Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays!

We're taking the rest of the year off. Happy holidays to all, and see you in 2017! It has to be better than 2016, right?

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Persimmon Muffins

I bought a persimmon at the Asian market several weeks ago. Mid-November. It was hard and hard and hard then had a smallish softish spot and then all of a sudden...squishy. I scraped the pulp out of the skin and almost ate it as is, but decided it would be better utilized in a dessert of some sort. Since it was already a puree and all. But what kind of dessert? I had a box of cream cheese without a plan in the fridge, but didn't want to fuss with a crust. And perhaps the creamy cheese would completely muffle the fruit's sweet flavor. Instead, I opted to make muffins.

I figured a modified apple muffin would work, and Martha Stewart's version with oats seemed ideal. It didn't require buttermilk or yogurt or any other stuff I didn't already have on hand. I swapped out the apple for persimmon, and the 1/2 cup milk for 1/4 cup of light cream (you can use half and half or milk), upped the cinnamon and sugar, and added nutmeg, vanilla, and walnuts. The result is hearty, yet delicately flavored and not too sweet. A perfect breakfast treat, IMHO.

Persimmon Walnut Oat Muffins (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup cream
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cup AP flour
1 cup quick oats
1 large very ripe persimmon, skin removed and chopped into a fine saucy pulp
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin (or 2 6-cup tins), or line with cupcake liners.

Put the butter in a large glass bowl and pop it in the microwave for a minute or so at high heat to melt. Let cool for a bit before stirring in the sugar and vanilla and beating in the eggs, cream, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the flour and oats, mixing just until blended. Stir in the persimmon pulp and walnuts.

Scoop batter evenly into the prepared tin or tins. Place on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake for 20 minutes, turning tin 180° halfway through baking.

Remove from tins and allow to cool on a rack. Eat warm with butter or at room temperature.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Order & Chaos Coffee Collaborates with Diamondback Brewing Company to Create Brewery’s First Stout

Order & Chaos Coffee , the new coffee shop located in the Planit headquarters on Key  Highway, is partnering with its South Baltimore neighbor, Diamondback Brewing Company, to create a unique fusion of what each company does best: coffee and beer. Available for a limited time, the Order & Chaos Cold Brew Coffee Stout will premiere during a taproom release party on December 23 at Diamondback Brewing Co. Patrons who purchase the Order & Chaos Cold Brew Coffee Stout will also receive a double branded Diamondback Brewing Company and Order & Chaos Coffee campfire mug while supplies last.

“South Baltimore has become a hot spot for new businesses, and we love supporting that growth through local collaboration,” said Ryan Herzing, General Manager of Order & Chaos Coffee. “Our neighbors at Diamondback Brewing Company are recognized for balancing drinkability with uncompromising flavor, and we’re looking forward to contributing flavors of our own that complement that balance.”

The Order & Chaos Cold Brew Coffee Stout is crafted with the coffee shop’s Houseblend Cold Brew, highlighting the brewery’s hop-filled mastery and the Houseblend’s smooth, subtle notes of nutty cocoa. Featuring rich, locally-roasted beans from Pfefforkorn, the Order & Chaos Houseblend Cold Brew coffee is a unique blend that combines the 100-year-old roasting company’s long-standing expertise and the coffee shop's creative influence.

“The Diamondback brand reflects our passion for industry innovation and local culture,” said Colin Marshall, co-founder of Diamondback Brewing Company. “This partnership with Order & Chaos Coffee was the perfect opportunity to move forward with the release of our first stout, and we’re excited to share it with the public.”

Diamondback Brewing Company, located at McHenry Row in Locust Point, was founded in 2013 by three Baltimore natives who opened their taproom doors in October 2016.

For more information, visit or follow @orderchaoscoffee on Instagram.

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Starlite Diner

The old Hess shoe store on Belvedere Avenue near York Road has been at least four restaurants over the past dozen or so years: Taste, Crush, Shoo Fly, and now Starlite Diner. Crush was my favorite of the bunch and I was very sorry to see it go; I particularly liked Demi, the small plates restaurant on the lower level. Taste was a bit all over the place--sometimes the food was good, and other times not so good. Shoo Fly was Spike Gjerde's attempt at a diner that had his local-only farm-to-table gimmick. The food was diner-ish, but prices were high and sometimes patrons want a damn lemon wheel for their cocktail. Shoo Fly didn't attract the hoi palloi, something at which Starlite Diner seems to be more successful. On the Saturday evening we were there, the place was fairly busy. Not hopping, as it was only 5pm, but more people came in as the night went on.

The decor is bright and funky, like a restaurant from the Jetsons rather than the streamlined chrome-tastic look sported by most other local diners. Starlite offers breakfast all day, such things as huevos rancheros and Oreo pancakes, plus a lunch and dinner menu full of trendy items like brussels sprouts and sliders with a couple of brief nods to diner food in the form of meatloaf and a roasted turkey sandwich.

Our party of four tried three apps, three items from the dinner menu, and one breakfast item.

Devils on Horseback is a fine retro appetizer. Ordinarily they're a play on Angels on Horseback, or oysters wrapped in bacon, substituting a dried fruit--like dates--for the oysters. At Starlite, they're a bit confused: deviled eggs topped with a fried oyster and a dollop of pimento aioli. They were...ok. The egg filling was a bit stiff for my taste, and the oysters overcooked. Potentially very good, however, and maybe they are on other nights.

This is the lobster mac and cheese. The lobster mac at Crush was probably the best version of that luxurious now-classic that I've ever tasted. Starlite's lobster mac was....meh. I liked the use of cavatappi, but prefer a saucier mac, and I really don't like my mac blanketed in stiff melted cheese. The screaming yellow cheese on the bright yellow plate was not appealing. A garnish of finely chopped parsley or green onion would go a long way to make the dish more attractive.

The fried brussels sprouts with bacon bits and a shower of finely grated Parmesan cheese was more successful. I can't rave over them, but I can't complain at all, either.

The breakfast item we tried was suitable for dinner - chicken and waffles. Three pieces of boneless fried chicken, both white and dark meat, were served over a fluffy Belgian-style waffle and came with a side of chipotle aioli. I felt the chicken was a bit bland, but it was nicely crispy. My biggest complaint (and you knew there'd be something) was the syrup. While Mrs Butterworth's/Log Cabin was fine in my youth (because I didn't know that their fenugreek flavoring really doesn't taste like maple at all) I wanted the real deal. I suppose I am spoiled.

Mr Minx ordered the shrimp and sausage jambalaya, which came with a chunk of cornbread and a shit-ton of butter (presumably for the cornbread). I detected cumin, which made the dish seem more like Mexican rice than jambalaya. But I suppose we're not in New Orleans. <sigh>

I had the short rib tacos. They were chock-full of tender shredded meat, tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco. They tasted pretty good, but were messy to eat. Perhaps doubling the corn tortillas so they don't fall apart would help. (It would.) The tacos came with a side salad, which I loved--a simple mix of baby greens with a bit of feta and a light toss in the slightly sweet house vinaigrette.

More of that salad and a side of crispy fries came with the pimento cheeseburger. I thought this was the best dish of the night. The 8oz Angus patty was nicely pink on the inside, with a terrific charbroiled flavor. It was topped with a house-made pimento cheese of cheddar flavored with bacon, onion, and chipotle peppers.

We had ordered a lot of food, so we declined dessert from the display of cheesecakes and whatnot from the case near the front door.

The prices are right at Starlite Diner, at least for the food. The most expensive items on the menu both involve steak; a 12oz strip with frites is $24, and a 10oz strip with eggs, home fries, and a salad is $20. There's also a lobster club for $18. The rest of the menu averages $10-$12, depending on whether it's a breakfast or dinner item. The $3 Natty Boh draft seemed a steal, especially when compared to the cocktails. We tried the Vega ($11) and the Bellatrix ($9). While both were made with quality spirits, the alcohol was quite diluted by other ingredients and neither drink packed any sort of punch.

Service is....ok. It's not bad, but it's not good, either. The person who led us to our seats gave us regular menus, but not the drink menu. Our waiter filled water glasses then left. After a somewhat long wait, he returned to take our drink order, but as we had not received those most important menus, we spent more time waiting while he returned with them, and then again for him to come back to take our order. Later, our entrees arrived while we were still eating our appetizers. This was a problem noted in Suzanne Loudermilk's Sun review in early November and was still an issue in early December.

While I think Starlite will be more successful than its predecessors in that particular location, it didn't quite satisfy any of our dining needs. It should, however, be popular with young families (there's a kids' menu, and the decor is fun) and folks in search of a good burger (who aren't into Clark Burger for whatever reason).

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Friday, December 16, 2016

I Don't Get It

Mr Minx and I each have an Instagram account (@neal.patterson and @minxeats, respectively - please follow!) I spend a few minutes each day looking at images in my feed. Lots of random shit goes through my head when I do this and I'm going to share some of it with you. (Lucky you!)

Red velvet cake. I don't get it. Red velvet used to be chocolate cake made with non-alkalized cocoa and an acidic ingredient like buttermilk, which kept the cocoa looking somewhat red. More red-ish, as opposed to dark brown. However, most cocoas are "Dutch processed," which makes them darker, necessitating the use of artificial colorants in red velvet cake. For some reason, people prefer the red color over the chocolate flavor, and use very little cocoa, if any, and gobs of red food coloring. To me, red velvet cake just tastes sweet. Like a white cake with white icing, only scarier.

So what's the appeal? The color? Why? If one wants to eat something red, there are tomatoes and strawberries and other naturally red foods that actually taste good.

Birthday cake croissants. A well-made croissant, flaky and buttery, is perfection. Why mess with a good thing? On a related note: Why are the chocolate-filled ones, which are commonly rectangular, still called croissants (crescents)? Admittedly, they do make great Instagram fodder.

Rainbow bagels. Why, for the love of unicorns, why? This is coming from someone who prefers plain bagels, or maybe sesame, untoasted, with butter. (Toasting is for poor-quality commercial bagels, IMHO.) If I am going to have cream cheese (which is rare), I just put on a thin schmear, not a thick slab. So a multi-colored bagel with a generous layer of funfetti cream cheese scares me.

Milkshakes with crap stuck to the outside of the glass and piled on top. A milkshake is an indulgence, one that is already pretty perfect. A slab of cake on top and do-dads of candy affixed to the outside of the glass must be for shock value. Does all that crap get eaten, or is most of it thrown out? And I can imagine that dish washers just looooove having to scrape all that frosting and candy off. (Fuck, I sound old. And I am thankful that I don't feel the need to keep up with all the insane food trends.)

Filters. Instagram has a slew of filters that do weird things to the coloration of photos. It's a good way to make a crappy photo seem intentionally bad. Many of them make the image look faded and change the colors to something less-than-natural. I can understand using them on photos of people or inanimate objects, but on food? A faded greenish purplish cheeseburger just isn't appetizing, sorry.

Obvious artificial lighting. Sure, I understand the need for additional lighting in dark restaurants, but using those ring lights that attach to cellphones provides a bit too much. When the light colored areas in a photo have absolutely no detail, the lighting is too harsh. When food throws intense black shadows, the lighting is too harsh. I am seeing it more and more on Insta, and the guilty parties are still getting oodles of likes, so they're not going to stop doing it. I just hope that over-lighting doesn't become the norm.

I have a ring light, but prefer to use it as a lamp, holding it off to the side to add just a bit more illumination. Nothing, however, beats natural light (which of course is sorely lacking during dinnertime in the fall and winter months).

Bloggers who call themselves chefs when they're not. Simple enough. If you don't lead a professional kitchen, you're not a chef. You're a cook. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of cooks work in professional kitchens! Not everyone has to be a chef. And you're not fooling anybody.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Tark's Grill

If you've never been to Tark's Grill before, let me warn you that it's not the easiest place to find. It's actually inside Greenspring Station, the little Cross Keys-like shopping area at Falls and Joppa Roads, not on the outside near Poulet. The signage is small, so keep your eyes peeled, especially at night!

We visited Tark's early on a Thursday evening, and it was already packed full of noisy people. I'm guessing many of them were regulars from before City Cafe owners Gino Cardinale and Bruce Bodie took over the restaurant. New ownership brought Tark's a new chef and new menus, all of which will be familiar to patrons of their Mount Vernon establishment. Chef James Jennings is doing double duty at both restaurants and is so far offering pretty much the same food at both, with a few exceptions. The menu will also seem familiar to patrons of The Food Market, as that restaurant's chef/owner Chad Gauss has run City Cafe's kitchen in the not so distant past and his influence is evident.

Seems complicated, but the food thankfully isn't. However, the menu is a bit puzzling. Similar to The Food Market's menu, there are multiple appetizer divisions like "Finger Food" and "First Bites," plus the less confusing "Principals." I'm not sure what the difference is between the first two categories, or why fried oysters and buffalo popcorn chicken are finger foods but warm brie flatbread and crispy calamari are "first bites." And why "first bites" is the second category on the menu. But maybe I'm the only one who notices these sorts of things.

There were four of us at this particular dinner. Two of us had already eaten two large restaurant meals that week and weren't necessarily in the mood for a third, but it was my birthday and neither of the other two people in our party was going to cook for me.... Rather than share apps and order entrees, as we normally do, we just ordered a mess of "finger foods" and "first bites" in two rounds. We started with the fried oysters, buffalo popcorn chicken, brussels sprouts, and Korean bbq wings.

The oysters were my favorite of the bunch. They were barely cooked on the inside and nicely crunchy on the outside. The bacon aioli was rich, and despite being under the oysters, didn't render them unreasonably soggy.

The brussels sprouts came in second. We are a family of brussels sprouts lovers and order them everywhere. We tend to enjoy deep fried ones best, because they are usually very crisp, but they're not particularly photogenic. The sprouts at Tark's were still very green, had a nice firm bite, and were well seasoned. They came with more of that nice bacon aioli.

The popcorn chicken, which was dusted with a powder made with Frank's hot sauce, wasn't particularly attractive, nor was it at all crisp, but the bits of chicken were nicely tender and the flavors were good.

The Korean bbq wings could have used a lot more heat (and sweetness, and garlic, and sesame oil, a trifecta of flavors that is fairly prominent in many Korean dishes) but they were well-cooked, with the meat coming easily off the bone.

We also had four "first bites." The warm brie flatbread with slivers of apple and a balsamic glaze was pretty good. The brie was melted but not messy, and the apple added a hint of sweetness and crunch.

The warm burrata and wild mushrooms was a miss, however. I love burrata, the oozier the better. Its rich cheesiness matches best with something bright and acidic, like tomatoes, for contrast. The mushrooms in this dish were surprisingly bland and under-seasoned, and the milky cheese simply added more blandness. Personally, I think something sharper, like manchego, would make a better foil for the mushrooms.

The Spanish shrimp--with mushrooms, garlic sauce, and smoked paprika--were tasty, if oddly-plated. Though the shrimp were large, the plate on which they were served was huge, and it took us a minute to realize the pile in the middle was comprised of chunks of bread and mushrooms. The bread was already saturated with sauce, and we had nothing with which to sop up the rest of it. (I know I'm not a professional chef, and you all probably hate when I do this, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'd 86 the mushrooms entirely, as they don't add anything to the dish, and put a smaller piece of bread under each shrimp. And use a smaller plate, and less sauce.)

It's hard to fault the calamari though. They were so very tender, with a light crisp coating. The Thai dipping sauce was a nice change from the usual marinara. An actual pleasure to eat.

Since it was my birthday, and the restaurant had been made aware of that fact, I got a free birthday dessert, which was a real treat. We were pretty full at this point so decided to do two desserts to share among the four of us. The vanilla creme brulée with fresh berries was fine and enjoyed very much by my father.

James' bread pudding with white, dark, and milk chocolate plus a caramel drizzle, whipped cream and berries, was indulgent. The pudding itself was tender and sweet and definitely large enough to share.

The original incarnation of Tark's Grill was a steakhouse--not our thing at all--so we're pretty pleased with the new version, at least concept-wise. I do think it deserves its own menu though, because I'm betting the Lutherville crowd is pretty different from the City Cafe's regular clientele (and The Food Market's). Perhaps it's not as necessary to offer 33 appetizers, 20 entrees, and 7 side dishes in the county? Or maybe it is. I'm sure Bruce and Gino will figure it out; they've been successful restaurateurs so far. I hope Tark's is a hit for them, as it's nice to have another locally owned, non-chain, restaurant in our neck of Baltimore County.

Tark's Grill
2360 W Joppa Rd #116
Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093

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Friday, December 09, 2016

Making it Work

I have experienced quite a bit of disappointment recently. Our latest book, Maryland's Chesapeake, which took nearly a year to research and write, hasn't yet found an audience. The recent election has me facing the five stages of grief; I fear I will be stuck in the fourth stage - depression - for most of the next few years. Friends and family have let me down. Christmas is right around the corner, and as a childless adult, I wonder why I bother celebrating it at all.

Despite all the shit, life goes on. It must. I cannot allow myself to wallow. After all, there is cheesecake to eat!

The cheesecake in question is itself the result of another recent disappointment. I had tried to recreate Starbucks' Cranberry Bliss Bars at home. They seemed like underbaked blondies with cream cheese frosting and dried cranberries - how difficult could they be? As with many things in life, more difficult than anticipated.

I did consult some other "copycat" recipes on the Internet before proceeding. While some were merely cut-and-paste copies of the same recipe offered without credit to the original author, others had little differences, like adding ginger to the frosting. I decided to go ahead with my own relatively plain concoction, adding dried, juice-sweetened, organic cranberries (which are not the bright red of Starbucks' berries) and white chocolate chips to a straightforward blondie batter (essentially Toll House cookies, without the semi-sweet chips). After 20 minutes in the oven, I realized that underbaked blondies will just be gooey blobs of dough. Baked for the proper amount of time, they'll be too chewy, and crusty on the edges to boot. In any case, I pressed on, making a cream cheese frosting while the bars were baking. It's a simple enough process - just beat a couple cups of powdered sugar into cream cheese and butter and add a touch of vanilla. Voila! - frosting.

Once the bars were cooked and cooled, I topped them with some of the frosting and a sprinkle of cranberries. And then I did a taste test.

They were diabetes in bar form.

The cookies were too sweet, the white chocolate chips were completely unnecessary, and the frosting make them even sweeter. They were a disaster. Disgusted, I scraped the frosting off the bars and into a container with the extra frosting (there was quite a bit left over) and put it in the fridge. The scraped bars were still too sweet, but we managed to finish them off. But lesson learned: never again will I put white chocolate chips into an already sugar-laden bar cookie (unless I am making these).

I wasn't in the mood/didn't have time to make a cake for the cream cheese frosting, which languished in the fridge for an entire week, unloved and getting in the way. However, I did realize that it was just a couple ingredients away from a cheesecake batter. So the following weekend I pulled it out of the fridge, whisked in eggs, more vanilla, a bit of lemon, and some milk. We had blueberries, so I tossed in a handful of those as well. While it was in the oven, I made a little blueberry sauce for the top.

Damn if they weren't just fine. More custardy than cheesy, which is the way I prefer my cheesecake, they were surprisingly not too sweet, considering the source material.

I guess you want a recipe. It's kinda hard to give one, but cheesecake is one of those baked goods that isn't an absolute science, so just make it work, like I did.

Blueberry Cheesecake
I used three 4-inch springform pans and the maximum amount of crust materials. If you want thinner cheesecakes, or just like round numbers, use four pans.

1 to 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 to 6 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups homemade cream cheese frosting
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest
Pinch salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine the crumbs and butter in a bowl until crumbs are well-coated. Press firmly into three or four 4-inch mini springform pans so they cover the bottom and go up the sides a bit. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack.

Put the frosting in a large bowl. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla, lemon, a pinch of salt, and enough milk to make a pancake-batter consistency. Toss in a handful of blueberries, if you're so inclined, but they're not absolutely necessary. Spoon batter into pre-baked crusts and bake until puffed and set (they may jiggle a wee bit in the centers, but shouldn't be wet), 30-35 minutes.

Cool cheesecakes on a rack. After about 15 minutes, use a sharp knife to loosen them from the sides of the pan, then gently remove the pan sides.

While cheesecakes are cooling, make the topping. Add a couple handfuls of blueberries to a saucepan with about 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Add a pinch of salt and some lemon and/or cinnamon, if desired. Cook over medium heat until thickened, 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before spooning over cooled cheesecakes.

Serves 6.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Chicken Cutlets, Kung Pao Style

We Minxes love kung pao chicken, but find restaurant versions to be so inconsistent. We like our sauce to be somewhat sweet, but also well balanced. Some restaurants do cloying, others just do salty but otherwise flavorless. Sometimes it's best to take matters into one's own hands and just cook the stuff at home.

But I don't want to mess with chopping chicken into small pieces and dealing with a wok. We have at least two woks but never use any of them. The flat bottom-style wok isn't really a wok, IMHO, just a pan with tall sides. And a classic round-bottom wok that fits on a burner cover is a bit too dangerous for clumsy oafs like the two of us. (Hard to believe that when I was a pre-teen, I was daring enough to attempt making tempura for the family in a round bottom wok. My Mom thought for sure I'd burn the house down.) Plus, it doesn't seem that a home range can generate enough heat to develop that lovely wok hay flavor that good Chinese food should have. So I decided to simply pan fry the cutlets in a bit of corn starch. A more fussy flour-egg-panko crumb coat would have been lovely, too, but I didn't feel like going all out. If that's more your speed, then go for it. I just wanted to make something that was fast.

The sauce turned out really well. Sweet, but not too, plenty garlicky, and lightly spicy. Would be great over shrimp or strips of sauteed pork tenderloin or fried tofu or however you like your kung pao best.

We served our kung pao with a new rice bowl product from Healthee USA. The Fried-Style brown rice is USDA-certified organic, and fortified with coconut milk. Best of all, it cooks up in the microwave in 60-90 seconds. Perfect for those nights when you're in a rush or just plumb forgot to put on the rice cooker (that would be me). I was really glad the company had sent us a few varieties to try, as they provided a tasty starch that I didn't really have to think about.

Kung Pao Chicken

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (or rice vinegar)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon grated or minced fresh ginger
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
10 dried red Chinese chiles
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For the chicken:
Corn starch
1 pack thinly sliced boneless skinless chicken breast (18 - 24 ounces)
Vegetable Oil
1 tablespoon butter

To serve:
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
Unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

To make the sauce: Combine the vinegar, stock, sugar, hoisin, soy, and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar and cornstarch and ensure there are no lumps.

Heat the oil in a small pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, peppercorns, and chiles and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil.

For the chicken: Put about half a cup of corn starch in a gallon-sized zip top plastic bag and add a good teaspoon or so of salt. Shake to combine. Add chicken pieces one at a time and shake to coat. Pat excess corn starch off each piece and put on a plate until all are coated.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil and the butter in a large saute pan. Add as many pieces of chicken that fit in your pan and cook until lightly browned on both sides and cooked through, 4-5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm until all pieces are cooked. Cook the remaining chicken, adding more oil to the pan if necessary.

To serve: Arrange chicken cutlets on a platter pour some of the sauce over top. Garnish with scallions and peanuts and serve remaining sauce on the side.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $ at no cost to you! Please buy!

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Citron Opens on Quarry Lake

There's quite a bit of activity happening along Quarry Lake Road recently, This stretch of road off Greenspring Avenue has seen the opening of La Food Marketa just a couple months ago, and now a fine dining restaurant, Citron, has debuted in a newly completed building situated directly in front of Quarry Lake. The new facility, featuring one building for the restaurant and a second for private events, is the brain child of Charles Levine, president of Charles Levine Catering and Glorious Events. We were thrilled to be invited to dinner at his eagerly anticipated restaurant.

While showing the Minx and I around the restaurant, it's clear that Mr. Levine is quite proud of his baby and he has good reason to be. Every detail has been carefully thought out, from the acoustical fabric built into the ceiling to dampen noise to the combi oven in the kitchen, which allows for a variety of cooking techniques. The courtyard between the restaurant and the event building has wiring and plumbing in place for flat-screen televisions and a bar, offering a great space for warm weather dining. Clear plastic tents will soon enclose the outdoor seating areas along the lake side so that diners can enjoy the beautiful view while protected from the elements.

Of course, the heart of any restaurant is its cuisine, so we were eager to sample what Citron has to offer. We started with cocktails and were happy to see that they were using products from local distilleries. The Minx ordered the B'More Fizz which featured Shot Tower gin, Strega liqueur, lime, club soda, orange flower, and egg white for the frothy top. Although not normally a fan of gin, she enjoyed the drink's bright, refreshing flavor, which was redolent of orange flower. I chose the Tribute Manhattan which used Sagamore rye, sweet vermouth, and Abbott's Angostura bitters. The Sagamore rye has a warm, almost cinnamon quality that was perfect for the chilly, fall evening.

Citron describes its menu as contemporary American with a subtle French twist. A dish that fits the description is their lobster bisque. One of my pet peeves is when a restaurant cheats by putting an excess of cream in their bisque to cover up the fact that they did not make a proper stock. Basically calling a cream soup a bisque. At Citron, this is a true lobster bisque with the lobster stock clearly prominent. The technique is all French. The American part is seen in the generosity of the portion, which included the meat from both claws, butter-poached to sweet succulence.

Their potato gnocchi is another lovely starter. It has the proper texture (soft with a slight bite, neither mushy nor chewy) and the combination of mushrooms and garlic gives the dish a welcome umami quality that is emphasized by the truffle sage sauce and a grating of Grana Padano. The dish is topped off with peas and pine nuts to add a little freshness and crunch. The ample portion I was served was an appetizer, but would make a nice entree for lighter appetites. Heartier ones, too, as the dish can be ordered in a larger quantity as well.

The Minx and I are both fools for well-prepared duck dishes. Normally I order the duck, but we both felt it was her turn to feast on the fowl. Citron's Hudson Valley Duck "Duo" features a tender pan-seared duck breast served medium-rare coupled with a rich confit duck leg with crisp skin and meltingly soft flesh. A poached cherry reduction adds a sweet-tart piquancy; tamarind sweet potato mash and french beans round out this perfect fall meal.

Since The Minx went with poultry, I opted for one of the several seafood dishes on the menu: grilled Atlantic swordfish. The meaty fillet is accompanied by a harissa white bean mash that is so creamy, one might think it was whipped potatoes. It's interesting to note how Citron uses many alternatives to traditional starches. This creates interesting dishes that in many cases are gluten-free. The fish has a topping of tomato-olive compote with sauteed spinach on the side. A syrup made from the dessert wine Banyuls adds a sweet element, and a drizzle of green oil balances the sweet with a bit of herbal brightness.

Since Citron has a talented pastry chef in Yassmeen Jackson (who has her own sweet kitchen off the main kitchen), it would have been rude not to try some of their desserts. The chocolate macadamia nut bar came highly recommended, so I tried it. Our waiter described the dessert as something akin to a Snickers bar, and I can see his point, as it has macadamia nuts, caramel, and a creamy nougat-like element, all enrobed in chocolate. However, this is far richer and more subtle in flavor than any commercial candy bar. Dots of raspberry coulis add a contrasting acidic touch and edible gold leaf brings a bit of bling.

The Minx's lemon torte sandwiched coconut milk custard between two slices of gluten-free lemon sponge cake, topped with a generous ball of blackberry sorbet. It's perfect for those folks who prefer to finish their meals with something lighter and not chocolate.

Everything about Citron feels carefully crafted, from the decor to the menu to the service. Even the bread course is special, coming to the table with ramekins of butter sprinkled with pink Hawaiian sea salt and a delicious cheese spread. I can definitely see us heading to Quarry Lake for a birthday dinner or special occasion, or maybe even to have a pizza and a beer in the bar. I'm also eager to go back in the spring to check out the courtyard, which I'm sure will be in full swing by then.

2605 Quarry Lake Drive
Baltimore, Maryland 21209

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Seasons Eatings!

Ever feel like getting out of the office on a weekday and doing something fun for a change? Then Visit Baltimore's annual Seasons Eatings event is for you. Between Monday, December 5th and Friday, December 9th (next week!), the Baltimore Visitor Center at 401 Light Street will be the site of free cooking demonstrations by local chefs.

Stop on by, sample the chefs' dishes, and take a recipe to try at home. Here's the schedule.

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