Monday, November 30, 2015

Butterscotch Bourbon Apple Bread Pudding

Every year, when Fall comes along, I have a strong urge to bake up a big dish of apple crisp. My mama used to make it pretty regularly, and I adored it. Still do. But, hubby isn't a fan. I know - he's weird. He loves apples, and will happily eat apple pie, but top those apples with a crumbly topping and it's game over.

A couple years back, I switched things up and tried an apple cobbler on him, but it still wasn't a favorite. No worries - that cobbler was so damn good, I ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until it was gone, with absolutely no regrets.

This time, I put apples in a bread pudding. Mr Minx has no argument with those. I even sprinkled the top with a bit of brown sugar partway through baking in order to get a little crunch. He seemed to enjoy it just fine. So while it's not apple crisp, it was tasty and apple-y and fall-ish.

I used whole wheat bread, just shy of an entire grocery-store loaf. You can use what you like, from challah to baguette to plain old white bread. If you don't have apple cider and don't want to invest in it, then just use an extra cup of milk. Cider, however, gives the dish a more apple-y flavor. You can add some cinnamon, too, if that's your thing, but I preferred to taste the subtle butterscotch combo of brown sugar, booze, and salt.

Butterscotch Bourbon Apple Bread Pudding

3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons brown sugar (divided use)
3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
4 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Large pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup melted butter
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whole milk
1 cup apple cider
3 large eggs
Enough stale bread to fill about 8 cups

Heat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter and 3 tablespoons of the brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Add apples and toss well to coat. Add the bourbon and cream and cook for five minutes, until apple has softened a bit and the sauce is bubbly. Stir in the salt and remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, stir melted butter into condensed milk. Whisk in milk, cider, and eggs. Add the bread and press down on the mixture to ensure all of it is saturated with the milk mixture.

Place half of the mixture in a greased  9- or 10-inch springform pan. Top with half of the apples. Pour in remaining bread mixture and sprinkle with remaining apples.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining tablespoon of brown sugar over top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool for a bit before cutting into wedges and serving. Softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is a nice touch, but not necessary.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Flashback Friday - Another Take on Rice Pudding

I was a bit of an over-achiever in high school. Ok, so that's not true at all, but it certainly seemed that way in this instance.


This post was originally published on December 14, 2009.
Another Take on Rice Pudding

When we think of rice pudding, we generally think of the typical Greek-diner version of rice grains suspended in a custardy base, garnished with a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon. But apparently the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, preferred a gussied-up version, with candied fruits and a little hooch. Known as Riz à l'Impératrice, or rice in the manner of the empress, it was one of the first truly adventurous dishes I tackled as a home cook.

My high school French club was having an after-school party and I volunteered to bring a dish. After poring over my dad's collection of food magazines, I found Riz à l'Impératrice in Cuisine. It seemed simple enough (ha!), plus my mother had a collection of groovy copper molds that she wasted on various Jell-O creations.

The Riz was far more impressive than any other dish that showed up at the party that afternoon. Certainly more than the runny chocolate mousse served in Dixie cups. At least *I* thought so.

Recently I decided it was high time to try it again. That old issue of Cuisine perished in a leaky ceiling/mildew incident some years back, and the only other version of the recipe I could find was that of James Beard.

Riz à l'Impératrice, from James Beard
House & Garden, January 1965

2/3 cup rice
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon gelatin soaked in 2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3/4 cup candied or preserved fruit
Rum or whiskey
1 cup heavy cream
Red glacé cherries or candied citron and candied pineapple

Wash rice. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to a saucepan containing 1 1/4 cups milk and simmer until the rice is very tender. Heat remaining milk.

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg yolks and sugar. Gradually stir in the hot milk and continue stirring until smooth and thick. Add softened gelatin and vanilla. Strain. Mix into the rice and cool until the mixture begins to set.

Soak the 3/4 cup candied or preserved fruit in a little rum or whiskey for 1/2 hour. Whip the heavy cream and fold in the soaked fruit. Mix into the rice mixture. Turn into a decorative ring mold and chill. Before serving, unmold on a platter and decorate with glacè cherries or candied citron and candied pineapple.

I found the copper mold I had used originally and realized it had a 6-cup capacity. As I was cooking the rice, I knew it would never fill such a large mold. What to do? Luckily, the rice seemed to need more than 1 1/4 cups milk to reach a properly tender state, so I added an additional cup, a bit at a time. To compensate for the additional liquid, I added 1/4 sugar to the egg mixture. And I thought, what the hell - I'll whip the whole damn pint of heavy cream rather than just half of it. And it fit the mold perfectly.

Needless to say, I skipped the icky glacé cherries and candied fruits; of course that meant I couldn't use the booze. That's ok - my high school friends didn't get any either. At least - not in my dessert.

Now, unmolding creamy desserts can be a tricky thing. One must gently heat the mold to melt just enough of the gelatin to allow the filling to slide out. Too much heat and...


Ah...toss some toasted almonds on top and who's gonna know? (I have no idea how I unmolded the thing successfully at school.) What really matters is the taste - so rich, so yummy - possibly the best rice pudding ever. At least, according to Mr Minx. :)

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jerk Chicken Pot Pie

I gave Mr Minx two options for Sunday dinner, one of which was jerk chicken pot pie. Several days after choosing this dish, he informs me that he doesn't like pot pie. I ignore him and make it anyway, as: 1) it was the option he chose; 2) he'll like MY pot pie. Or so I hoped.

He later tells me why he doesn't like pot pie. He's not a fan of cooked carrots, or peas. Yet he puts carrots in almost everything that he cooks, and sometimes peas, too. I roll my eyes. I understand that he's had bad experiences with pot pies. His Mom wasn't much of a cook, so sometimes dinner was individual Swanson pot pies with their cardboard crusts and flavorless insides. My Mom made individual pot pies all the time, usually with left over pot roast. She'd booze it up with cooking sherry and pop a Bisquick biscuit crust on top, and we gobbled it up and asked for more. So I have only fond pot pie memories, but I understand the fear of a soggy crust or a filling that is more gravy than meat and veg.

But I was making this pot pie, and it was going to be glorious. Or at least pretty good.

I don't know why I got the idea of adding jerk seasoning to the pie. Jerk chicken is a thing and chicken pot pie is a thing, so why not combine the two? We had some delicious jerk seasoning that a friend brought us from a trip to Jamaica, so that is what I used. You can use any dry jerk seasoning that you like, commercial or homemade.

Mr Minx decided he liked my chicken pot pie enough to eat two helpings. That's not to say that he likes pot pie now, of course.

Jerk Chicken Pot Pie
This recipe has quite a few steps, but most of them can be done in the same pan without washing it in between. Feel free to use pre-cooked chicken, if you want to make your life a little easier.

For vegetables:
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
4 ounces button mushrooms, chopped
Olive oil
1 teaspoon jerk seasoning

For chicken and gravy:
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless, chicken thighs (about 6)
Chicken stock
Jerk seasoning
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons AP flour
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas

For the biscuits:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup cold butter cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

To make the veg: In a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, add the vegetables with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Cook until wilted, about 5 minutes.Stir in the jerk seasoning. Cook another few minutes until everything is tender. Remove from pan and set aside until ready to use.

To make the chicken: Put the chicken in the same pan that the veg were in. Over medium-high heat without adding extra fat, cook on both sides until lightly browned, about 5 minutes total. Add 1 cup of stock, a pinch of salt, and about 1/4 teaspoon of jerk seasoning and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low and poach chicken for 30 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from heat. Dice the chicken and set aside until ready to use. Measure out the cooking liquid and add enough additional stock to make 1 1/2 cups.

Wipe out the frying pan and put over medium heat. Melt the butter and add the flour. Stir constantly to incorporate the two into a thick paste. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and additional jerk seasoning as desired.

Stir the reserved chicken, vegetables, and frozen peas into the gravy. Remove from the heat.

To make the biscuits: Combine flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, and sugar in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a fork or your fingers. Stir in milk and cheese.

To finish pie: Preheat oven to 450°F.

Pour chicken mixture into a 8" or 9" square baking pan. Top with evenly spaced dollops of the biscuit dough.

Bake for 25 minutes, until biscuits are golden and gravy is bubbling. Serve hot, garnished with chopped green onion.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Dining in NY - Ivan Ramen and Mission Cantina

Several months ago, I was reading an issue of New York magazine featuring all the hot new places to eat in the Big Apple. I felt a little smug about the fact that I had already eaten at Gato, the latest Bobby Flay restaurant that the magazine was heaping praise upon, It also mentioned a quirky new place called Ivan Ramen. Ramen is something that has recently taken off in the Baltimore area and, since it involves noodles, is certainly one of my favorite dishes. Ivan Ramen features an inventive mix of east-meets-west dishes, especially their appetizers like the L.E.S. bun featuring pastrami, karashi mayo and daikon slaw. Since the Minx and I were already planning a trip to New York in the fall, I made a mental note to put this on our list of new places to dine.

Fast forward to October and we were on our way to Gotham with our itinerary plotted out, including lunch at Ivan Ramen as soon as we arrived. There are two locations for Ivan Ramen and we chose the one on the Lower East Side because there was another restaurant nearby that we also wanted to try out; sort of a movable lunch. After checking into our hotel room in Midtown, we hopped on the subway and rode down to Ivan Ramen. I asked the Minx if she wanted to try any of the appetizers, hoping she would say yes. She did not say yes, however, reminding me of the other restaurant we were going to visit afterward. We're pretty piggy, but we don't like to make too big a point of it. Mildly chagrined at the prospect of a L.E.S. bun-less meal, I focused my attention on the ramen.

I settled on the Tokyo Shoyu Ramen. After all, I figured if they were offering so many eclectic dishes, I would see how well they could make a traditional classic. Quite well is the answer. The rich broth was a combination of soy sauce, dashi, and chicken broth. The protein was pork chashu and a perfectly cooked soft egg. I was pleasantly surprised by the rye noodles, something I had never had in ramen before but which provided a slightly more grainy flavor than the usual wheat noodles.

The Minx opted for the Hiyashi Chuka, a salad of chilled whole wheat noodles, smoked ham, cucumbers, tomatoes, romaine, bacon, and vidalia onion sitting atop a pool of malted honey dashi vinaigrette. I was dubious about cold noodles, but they made perfect sense with the crispy vegetables and bright yet slightly sweet vinaigrette. The swipe of mustard on the corner of the plate was extremely spicy, providing the occasional kick when you wanted it.

The meal was an invigorating start, but after our long train ride, I was still hungry for more. We headed off for the second restaurant on our itinerary but, after hiking several blocks and getting turned around a couple of times, we arrived at our destination to discover that it was only open for dinner. Now I was feeling a bit desperate. I mean, yes I had eaten an adequate amount of calories for lunch but, dammit, I was prepared for more! We started wandering around the neighborhood heading back in the general direction of the subway station. I was determined to find another restaurant that was open and serving something worth eating, but I was not at all familiar with area.

Then we reached an open cafe with the words Mission Cantina in the window. I had been following Mission Chinese Food on Instagram for months and was vaguely familiar with this New York outpost. I was about to say something to Minx when she blurted, "Oh, Mission Cantina! Want to try this?" I was glad she approved.

We stepped inside amid the cacophony of punk music and studied their menu on the wall. Although I was oblivious, the Minx spotted chef/owner Danny Bowien lurking in the dining room. I was more interested in figuring out which burrito I wanted. The Minx liked the sound of the fried chicken super burrito and so did I.

The California Super Burrito with fried chicken, pinto beans, guac, crema, and cheese was almost as big as my forearm. There was no chance of me not getting filled up now. I was surprised at how mildly spiced it was, but given that it was stuffed with chunks of fried chicken, perhaps they wanted to let the fried chicken flavor come through. All the other elements were pleasantly creamy with the occasional crunch of the chicken coating to keep things interesting.

The Minx chose the fish taco with guac, fried skate wing, marinated red onion, and a sauce reminiscent of an Indian pickle. In fact, this unusual hit of Indian flavors really set the taco apart from any fish taco we had ever tasted. While my burrito was dense and sloppy and wonderfully satiating, I really wanted to have three or four of those spicy/sweet tacos.

After washing our burrito and tacos down with a couple of Mexican Coca-Colas, we walked backed to the subway station floating on the comfortable intoxication of two really terrific meals. After all the hustle bustle of buses, trains, and subway cars, I took in the late afternoon vibe of the neighborhood. I don't think I could live in New York, but I certainly envy their food choices.

Ivan Ramen
25 Clinton St
New York, NY 10002

Mission Cantina
172 Orchard St
New York, NY 10002
(212) 254-2233

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Flashback Friday - Things a Baltimore Foodie Must Try

Man, I was cranky and opinionated back then. Now too, of course.


This post was originally published on December 16, 2009.
Things a Baltimore Foodie Must Try

Sun columnist Elizabeth Large prompted readers to submit ideas for her list of "100 things area foodies must try." The only rule was that they be "quintessentially Baltimore." Some of the suggestions included:

"Eat the pumpkin appetizer at the Helmand" (so no other Afghan restaurant in the world serves kadu bouranee?)

"Eat a Wockenfuss caramel apple!" (I can make them at home, even if I didn't live in Baltimore.)

"Thin crust pizza! Iggies and Joe Squared." (I don't think thin crust pizza was invented in Baltimore.)

"Chicken salad from Graul's Market!" (Used to be that the chicken salad at the Woman's Industrial Exchange was called the best. I like it from Mary Mervis in the Lexington Market. The stuff at the UMMC hospital cafeteria is pretty darn good, too. Hey wait - does this mean that other places sell chicken salad? I hear they sell it in other states, even!)

"Have a special occasion dinner at Charleston. Ask Chef Cindy Wolf to fix what she thinks is best that night." (The restaurant is called Charleston, for crap's sake!)

"Change your mind about vegan/vegetarian food at Liquid Earth" (Why leave out one of the only other notable vegetarian restaurants in town, the Yabba Pot?)

"Try the charcuterie at Clementine." (Cured pig parts are eaten the world over, and probably in greater quantities outside of Baltimore.)

"Sit at the bar at Cinghiale and order anything. Talk to Rob about wine when Tony isn't in town." (Cinghiale is relatively new and hasn't had time to become "quintessentially" anything yet.)

"Eat sushi in Towson." (Ok, that's just plain dumb. Charles Street downtown probably has as many sushi restaurants. And if you think sushi is a Baltimore thing, then you're hopeless.)

"Smith Island Cake, but only from Sugarbakers." ("Smith Island Cake" by its very name, is not Baltimorean.)

It's not that I disagree that foodies should experience most of the things on the list, I simply think that many of them can be found in some form in any major city. That would include good deli, roasted vegetables, diner food, hand-made ice cream, and the non-food related "making fun of hipsters." Hell, I do that while surfing the Internet - no comestibles required. In other words, they're not "quintessentially" Baltimore. (Not quintessentially anything, really.)

Things that I do agree that a Baltimorean should try at least once (foodie or no) are Berger cookies, lake trout, pit beef, coddies, and all things crab: crab soup (both varieties), crabcakes, soft shell crabs, crab imperial, stuffed shrimp, etc. And Old Bay. Apparently some of the best (or only) examples of those foodstuffs can be found in the Baltimore area, and on Maryland's Eastern Shore. (My condolences to those who are shellfish-intolerant.)

Older folks, like myself, should have eaten at Haussner's, Maison Marconi, Mee Jun Lo, Danny's, Connolly's, and Martick's. While they're still around, young folks should stop into Jimmy's (on Broadway), Chiapparelli's and Sabatino's, Attman's, and Trinacria. Not that any of the restaurants mentioned are unique to Baltimore, but because they were and are Baltimore institutions. And that's just as important a consideration as quintessential-ism when it comes to making lists of "must dos." Those new-fangled farm-to-table, hipster, restaurants serving "New American" cuisine that have been popping up all over the place are as much Seattle, New York, or Chicago as Baltimore. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at things), that seems to be the way that things are headed, the new generic that is replacing the "Continental" food restaurant of decades past.

So forget the county sushi and the roasted vegetables, and go find yourself a restaurant where the veteran, apron-wearing waitresses call you "hon" and have yourself a plate of crab imperial before it becomes a memory. That's a must-do Baltimore foodie experience.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

White Chocolate Brownies

A couple weeks ago, we determined that we needed something brownie-like to snack on. Rather than make our usual Ghirardelli brownies, we made the original recipe brownies from the Fat Witch bakery cookbook. Those brownies have more butter and sugar than chocolate or flour, and are very tender and moist rather than chewy or cakey.

After polishing off that pan, I wondered how a white chocolate version would work. For some reason, we had 2 1/2 bags of white chocolate chips in the cupboard; I must have purchased them for some reason but have no memory of it. That's what happens when you get old, folks. So we tried it. Not only did we substitute white chocolate for semi-sweet, we also lowered the amount of sugar, flour, butter, and eggs by small increments.

Mr Minx said, after eating a couple, "I think I prefer them to the chocolate version," and our friend Fran said, "these are addictive." I said, "mmmfgmbbmmm!" (Because my mouth was full.) Despite calling for one less egg than the original version, these tasted eggy, like a custard in cake form. They were very moist in the center, even when cold from the fridge (though I recommend eating them at room temperature).

The batter is very runny, due to the amount of butter and eggs, so any add-ins will sink to the bottom of the batter. For that reason, it's probably best to leave them out; I only include them in the recipe because I used cranberries and pistachios when I baked the bars. You can clearly see the dried cranberries at the bottom of the bars in the photo above. An addition that I think would be completely dynamite is finely grated (Microplaned) citrus zest. Which is what I'm going to try next time.

White Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Fat Witch Brownies)

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup high-quality white chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
Pinch salt
About half a cup of your favorite nuts and/or dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, pistachios, pecans, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Fit an 8" x 8" square baking pan with a piece of parchment large enough to cover the bottom and long enough to extend a couple inches above the lip of the pan. Fold the excess paper over the top of the pan and secure with a couple of large paperclips so it won't flop down over the batter (which will be very liquidy, so don't skip this step). If you don't have parchment on hand, you can grease and flour the pan; the cookies will just be a little harder to remove later.

Place butter and white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 30 seconds, remove bowl from oven, and stir. If the butter isn't completely melted, put it back in for another 15 seconds. Repeat if necessary, but keep in mind that white chocolate will burn fairly easily. Stir vigorously to make sure the white chocolate is as melted as possible. The butter will separate; don't worry about it. Set aside for a few long minutes to cool.

Cream the sugar, eggs, and vanilla until thick and pale. Mix in the cooled white chocolate. Add the flour and salt and mix well until completely combined. Stir in fruit and or nuts.

Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for between 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out with only a few moist crumbs on it.

Cool completely before cutting into squares.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thanksgiving Restaurant Round-up

Thanksgiving is a week away, and if you're not up for cooking the usual roast beast, there are always plenty of restaurant options to choose from. Here's a few for your consideration. Click the names of the restaurants for menus, plus additional information.

Wit & Wisdom

Chef Zack Mills is offering a three-course Fall-inspired Feast
Thursday, November 26
2:00pm - 8:00pm
$85 per adult | $40 children under 12
$40 optional wine pairing

The menu includes turkey, of course, but you can also choose monkfish, if you prefer. Chef Mills' gorgeous crab bisque is available as a starter, and pastry chef Dyan Ng's creations include the fall flavors of sweet potato, butternut squash, or good old chocolate.

Cinnamon Tree

10am - 4pm
$35 per person | $16.95 for children under 10

Brunch staples like omelets cooked to order, plus standouts like grouper stuffed with Maryland crabmeat and a red pepper coulis; allspice and cinnamon scented pork loin with apricot sauce. Turkey, of course, and a prime rib carving station, with traditional stuffing and side dishes. For dessert, try their specialty Cinnamon Tree Cinnamon Buns, which make you wish that Thanksgiving was every day of the year.

Waterfront Kitchen

Thursday, November 26, 2015
12:00 – 7:00pm
$65 per person | $15 for children 12 and under
$25 wine pairing

New executive chef Chris Amendola has created a family-style meal that includes Rettland Farm turkey with all the trimmings, followed by pumpkin pie and apple crisp. Just like home, but with a harbor view.

Milton Inn

$58 per person | $29 for children 12 and under
A la carte menu also available

The Milton Inn is offering a three-course Thanksgiving Feast this year, an appetizer of your choice, followed by a full turkey dinner with gravy, sauerkraut with sausage, sweet potato mousse, onion and celery stuffing, Jack Tarr mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, seasonal veg, Parker House rolls, and cornbread! Whew. Plus dessert. Or, you can choose venison, short ribs, or surf and turf from the a la carte menu.

Manor Tavern

Thanksgiving Buffet
Seatings at 12:30pm, 3:00pm, and 5:30pm
$39.95 per person | $15.95 children 3-12 | Free for children under 3

Turkey, ham, and prime rib are the centerpieces of this buffet that includes all the usual suspects: sweet potatoes; cranberry sauce; gravy; sage dressing and oyster dressing; plus mac and cheese; red cabbage with kielbasa; lots of desserts.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Dining in NY - Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

Mr Minx and I were in NY recently to celebrate our 15th anniversary and my impending birthday. We ate at a number of interesting and less-expensive-than-usual places, just about all of them of some ethnic persuasion. We also saw a terrific Broadway show, An American in Paris. While looking for a place to have lunch before our matinee, I found Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen.

While restaurants in the Theater District/Times Square are not particularly known for their haute cuisine (think Olive Garden), this little restaurant with the big name was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin for 2016. The Bib Gourmand is defined as serving "two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less." Basically cheap eats. But there are some notable restaurants on the 2016 list, including both Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar, Frankies 457 Spuntino, Kesté Pizza & Vino, Prune, and Tertulia. I figured a restaurant in such good company can't be bad. And it wasn't.

Service is prompt and efficient in Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen's no-frills dining room. There is barely need for a menu, as the restaurant's name pretty much sums it up, but it was nice to receive one with photos of every dish, so we knew what we were getting into. The bulk of the choices are for dim sum-type snacks, with bigger dishes involving ramen or hand cut noodles in soup or stir fries. We had eaten ramen the day before (and several times in the week before our trip), so opted for dim sum in the form of pan-fried Peking duck buns, scallion pancakes with beef, pork and crab-filled soup dumplings, and a cold dish of sliced beef and tripe in chili oil.

It was all good. The meat in both the buns and scallion pancakes was slightly sweet, which balanced the spice of the beef and tripe. The tripe was cut a bit more thickly than we are used to in similar dishes served at Grace Garden and Hunan Taste, which made it a bit more chewy, but the lightly peanutty chili sauce with the distinct piney-citrus-floral flavor of Sichuan peppercorns had the perfect amount of ma-la (spicy and numbing) heat.

After having scalded myself at my first attempt at eating soup dumplings, I was very aware of the proper method of consuming these heat bombs: using the tongs provided, place a dumpling on the soup spoon; take a tiny nibble of the dumpling skin; suck out the broth before consuming the rest of the dumpling. These dumplings weren't as incendiary as those at Joe's Shanghai, so we emerged unscathed.

I think I liked the scallion pancakes most, for their crisp flaky exterior and the sweet bite of tender beef inside. It was a nice textural contrast. But everything else was quite tasty as well. It would be nice to have these slightly different options available at dim sum here in Baltimore, but who am I kidding? We're lucky to have any dim sum options at all.

Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen
811 8th Ave
New York, NY 10019

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Flashback Friday - Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que

This restaurant is closed, thankfully. Not sure how it stayed open as long as it did.


This post was originally published on December 3, 2008.
Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que

Every year, my closest buddies and I like to celebrate our near-holidays birthdays together. This year we chose to do so on November 30th. That was a Sunday, and no Sunday is complete without a Ravens game, so we headed to Ray Lewis' tax shelter restaurant in Canton for some ribs and Joe Flacco on the tube. Let me just say that Ray's isn't a place to go to for food.

We knew we were going to be there most of the afternoon, so we paced ourselves. Our waitress was fine with that because 1) we were pretty much the only customers for a while; 2) we promised her a big tip. First we started off with the BBQ nachos, a messy pile of commercial chips oozing that nasty day-glo orange plastic stuff that passes for nacho "cheese" at ballparks but shouldn't be allowed in an actual restaurant, plus chunks of chicken, not-so-finely-shredded lettuce, bbq sauce, plus a tiny bit of salsa and sour cream on top. The chicken was nicely tender, but the rest of the mess was disappointing, and the chips got soggy in seconds. Next we tried the riblets, which were tender, but they had that "cooked three days ago and reheated" flavor, and the sauce lacked character other than sweetness. Finally, one friend and I shared a burger, which was passable but greasy, and I'm not sure it was formed in-house. The other two ladies in our group had salads and seemed to enjoy them.

By halftime, groups of well-dressed people showed up to have their post-church Sunday dinner. A couple platters of fried catfish with sides of mac and cheese and greens went by, looking almost tasty. And one certainly could not fault the generosity of the portions. But alas, we went for more snacky-type foods and perhaps that was our downfall. Maybe next time. Not that there will be a next time. :)

The best thing about the place is that every booth not near the bar has its own small flat-screen tv, which allows for plenty of close-up gawking at handsome football players. Those near the bar had to watch the game on giant screens that had a terrible yellow tint, making them seem perhaps a little too close to the bathrooms....

Our waitress ended her shift in the game's final moments, so we made sure to take care of our tab with her. She informed the person that was taking over her section we would be staying a while and perhaps ordering more drinks or dessert. Alas, we were left for dead. Even after collaring the replacement server and telling her we did expect service, she waited at least 15 minutes before coming to us, at which point we were in our coats and at the door.

Yeah, probably won't be a "next time."

Go Ravens!

Ray Lewis' Full Moon Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

#givingtuesday at Wit & Wisdom

Executive Chef Zack Mills of Wit & Wisdom is partnering with Chef Tim Dyson of Dooby’s and Chef Cyrus Keefer of 13.5%Wine Bar to host an “evening in Thailand” complete with a Thai-influenced menu and drinks on #GivingTuesday in support of nonprofit Urban Light.

The chefs will prepare an intimate, private four-course menu to be served alongside wine pairings from Wit & Wisdom’s lead sommelier, Julie Dalton.

Founded by Baltimorean Alezandra Russell, Urban Light is dedicated to shedding light on the overlooked and ignored homeless population of boys in Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai, who are vulnerable and at risk of exploitation and trafficking.

“I’m thrilled to collaborate with some of the most creative chefs in Charm City on this dinner— Thai is a style of cuisine I trained for in the early stages of my career,” said Chef Mills. “#GivingTuesday is a powerful movement that I’m honored to harness in support of Urban Light’s cause to uplift and empower boys in Thailand.”

Wit & Wisdom, A Tavern by Michael Mina
Private Dining Room
Four Seasons Hotel
200 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202

Tuesday, December 1, 7pm

$100 per person ++ (plus tax and gratuity plus Eventbrite fee), all proceeds benefit Urban Light. $100 of the cost is tax-deductible.

Reserve your ticket now - there are only 36 seats, and they will go fast!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brussels Sprout Tacos

Our recent trip to New York introduced me to a new meat substitute--brussels sprouts. Ok, not exactly a meat substitute in the same vein as tofu, tempeh, or seitan, but a surprisingly filling stand-in for animal-based protein. There were all sorts of delicious options on the menu at Empellon Taqueria, but the brussels sprouts tacos caught my eye. Served with toasted almonds and an almendrado (an almond-based mole), the tiny cabbages were almost meaty in texture. I decided I needed to try something like that at home.

There are multiple recipes for sauces called "almendrado," one of which is a dessert custard. The others contained everything from chocolate to plantains to raisins to, er, hazelnuts, so rather than attempt to recreate what I had eaten in NY, I just struck out on my own. Basically I messed around with what I had and came up with something delicious.

We didn't have corn tortillas on hand, so I made some. I wanted to make blue corn tortillas and found a recipe that used both blue cornmeal and all-purpose flour in place of the typical masa. The result had far more texture than a masa tortilla, due to the graininess of the cornmeal, but they worked really well with the filling, so the recipe is included here. Otherwise, if you want to make your own standard masa tortillas, you can use this recipe from an older blog post.

I had tomatillos, so made a salsa. As for a cheese element, I did something completely different. Wanting to add a crunchy aspect to the tacos, I fried the cheese into crisps. Parm works the best for this sort of thing, but a moister cheese like cheddar or jack works too, you just have to watch carefully so they don't burn.

These babies were hearty, meaty, crispy, creamy, and tangy. Everything I want in a taco.

Brussels Sprouts Tacos

1/2 lb small Brussels sprouts
Olive oil
4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
Blue corn tortillas (recipe follows)
Sour cream
Tomatillo salsa (recipe follows)
2 ounces shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, Parm)
3 scallions, chopped
Pomegranate arils

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Trim the sprouts. If they are on the large size (bigger than a quarter), then cut them into quarters. If they are small (dime or penny size), leave them whole. Put them on a foil-lined baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until tender-crisp and browning/charring in spots. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter. When it melts, add the mushrooms and cook until nicely browned on both sides. Add the roasted brussels sprouts and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of the shredded cheese into a thin circular shape in the hot pan. It will bubble and melt. When the edges start to brown, try to loosen it from the pan with a spatula. Once it loosens easily, flip the cheese to cook the other side. Watch carefully so the cheese round does not burn. When done, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining cheese. Allow cheese to cool, then break up into shards.

Top each tortilla with a smear of sour cream. Add some of the sprout/mushroom mixture and a dollop of tomatillo salsa. Garnish with pieces of fried cheese, scallion, and pomegranate.

Blue Corn Tortillas (adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 1/3 cup AP flour
2/3 cup blue cornmeal
4 tablespoons veg or corn oil
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine flour, cornmeal, and oil in a bowl. Gradually add the water and salt. Knead dough just until smooth. You might not need all of the water; the texture of the dough should not be sticky.

Divide into twelve equally sized pieces and roll each into a ball. Flatten each ball slightly and place on a plate. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and allow to rest at least 30 minutes.

Roll out each ball into a 6" round, using a rolling pin or tortilla press. Cook each in a hot, ungreased, skillet for about 45 seconds per side. Stack tortillas as they come out of the pan to keep them pliable. Serve warm or room temperature.

Tomatillo Salsa

4-5 tomatillos
2 jalapeno peppers
3 scallions
Handful fresh cilantro
1 small clove garlic
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
Pinch cumin
Salt, to taste

Remove husks from tomatillos, rinse them and cut into quarters. Stem and deseed the jalapenos (leave some seeds in, if you want more heat). Remove root end from scallions and chop remainder into 1" pieces.

Put tomatillos, jalapenos, scallions, cilantro, and garlic into a blender and puree. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the brown sugar, cumin, and salt. Cook about 5 minutes, until mixture darkens. Taste for seasoning, adding more sugar or salt if you think it needs it. It should be tart, but not sour.

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Monday, November 09, 2015

Dining in NY - Empellon Taqueria

I am kinda fascinated that a well-regarded pastry chef like Alex Stupak can suddenly decide to dump the sugarwork and start making tacos and moles. Apparently, working with fondant wasn't his true calling; in a recent tv interview, he said he was forced into the job. Today, he's got three restaurants in NY, all in a Mexican vein: Empellon Cucina, Empellon El Pastor, and the one we visited, Empellon Taqueria.  I say a Mexican "vein," because while the menu is full of tacos and such, Stupak isn't religious about authenticity. That's fine, because what he creates with the building blocks of Mexican cuisine is pretty tasty.

The menu states, in all caps, "Empellon strongly discourages the use of cell phones, unless you're posting food porn on Instagram. #Empellon." It would be much easier to post food porn had the restaurant not dimmed the lights several times during the course of our meal. So, sorry for the crappy pics. By the time we received the queso fundido, it was pretty damn dark in the restaurant.

The three of us (Mr Minx, our friend David, and I) started out with a couple of cocktails, a ¿Porque No? and a Spicy Cucumber margarita. Both are made with blanco tequila and a hint of spice; one flavored with pineapple and the other drink with cucumber. I think I preferred the spicy cucumber, and I don't ordinarily enjoy cucumber in a cocktail. Despite the jalapeno tincture, the cocktail was more herbal and refreshing than spicy.

¿Porque no? with Cimarron Blanco tequila, pineapple, cilantrom serrano tincture.  Mr Minx had the spicy cucumber margarita, made with Pueblo Viejo Blanco tequila, fresh cucumber, jalapeno tincture, and chile salt.
With our cocktails we enjoyed a bowl of chunky guacamole and chips, accompanied by two of the restaurants seven salsas--a creamy smoked cashew and a spicy puree featuring chiles de arbol. Between the three items, we had a nice palette of spicy and creamy flavors to ease our palates into the meal.

Guacamole with two salsas, smoked cashew (front) and arbol (back left)
I personally wanted to go vegetarian that night, so we started with an order of celery root with toasted peanuts. Garnished with celery leaves, the dish was a south of the border interpretation of the celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter most of us enjoyed as children. The celery root was lightly cooked to tenderness and topped with something the menu called salsa macha. Originating from Veracruz, salsa macha is commonly a thick oily sauce made with chiles and peanuts (or other nuts) vaguely reminiscent of the chile oil one finds at Chinese dim sum restaurants. The sauce in this dish seemed closer to a Thai peanut sauce, as it was lighter in color, and not particularly hot. Nevertheless, the components together made for a tasty dish.

Celery root, toasted peanuts, salsa macha
We tried three types of tacos between us. I went for the Brussels sprouts version, served with an almond sauce and toasted almonds. The small sprouts were decidedly meaty and a surprisingly good filling for a corn tortilla.

Brussels sprouts, toasted almonds, almendrado
David ordered the chicken tacos, which he said were excellent.

Chicken, black kale, crema, salsa verde 
And Mr Minx got the short rib pastrami tacos. As I said earlier, Stupak isn't all that concerned with authenticity, and if it works as well and is delicious as this, who needs it?  These tacos were like a classic pastrami sandwiches, mustard and all, but in taco form. Which leads me to wonder - what can't be served as a taco?

Shortrib pastrami, pickled cabbage, mustard seed salsa
Still feeling a bit peckish, we ordered the queso fundido topped with black trumpet mushrooms and guaje seeds (guaje is an inedible pod that produces seeds not unlike pumpkin seeds). The rich chihuahua cheese and delicate mushrooms worked equally well scooped onto tortilla chips as on the accompanying flour tortillas.

While I wasn't so crazy about the continually dimming lights and the din that escalated as more young and pretty patrons arrived, I was glad to have had the opportunity to taste Alex Stupak's Mexican stylings. Everything we tried was delicious, and I look forward to checking them out again.

Empellon Taqueria
230 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 367-0999

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Saturday, November 07, 2015

Duff Bakes!

Duff Goldman, from Baltimore's own Charm City Cakes, is coming to town to sign copies of his new book, Duff Bakes: Think and Bake Like a Pro at Home.

Date: Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Time: 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Location: Atomic Books
3620 Falls Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21211

Filled with must-bake (and must-eat) favorites, DUFF BAKES has chapters on different types of pastry dough, a variety of cookies, blondies, muffins, bread, biscuits, pies, cakes and cake decorating, a whole chapter of gluten-free and vegan desserts, and much more. The 135 recipes include nutter butter cookies, white chocolate blondies, apple streusel muffins, cereal bars, bacon jalapeno biscuits, banana bourbon cream pie, zucchini lemon cake, and savory bread pudding, along with a few classics, like a re-make of the childhood favorite, Twinkies. And, yes, there are a few fun cake decorating projects with step-by-step photos to make it fun for all ages. It’s the perfect book for enthusiastic home bakers, young and old.

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Flashback Friday - Fishtail by David Burke, New York

One of my many very pleasant NY dining experiences.


This post was originally published on February 10, 2012.
Fishtail by David Burke, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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