Friday, November 29, 2019

Flashback Friday - Pumpkin Butter

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on November 8, 2011.

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The other day, I had a dream about making pumpkin butter.

In the dream, I stood in front of my stove, stirring a pot filled with pumpkin purée, brown sugar, and spices. As the mixture bubbled, it perfumed the air with the delicious scent of Fall. And Thanksgiving.

When I awoke, craving pumpkin butter, I knew I had to make the dream come true. (Considering how hard that is to do with most dreams, I couldn't let this opportunity pass!)

I dumped a can of pumpkin into a saucepan, added some brown sugar and spices, and hoped for the best. Both in my dream and in real life, it was a simple and relatively quick process. Not to mention inexpensive. For a couple of bucks ($1.50 for a can of pumpkin, a few cents more for the bits of sugar and spice I already had on hand), I had a heaping pint of deliciousness that would probably cost between $5 - $8, had I bought the product ready-made at the store.

Pumpkin Butter

1 15oz can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to lowest setting. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a pint jar. Unless you want to go to the trouble of sterilizing/canning, do not store pumpkin butter unrefrigerated. Eat within two weeks.

Makes about a pint.

Note: if you want to make your own pumpkin purée with a fresh pumpkin, I won't stop you.

Spread thickly on your favorite bread, or eat straight from the jar with a spoon.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Flashback Friday - Pot Roast

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on November 2, 2011.

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My mom made the best pot roast. She used the simple recipe from her battered 1953-edition of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook: coat a chuck roast with flour, brown in drippings made from its own rendered fat, add potatoes, carrots, onion, and celery, either water or stock, and simmer for 2.5 hours until done, after which time the gravy can be thickened or not. The end. The recipe is literally a single paragraph in the "meat" section.

I loved it so much, I requested it for dinner several times a month. And I loved it so much, I'd never attempted to cook it myself, knowing that I'd never achieve that degree of tenderness or the rich flavor of the gravy (which I'm pretty sure was enriched with a package of McCormick's Brown Gravy). Recently, however, I thought I'd give it a go. The BH&G recipe is deceptively simple and it would be so disappointing if it didn't turn out like Mom's. Instead, I decided to adapt a recipe of Ina Garten's. Because how can one go wrong with a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa?

The result was...meh. I'm going to blame the meat.

Fat-obsessed dieters have created a world of unfortunately lean meats. The chuck roast I picked up at Wegman's had been ferociously trimmed; had I wanted to use the BH&G recipe, it would have been impossible to sear it in its own fat, since there was none. And because of this leanness, the meat lacked the unctuous tenderness of Mom's pot roast. Then there's the wine issue. After several attempts at braising meats in wine, I've decided that I don't like the resulting flavor. Nor the pinkish grey color. The sauce that resulted from the braise was a dark puce, and I wished I had a bottle of my mother's magic ingredient, Kitchen Bouquet, in order to make it darker and richer-looking.

The whole experience left me wanting. Next time, I will endeavor to find the fattiest chuck roast possible, skip the wine, and...pick up a packet of McCormick Brown Gravy.

Pot Roast with Root Vegetables (adapted from Ina Garten)

1 (4 to 5-pound) chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour
olive oil
1 cup baby carrots
2 onions, quartered
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2" chunks
2 cups celery root, cut into 2" chunks
1 lb baby potatoes
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 each sprig fresh rosemary and thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat beef dry with a paper towel. Season it liberally with salt and pepper and then dredge the roast in flour. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Sear the roast, turning every 4 or 5 minutes, until it is nicely browned on all sides. Remove meat to a plate.

Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot. Add the vegetables and garlic and cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Bring to a boil and add the chicken stock, herbs, and bay leaves. Place roast back into the pot and return to the boil. Cover pot and place in the oven, cooking for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat is fork tender. Check periodically and add more stock if it seems to be evaporating.

Remove roast to a cutting board. Place pot on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium. Skim fat from sauce. Make a beurre manié by stirring together 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir it bit by bit into the sauce until thickened to your liking. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Flashback Friday - Apple Crisp

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on November 16, 2011.

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It's Fall, and Fall means apples, apple pie, apple butter, apple cider, and especially apple crisp. There's almost nothing more comforting to me than a big bowl of hot apple crisp topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or maybe a drizzle of cream.

Just typing that sentence makes me want some right now.

I tried Top Cheftestant Robin Leventhal's Quickfire-winning apple crisp recipe a couple years back. It was good, but it had too many extraneous flavors. I prefer apples+cinnamon+maybe walnuts. My mom made a great version, very plain, but I have no idea where she got the recipe. Her beloved Better Homes & Gardens book only has apple brown betty, which just isn't the same. So I poked around teh innernets and found a simple recipe from Betty Crocker.

It was good, but not perfect. I used half Granny Smith and half Fuji apples, which at the end of the recommended 30-minute cook time were still somewhat crunchy. We ate it anyway. It was much better a couple of days later, when I popped the casserole back into the oven for a while. The apples grew more tender and the crumble got crustier, but there was this third somewhat gooey texture from where the topping got saturated by the apple liquid. I think it was my favorite part.

If you want that version, follow the recipe below. Either eat part of it or just stir it up a bit so some of the crisp topping can get soggy. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate. The next day, put it into a 350F oven for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes. (Yes, an additional 30 minutes seems like a long time, but remember it's now cold from the fridge.) Enjoy with ice cream, whipped cream, or a drizzle of heavy cream or half-and-half.

Betty Crocker's Apple Crisp

4 cups of sliced apples (Granny Smith and Fuji, or Golden Delicious)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Cream or Ice cream, if desired

Heat oven to 375ºF. Grease bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan with shortening.

Spread apples in pan. In medium bowl, stir remaining ingredients except cream until well mixed; sprinkle over apples.

Bake about 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm with cream.


Posted by theminx on Minxeats.com.

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



Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Flashback Friday - Cooking with Il Douche

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on November 28, 2011.

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While I love to pick on chef Rocco DiSpirito, he probably doesn't deserve the beating I give him as much as does another chef, Scott Conant. (Rumor has it that DiSpirito is actually a very nice guy.) Conant first popped up on my radar when he appeared as a guest judge on Season 5 of Top Chef. He didn't have to open his mouth for me to slap the "smarmy" tag on him; one look at the carefully-groomed stubble was quite enough. Top Cheftestant Fabio Viviani wasn't all that impressed with him, either. (Check out the last part of our interview with Fabio.)

A blogger that I follow posted on Facebook and Twitter not long ago that she was thisclose to Conant. I told her that I think he's a douche. Conant himself responded on Twitter that she should "tell her friend I'm not a douche."

After poking around his account for a few minutes, I noticed that he seems to enjoy re-Tweeting comments that disparage him. Maybe he gets off on it. 

He deleted his "tell your friend I'm not a douche" comment before I thought to screen-cap it. Guess he can't deny the truth.

Since this is a food blog, I figured I should try one of his recipes before I trash talk him. Because I've read raves about his simple spaghetti with tomato and basil sauce, that seemed to be the dish to try. Mr Minx and I whipped it up one recent evening.

Eh. It's fine. The sauce was so unctuous from the copious amounts of oil, butter, and starchy pasta water, the tomato provided merely an acidic accent that could also be achieved with a more reasonably-priced squeeze of lemon or dash of zest.

It's almost criminal that this dish is listed on the Scarpetta menu at $24. Wait...what am I saying, "almost?" Definitely criminal.

Personally, I think it would be tastier with more cheese, some shellfish, and chopped red onion.

Scott Conant's Spaghetti with Tomato-and-Basil Sauce

1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
30 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled and seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
11⁄2 pounds dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon butter
8 basil leaves, cut into a fine chiffonade
1⁄4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Add the olive oil to a pan and heat until it begins to smoke lightly. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and red-pepper flakes, but take into consideration that the sauce will reduce and the salt will become concentrated. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher to release all their liquid. Cook for 25 minutes over medium to medium-high heat, until the tomatoes form a semi-chunky sauce.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti. When it is three-quarters cooked, drain the pasta and reserve the water. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat until all the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin out the sauce. Remove from the heat, and, just before serving, add the butter, basil, and cheese, mixing thoroughly until the pasta is an orange hue. Season to taste with salt.

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, November 04, 2019

La Calle

There are so many chain restaurants in the Inner Harbor area of downtown Baltimore, that when a locally-owned joint opens up, I get excited. Situated on a bland block of South Street, between Baltimore and Redwood, and a stone's throw from The Block, La Calle--"the street" in Spanish--is among the most exciting. While the name conjures thoughts of street food, the decor--some walls paneled, others painted the color of red mole, a full bar--suggest fine dining.

At this point, I've only ever been for lunch, so have not experienced the lobster empanadas or braised lamb shank barbacoa or chicken mole poblano, all of which sound amazing.

What I have had, so far, has been the shrimp ceviche, light and full of flavor (though the accompanying "sweet" tortilla chips are a little too thick and crunchy for my tastes).

Also a perfectly cooked, crisp-skinned, salmon that was so good I've had it twice. It was accompanied by tiny potatoes, tomatoes, and fava beans in an epazote lobster cream sauce. And it's $12. Honestly, both times it was the best salmon I've had in town in ages, hands down, and at a fraction of the price.

Several of my various dining companions went with tacos, and though I didn't get to try any of them, they looked uniformly tasty. That might be my next order, unless of course I finally go for dinner. The last time I was at La Calle, it was with Mr Minx, and he tried the al pastor torta. It's a nice big sandwich, as tortas usually are, filled with tasty and tender pork bits that I couldn't resist snatching off of his plate.

We also tried the flan, which was excellent--firm, very smooth, just sweet enough, and dusted with a smattering of sesame seeds. One of the best I've tried.

La Calle is a long walk from work for me, but well worth it. And of course if I'm feeling lazy, I can always take a bus. I'm already contemplating my next visit in a couple of weeks. Do go, because I'd love for this place to stick around for a long time.

La Calle
10 South St
Baltimore, MD 21202
www.lacallerestaurant.com

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

Posted on Minxeats.com.