Monday, August 29, 2022

Charcuterie Platters

Who, except vegans, doesn't appreciate a good charcuterie platter?

It's a perfect lazy meal, and fantastic for those sultry summer evenings when the thought of hot food is unappetizing. And I'm not the only one who thinks that. Not only do more and more restaurants offer assortments of meats and cheeses, I've noticed that some entrepreneurial folks are starting businesses that revolve around creating and selling attractive charcuterie platters. A small amount of decoratively arranged salumi (the Italian term for cured meats) and brie adorned with a sliced strawberry and six almonds can sell for $30-$40. At that price, you're better off going to a restaurant. But make one at home, instead.

Sure, the initial outlay for homemade salumi suppers might be a little spendy, but a $6 jar of cornichons will last through multiple platters, as will boxes of crackers, jars of jam, and bags of nuts. Columbus brand salami and capicola, or similar, in 5-oz packages, run $6-7 in grocery stores. The meats seem expensive, and they kinda are compared to others sold by the pound. Keep in mind that cured meats are fatty and salty and rich, so one only need eat a few slices. Particularly if there are also some even more-fatty cheeses at the party. The last time we had a charcuterie plate for dinner, I purchased two packages of Italian meats, three kinds of cheese, and a jar of cornichons for about $35 and used it for three dinners for 2, with cheese and tiny pickles left over. 

Cheese can also be expensive, so don't go overboard. Buy a couple of your favorites; ideally there should be one soft and one firm or semi-firm, like a brie or goat cheese log and a cheddar or Manchego. If you have more than two diners, buy another cheese for every two people. But expect leftovers. In fact, it's probably best to cut a portion of the cheese off and put it on your platter or board, and stash the rest in the fridge for next time. That way, uneaten cheese doesn't sit out too long, and there's one less thing for you to tidy up afterward, especially if you've been hitting the wine.

You may, of course, enjoy your meats and cheeses with your fingers, but it's much neater to use bread or crackers. Thin slices of crusty bread--toasted or not--are perfect if you are extra fancy and have included a pate in your selection of meats. It's also nice with very soft brie. Otherwise, crackers are the way to go. Use whatever you like. Ritz or Club crackers are just fine, as are water crackers or hell, saltines. I try to eat gluten-free as much as possible and have discovered some truly excellent GF and grain-free crackers, which I will list at the end of the post.

In addition to the three essentials--meat, cheese, and bread-like substance--a good charcuterie platter should include other flavor elements. Olives and cornichons are typical accompaniments, but one needs other items to balance out the salt. I like to add sweet things, like a fruit spread or jam, and fresh or dried fruit, including grapes, figs, and mini tomatoes. Nuts, preferably unsalted, add extra crunch. Mustards are nice, as are roasted red peppers, pepperoncini--honestly, whatever suits your fancy. You may choose to arrange items artistically on a platter or board (I use a large bamboo cutting board), or simply place items randomly. For hard or medium-firm cheeses, I like to cut them into serving size cubes or wedges. I put soft cheese like brie or chevre on the board in one large chunk and supply a separate spreader for each type of cheese. Toothpicks are nice for picking up individual cubes of cheese, especially when there are more than two diners, but fingers are fine otherwise.

I enjoy charcuterie boards so much, I've made them for Thanksgiving dinner. As in, the entire Thanksgiving dinner was one big, coffee-table-sized, spread. Lest you think I jest, see below (ignore my reading glasses in the lower right).

It was perfect for three of us to nibble on for the entire day while we watched football and drank copiously. We did this three years in a row, until my brother determined that it was mildly sacrilegious not to have hot poultry on Thanksgiving. So last year I made chicken legs and roasted brussels sprouts to follow a much-scaled-down selection of meat and cheese. I plan to do the same this year.

Most of these fine gluten-free and grain-free crackers I've discovered via the Specialty Food Association's annual Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. While grocery stores have better and better selections of food for special diets, it's difficult to stock absolutely everything available, so I have supplied links for ordering the products online.

Simple Mills Almond Flour Crackers - I'm a big fan of these, particularly the Rosemary and Sea Salt variety. They are available in many grocery stores, but can also be purchased online

Hungry Bird Eats Nordic Crisps - incredibly crisp and delicious crackers that I will happily eat out of the box like potato chips. They can be purchased online from their website

Cabin 11 Bakery 5-Seed Grain-Free Crisps are similarly delicious crispbread-like crackers made with 5 seeds. Their website is down currently, and I'm not sure where to buy them. Hopefully they'll be back up and running soon, as I've run out and need more crackers!

Quator Crisps Yuca Chips - I also like using crisp yuca chips with charcuterie platters. Quator Crisps might be a bit too slender to put cheese on top, but they still work great to nibble on the side. They are available in a handful of shops right now, but you can order them from their website.

Nova Crisp - these crispy air-popped cracker/chips are made with cassava and come in a handy bowl shape that makes them perfect for scooping. The rim also holds in runny stuff like mustard or jelly perfectly. They come in a few flavors, but the sea salt is my fave. They are available in stores like Safeway, Aldi, Lidl, H Mart, and Weis Market but also at Amazon.

Lark Fine Foods, which are not gluten-free but still worth mentioning, makes a bunch of tasty cookies and biscuits that are both savory and sweet. Their Pizzetta biscuits work pretty nicely with soft cheeses, especially if you're into the idea of a cookie that tastes like pizza. They are available in gourmet shops, primarily in the eastern US. Igourmet stocks some of their biscuits, and multi-product samplers can be ordered from Williams-Sonoma.

* 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!

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Monday, August 22, 2022


I was in New York recently where I embarked on an eating expedition with my intrepid friend, the fabulous Daisy Bow. Together we ate a number of delicious things that I will write about later. Right now, I want to talk about a restaurant I visited on my own: Empellon, in midtown Manhattan. 

Empellon is one of five Mexican-inspired restaurants by former pastry chef Alex Stupak. I dined at Stupak's 4th Street Taqueria in 2015, and had been pretty pleased with the food. In reading back over that post, I discovered that I had tasted one of today's dishes in the past. Was it as good as it was 7 years ago? Read on, friends, read on.

After eating mostly inexpensive comestibles over my last few trips to NY, I thought I might treat myself to something pricier. Several of the most memorable meals I've eaten in New York were at high end restaurants--Babbo in 2004, A Voce in 2012, The Bar Room at The Modern in 2011, and Le Bernardin in 2014. In each case, while the food was very good (excellent at times), the service was exceptional. And that was truly what made each meal magical. Rather than magical, my meal at Empellon was meh.

The $42 3-course prix fixe menu sounded good to me, and I started with the "lobster salad with chilled masa savarin." The salad incurred an upcharge of $4 but this was a splurge so I splurged. I'm not sure if there was a mistake on the menu, or if the kitchen doesn't know what a "savarin" is, but what I received was not a ring-shaped, booze-soaked, yeasted cake. It had more of a custard-like texture. Perhaps it was actually a sabayon, firmed up with gelatin (in which case it was no longer a sabayon)? Or a type of savory flan? In any case, it was ring-shaped, and it was flavored with masa. The center of the ring contained a spicy sauce of unknown origin. And around the mysterious custard-like object were corn kernels, slices of not particularly spicy capsicums, raw onion, and nuggets of lobster. On the whole, it was a tasty dish, though it was a tad overseasoned.

On the opposite end of the spectrum were the pastrami tacos with sauerkraut and mustard seed salsa. Back in 2015, I bartered one of my brussels sprout tacos for one of my husband's pastrami-filled ones and was delighted by the flavors. This time, not so much. The beef was tough and underseasoned, the sauerkraut was barely tangy, much less sour, and the mustard seed salsa provided nothing but texture. The meat in the second taco had a bit of fat, which made it more palatable, but the dish was pretty bland overall. Where was the peppercorn-and-coriander hit from the meat? Why was soggy cabbage considered sauerkraut? Why was this dish more sad than clever?

And here I must ding the service at Empellon. Generally, at a restaurant with these prices where food is not served family-style, I expect courses to arrive serially. However, I was about 2/3 of the way through my lobster salad when a runner appeared with my tacos. This put me in the position of having to decide between finishing my lobster dish before starting my tacos, as god intended, or to start on the tacos so they wouldn't get cold. But that might signal the wait staff to attempt to wrest my unfinished lobster away, which would earn them a literal slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, my waiter or captain or whatever one calls them these days (they do not serve, they merely take orders), was standing off to the side, gazing upon the dining room as might an overlord. Did he notice that my entree course was fired too soon? Did he care? I know he knew I wasn't dining on an expense account and may well have been...a tourist! (horrors!) but I think he could have been more solicitous. 

For dessert, which came at the proper time, I had the sour cherry flan with chicory caramel and a cup of decaf. The flan was fine. Not as good as my friend Melinda's flan, but then nobody's is. I enjoyed the sour cherry topping, but couldn't really pick out the chicory in the sauce. But it was fine. 

When he presented the check, I noticed that Mon Capitaine did not charge me for the coffee. He nodded when I pointed out his omission, rather than thank me. Which would have been below his station. 

Positives about the meal: the dining room was full of natural light and the seating was comfortable. The portion size was just right for someone not planning to eat again for the rest of the day (like me), but I imagine the 3-course lunch might be a bit much for someone going back to the office. The lobster was perfectly cooked, the tortillas were sturdy and didn't disintegrate under the weight of the generous portion of meat, and the cherry flavor of the flan was quite nice. But still--a solid meh.

It's less-than-perfect meals like these, however, that really allow me to appreciate an exemplary one. Or even just a good one. 

510 Madison Avenue, 
New York, NY 10022 
(212) 380-1215

* 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!

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Friday, August 19, 2022

Blogging Minxeats

I haven't written about a restaurant here in quite a while, and I hope to rectify that situation. I'm going to blame Instagram for making me lazy. It's too easy to post a photo with a short caption and call it a day. Creating reels, on the other hand, can be quite taxing. And at the end of the day, I get no more likes, comments, or followers from putting in more work. Instagram has fucked with their algorithms entirely too much for my taste, and I am finding the whole experience unpleasant. Maybe I should get back to blogging more regularly, huh?

Sadly, blogging seems to have become the jurisdiction of Stepford Wives. Most blogs have a similar appearance, and possibly an ampersand in the name. They all have far too many photos for my taste, the same essential shot taken from slightly different angles, as if the blogger couldn't make up his/her/their mind about which one to use, so hell, they'll use them all. IMHO, blogs were better when they were messy and unprofessional. And real. So you won't find me posting a professionally taken headshot in full hair and makeup, looking coyly over my shoulder or holding a tray of cookies. No string of photos depicting brownies stacked in piles of three, piles of two, and singly, plus a couple images of the baking pan with both cut and uncut treats. Oh, and another one with brownies on a plate with a glass of milk on the side, in soft focus. What you will find is probably a lot of gabbing, because I am a storyteller and I like to talk, but feel free to scroll down to the recipe if you can't deal with my writing. (Apparently the number one comment about food blogs is, "just give me the damn recipe." It's not a blog then, is it? It's a recipe. You want those, then buy a cookbook. I have written a couple, which you can find here. Oh, and there's a nice selfie on that page, in case you need to know what I look like.)

Sorry, if you've read this far and expected to find a brownie recipe. There is none on this post. If you've gotten this far and still expected a recipe, clearly you didn't read any of the words preceding this paragraph. Go back and read them. And then go back and read some old posts. New ones are forthcoming, I promise. Some will even have recipes. And I will get back into restaurant reviews. Maybe even a recap, who knows? 

* 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!

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