, and salt. If your jalapeno wasn't spicy enough, add some hot sauce (we used green Tabasco).

Refrigerate for several hours until cold and to allow flavors to meld.

Makes 1 quart.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

Cafe Gia

I hadn't heard of Cafe Gia until we started working on our book, Baltimore Chef's Table. After studying their web site, however, I knew I wanted to go there badly. Ornately painted both inside and out, Cafe Gia looks like a romanticized rendering of an Italian cafe. It's bright, colorful, warm, and inviting. The food also provides the warm, comforting feeling that one desires from Italian cooking.

On our recent visit, I started with a glass of Gia's Sangria, heavy on the wine but cool and refreshing. Since the Minx has been avoiding alcohol, the bartender recommended San Pellegrino grapefruit soda, which she seemed quite pleased with.

We decided to split a pair of appetizers. Our first appetizer was the orchard salad. The sweetness of the fruit paired well with the slightly bitter and peppery greens. The dressing was perfectly balanced, and the toasted walnuts added a new dimension of crunch and savoriness.

We were both eager to try the octopus, and we were not disappointed. Most octopus I've had is either like rubber bands when it's bad or mostly tender when it's good. It appeared that this octopus was grilled after braising, judging by the crispy suction cups. The result was a slightly chewy outside with soft and tender meat inside. This combination of textures worked quite well and reminded me of the texture of some shaped pastas when they are cooked properly.

Speaking of pasta, for my entree, I chose the fettuccine bolognese. The bolognese had a deep, beefy flavor that indicated long hours of slow cooking. Some restaurants cheat by adding heavy cream, but Cafe Gia offers an honest version that allows the beef to take center stage. The fettuccine was perfectly al dente.

The Minx chose the made-to-order eggplant parmigiana with a side of linguine. The marinara sauce was bright with fresh tomato flavor. The thinly sliced eggplant was layered and smothered with mozzarella cheese before baking, and the meaty texture could fool someone into thinking that this wasn't a vegetarian dish. It also had no trace of the bitter quality that turns me off to eggplant.

In addition to the festive decor and the delicious food, owner Gia Blatterman and the staff create a friendly and welcoming feeling as if you are visiting a friend's home for dinner. There's also al fresco dining on the second floor balcony during the warmer months, allowing patrons to enjoy chef Gianfranco Fracassetti's inventive cuisine while taking in the quaint views of Little Italy.

Cafe Gia on Urbanspoon
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