Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Product of the Week - MaraNatha Almond Butter

Welcome to a new feature on Minxeats! Every week (or so), we'll present to you one of our favorite store-bought products. It might be a chip, or cereal, or condiment, and it will definitely be something that we purchase and consume regularly. We hope you are curious enough to check out our suggestions, and if you do, let us know by leaving a comment.
Our first product is MaraNantha Almond Butter.

Mr Minx and I go on the Whole30 diet every once in a while. It's a good way to reset our eating if we've gone off the track. You know, at Christmastime when there are freshly-baked cookies and jugs of eggnog singing their irresistible siren song. ::::plugging ears with fingers:::: LALALALALALALALA!


Whole30 doesn't allow peanuts, hence no peanut butter. I can live without it, but Mr Minx cannot, so I had to find an alternative. We tried many almond butters, but most were "natural" style, with an inch of oil on top, a gummy texture, and not a whole lot of flavor. And then I stumbled upon MaraNantha. Their no-stir almond butter has both salt and sugar in it, like our favorite peanut butter (Jif) so it actually tastes good. There is usually a little oil on top, so "no-stir" is somewhat of a falsehood, but the flavor alone keeps me buying this stuff. I prefer the crunchy kind because I like texture, but the creamy stuff is very good, too. As with peanut butter, almond butter can be used to make sauces and soups as well as to spread on toast. Or to eat straight off the spoon. 

Yes, I realize that MaraNantha uses palm oil, which has been credited with harming the planet's biodiversity. That is true of many cooking oils, including everybody's favorites, coconut and olive. I'm not making excuses; man is definitely the Earth's worst enemy. But this isn't a crunchy granola feel-good blog, it's a food blog, and I'm just saying that I am a fan of this particular product. If I could find one that was as good, but less-harmful to the planet, of course I will switch. But in the meantime, you will find this in my pantry.

Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, January 22, 2024

Condiment Fiend

In case you haven't noticed, I like condiments. I don't mean plain ol' ketchup, mustard, and mayo, though I like those, too. I mean all of the various salsas, sauces, and salads that make a plain serving of meat or vegetables more exciting. I've posted about them here before, most recently my nutty crunch sauce. Another post waxed rhapsodic over chili crunch/crisp. There was also my post on dips, many of which could be used as a sandwich condiment or sauce for meat, fish, or eggs. I love relishes like caponata, fennel marmalade, green tomato relish, pineapple relish, and rhubarb mostarda. Then there's all the potentially weird stuff like bacon jam, pickled figs, beet ketchup, red curry jamblueberry ketchup and BBQ sauce, pea pesto, quince butter, sriracha BBQ sauce, and spicy miso dressing.

"So what does one do with all these condiments clogging up the fridge?" you ask. If you have watched any sort of cooking show, particularly the competition variety, then you will have heard chefs talk about acid. Some dishes just need a little spark to bring out all the flavors. Like lemon juice on fish. Condiments can add not only acid, but also sweetness and/or texture to a dish that might otherwise be bland. Take something like a pan-sautéed boneless, skinless chicken breast--I can't think of anything more unexciting than that. But put it on a bed of caponata, a savory-sweet relish of eggplant, celery, onion, and tomato, and things start looking up! A corn salsa would also work wonders to alleviate boredom. And, unlike America's favorite sauce to glop on everything from pizza to chicken wings--Ranch Dressing--caponata and corn salsa are made with vegetables. What? They act as a sauce and can also be a side dish if you put more on your plate? Mind blown! 

pork tenderloin with romesco salsa, smashed potatoes, green beans
One of my all-time favorite condiments to make is romesco sauce. A blend of roasted peppers and tomatoes thickened with bread and nuts and flavored with garlic, vinegar, and paprika, romesco is super easy to make in a food processor. My recipe is here. The photo above shows a looser version of romesco, billed by Food & Wine as a "salsa." The recipe calls for the usual suspects, minus bread, plus additional liquid. While I liked the texture of the sauce, which poured rather than dolloped, I didn't find it to be as flavorful as my usual version. The tablespoons of both salt and smoked paprika seem excessive, but they are necessary. 

You don't have to make your own condiments; these days there are plenty of specialty food brands that are making them for you. I'll be featuring some of my favorite store-bought condiments in upcoming posts, so stay tuned.

* 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, January 15, 2024

Dry-Rubbed Cauliflower "Wings"

I know this blog is rife with recipes for my favorite cruciferous vegetable, but I'm going to add one more: dry-rubbed cauliflower "wings." Why "wings?" Because the word is more appealing than "chunks," "blobs," or even "florets," and because the recipe was inspired by a local restaurant's chicken wings. 

I've used this dry rub on both wings and other chicken parts. The whole cumin and fennel seeds create a unique flavor combination that would also work on pork ribs, steak, and even fish. However, we're trying to eat more vegetarian dishes at Casa Minx. Cauliflower is my favorite meat alternative because it's nutrient dense, low in calories, and full of fiber. Plus its relatively neutral flavor works with most kinds of seasoning. If you're thinking, "blech! I hate cauliflower," well, you should probably stop reading.

The amount of savory spices in this recipe calls out for the balance of a rich and creamy sauce, so I served it with a homemade blue cheese dressing made with one of my favorite blues, Point Reyes Original Blue. Use your favorite; even the pre-crumbled stuff is fine. If you don't like blue cheese, then try feta. And if you are one of those weirdos that likes ranch dressing with their chicken wings, then omit the cheese entirely and increase the amount of TJ's Green Goddess seasoning to a full teaspoon. Taste for seasoning before adding more salt, as the GG already contains salt.

There's not a lot of either heat or sweetness in this recipe, so if you'd like a bit more of both, a drizzle with hot honey might make you happy. (I recommend Runamok Chipotle Morita honey.) 

Dry-Rubbed Cauliflower "Wings" with Bleu Cheese Dressing

For the cauliflower:
1 batch dry rub (recipe follows)
1 large head cauliflower
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 batch blue cheese dressing (recipe follows)

To make the cauliflower: Put the dry rub into a gallon-sized plastic zip-top bag.  

Trim off the tough green leaves from the bottom of the cauliflower and discard. Rinse the head and shake dry. Trim into florets, keeping small ones (1 1/2" and smaller) whole and cutting larger ones in half or quarters. Place the florets into the zip bag with the spices, zip the bag, and shake to distribute the spices. Open the bag and add the olive oil (more, if your head of cauli was particularly large). Push out the air, re-seal the bag, and shake it around to distribute the spice mix and oil as evenly as possible onto the cauliflower. (You could also do this in a large bowl, using your hands to toss the spices and vegetable together, but the bag is much neater.)

Put the bag in the fridge to marinate.

About 90 minutes before you're ready to eat, preheat the oven to 400F. 

Line a large baking sheet with foil and dump the bag of cauliflower onto it. Arrange the florets so they are more or less evenly distributed. Place tray in oven and bake cauliflower for 20 minutes. Remove tray from oven, and turn florets over with tongs. Put back in oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender but not mushy, and browned.

Serve hot, with blue cheese dressing.

For dry rub:
1 T sweet paprika
1 T smoked paprika
1 T whole cumin seed
1 T whole fennel seed
2 t salt
1 t dried thyme
1 t Urfa Biber or your favorite chili flakes
1/2 t onion powder
1/2 t garlic powder
1 t ground black pepper
1/4 t ground white pepper

To make dry rub: Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

For bleu cheese dressing:
1/4 c sour cream
1/4 c mayonnaise 
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese (I used Point Reyes Original Blue)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 t Trader Joe's Green Goddess seasoning
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch ground white pepper

To make dressing: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Use a fork to combine, crushing the cheese into small bits to distribute through the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to use.

* 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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Spicy Saucy Goodness

I put this on everything. You should too. It's based on a recipe from Chef Annmarie Langton, formerly of The Queen Truckstaurant. She used her version on her crab cake tacos, so it was made it in a larger quantity than one might need at home. I fiddled around with the recipe and came up with one I can make in varying amounts with ingredients in my pantry, and I make it to taste according to what I plan to serve it with. 

Spicy Saucy Goodness
Perhaps you find recipes without exact amounts annoying, but that's mostly how I cook. Sorry (not sorry).

A few tablespoons of your favorite mayonnaise (I like Duke's), sour cream, Greek yogurt, or a combination of all of them
Smoked paprika
Chipotle chile powder
Garlic powder
Real maple syrup 
Lime juice
Kosher salt

Glop some mayo in a bowl. Let's say you use the equivalent of 1/4 cup. To that, add about 1/4 teaspoon each of the smoked pap and the chipotle powder. Stir it in well. Dip your pinky in the mix and taste. Is it smoky? is it spicy? If yes, you're good. If no, then add a bit more of each and stir again. Add a pinch of garlic powder and stir it in. Now add about 1/2 teaspoon of the maple syrup. Please don't use pancake syrup. Add a big squeeze of lime juice. Stir the sauce again and taste again. Is it sweet? is it tangy?  If yes, you're good. If no, then add a bit more of each and stir again. Yeah, you get it. You might need to add more spice or smoke once you have the acid and sweetness in there. Does the sauce taste pretty good but still seem to be missing something? Time to add a pinch of salt. Stir it in well, wait a few beats for the salt to dissolve, and taste again. Keep doing all of the above until you get a sauce that tastes good to your palate. If all the various powders are starting to make your sauce seem too thick, then add a dribble of water. If you feel like you've gone way too far with the seasonings, add a little more mayo. 

Dollop on crab cakes, tacos, crab cake tacos, burgers, roasted vegetables, etc. or use as a dip for french fries or crudités.

Wait - stop the presses! 

I was about to hit "publish" on this post, but I discovered a shortcut to spicy mayo deliciousness (as if it wasn't already easy) and wanted to share it. Around Thanksgiving time, I bought several jars of jams from Blake Hill Preserves. (Though they didn't want to send me the samples I requested during Fancy Food Show time, I'm not bitter. But I never forget.) Anyhoo, their savory jams sounded interesting and I thought they'd be a good addition to the large scale cheese board that was to be our Thanksgiving dinner. I have also found them valuable for use in recipes that need a little zhuzhing up. A few teaspoons or so add a subtle sweetness and a punch of flavor--Blake Hill Roasted Garlic Savory Jam is especially useful in this regard. 

So, back to the sauce. 

Instead of using the smoked pap, chipotle powder, garlic powder, and maple syrup, I found that using a teaspoon-ish of both the chipotle & maple and fresh tomato jams in a quarter cup of mayo/yogurt/sour cream does the trick nicely. You may still need to add a pinch of lime juice and salt. Last time I made this, to have on tacos, Mr Minx requested that we save the last tablespoon of unused sauce so he could put it on his lunch sandwiches. Yeah, it's good.

Give it a try. If you do, please let me know in a comment.

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Monday, January 08, 2024

Crunchy Stuff

I stumbled upon SAUCE UP Almond Crunch Sauce while perusing Amazon for chili crisp. Like chili crisp, it's a sweet and oily combination of fried alliums and chiles, but also contains chopped almonds and a bit of dried thyme. It's different and delicious and adds a whole 'nother level of texture to dinner. But as much as I like this product, this post isn't going to exhort you to buy it. It's going to encourage you to make your own

What I've been doing is to finish most of the jar, then add my own nuts, seasonings, and oil to extend the product. This stuff comes in handy when I have a dinner planned that might be somewhat lacking in texture variety, perhaps braised chicken with rice or potatoes and green beans. Thought it might be perfectly tasty, there's nothing exciting texture-wise in that dish. It needs a little crunch to zhuzh it up, give it a little spark. Sometimes I'll make up a type of dukkah, a dry blend of spices and nuts that originated in Egypt. And other times, I want something a bit oilier.

I keep a variety of both raw and roasted nuts in the freezer. Some nuts, like hazelnuts, go rancid in a ridiculously quick amount of time. Others I just don't consume fast enough. Freezing keeps them fresher for a much longer stretch of time. I may grab a couple ounces of roasted almonds or sunflower seeds which I toss into a sandwich bag and bash into smaller pieces with a meat tenderizer. These go into the mostly empty sauce jar along with a pinch of kosher salt and a glug of olive oil. Depending on the flavors of my meal, I might stir in a pinch of za'atar and toasted sesame seeds, or curry powder and nigella seeds, or toasted fennel seeds and dried oregano. For heat, I like adding a bit of Urfa Biber (a Turkish dark burgundy chile flake with a somewhat smoky flavor) or Aleppo pepper. I stir and taste and reseason, and when it tastes good, I put the jar in the fridge. (I always keep my jar in the fridge, so the nuts and oil stay in a cool and dark place, to stave off rancidity.) 

Recently, I decided to use TJ's Gluten-free Battered Plant-based Fish Fillets in tacos. Honestly, I find the average fish taco to be incredibly boring, so I would never order one in a restaurant. Battered fish (or vegan fish) is bland. Tortillas--especially commercial ones--are bland. Slaw might be vinegary, but raw cabbage is boring. Basically, the usual mayonnaise-based (more blandness) topping is left to do all the heavy lifting, flavor-wise, and it doesn't do a particularly good job of it. At least there's a bit of texture going on with the cabbage and hopefully the fish batter doesn't go completely soggy before being consumed. To me, what this dish needs to be more appetizing is a sauce that is both crunchy and spicy. An almond crunch sauce with a Mexican vibe.  I combined a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a goodly amount of Tapatio Picante Seasoning with freshly toasted and cooled pumpkin seeds (a small handful) and cumin seeds (1/4 teaspoon-ish) to make a textural condiment that added just the right amount of extra pizazz to dinner.

Need more than a rough guideline? Here's a "recipe." If you try it, or something like it, do let me know in the comments.

Homemade Savory Nut Crunch

About 4 ounces of your favorite nut(s) and/or seed(s), which may include: roasted and unsalted almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and sesame seeds, broken into pieces roughly 1/4" - 1/8"

Enough neutral oil or good olive oil to moisten the mixture without making it liquidy, a tablespoon or so

A pinch or more to taste of dry herbs and savory spices of your choice, such as thyme, oregano, za'atar, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, curry powder, jerk seasoning, nigella seeds, etc.

A pinch of kosher salt

Pepper flakes, such as Urfa Biber, Aleppo, gochugaru, Ancho, etc. (optional)

Combine everything in a bowl, stir and taste. Add more of anything or everything depending if it's too dry or not salty enough. You could also add a tiny bit of sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup) - a quarter teaspoon or so, if it seems appropriate. Garlic or onion powder would also not be out of place here, though I don't tend to add either. 

Store in a covered container in the fridge. 

* 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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Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Best of 2023

2023 started strong, with a trip to NYC and lots of good things to eat. Another trip to NY in June ensured some good summer eating. But then the rest of the year was kinda pfffftttt, culinarily. We've been stuck in a rut, going to the same handful of restaurants over and over. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just not a good thing. Then we had COVID from the end of September through mid-October and didn't really want to go out in public even after we had recovered. Plus, I didn't have any interest in food for a few weeks (I know - hard to believe!). 

Hopefully, we'll do better in 2024!


vegan cheeses from Riverdel in the Essex Market, NYC
I had no idea that vegan cheese could be so good! I had only tried the standard supermarket crap, which is fine if you enjoy Kraft Singles, but not if you're fond of cheese that couldn't pass for plastic. Riverdel cheese sells only vegan cheese, which is actual cheese made the way cheese is normally made, only without the use of animal milks. I can no longer remember the three cheeses I tried, though I believe one was a cheddar and another was a blue, but they were all fantastic. My non-lactose-intolerant companion kept asking for more "tastes" of my snack. Get yer own, girlie. This is mine.

el supremo at Golden West Cafe
Another vegan surprise was the vegan fried chicken sandwich at Golden West Cafe. Made by Melanie Molinaro's Little Fig Bake Shop in Rosedale, the free-form, plant-based glob of deliciousness is coated with a craggy brown crust and mimics a deep fried chicken breast extremely well. Golden West adds a brioche bun, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and their version of thousand island, along with reasonably mozzarella-like fried vegan cheese sticks. Like most everything at Golden West, the sandwich is huge, but also delicious. 


homemade shrimp & grits
I made shrimp and grits more than once in 2023, but the best time was when I topped the garlicky shrimp with roasted red pepper and fried salami. It seemed Italian, so I added fennel seeds, too. 


everything pizza without green pepper, from Squire's
There will never be a time when pizza from Squire's won't be one of the best things I've eaten.

kupati at Tbiliso
The Georgian pork sausage called Kupati made last year's list, and it was just as amazing in 2023.

vegan fried green tomatoes at Golden West Cafe
Yet another vegan item on the list of best things I ate in 2023 is the fried green tomatoes from Golden West. It looks absolutely hideous, I know, but the vegan pimento cheese and herb aioli were both outstanding and passed for animal-based products. The tomatoes were fried perfectly, too. 

shrimp liang and pancit at Heritage Kitchen
Sadly, Heritage Kitchen closed its doors in 2023, but we made sure to get in our fix of Chef Rey Eugenio's Filipino dishes more than once. The shrimp liang was my favorite, from the rice and greens to the shrimp and crispy squares of pork belly. 

chicken and lamb kebabs with Shirazi salad at Villagio Cafe
Another sure winner is anything at Villagio Cafe. Though their rice dishes are uniformly tasty, when I'm on Whole30, I prefer a side of Shirazi salad, a simple combination of bell pepper, onion, tomato, and cucumber.  


egg fu yung at Kung Fu 12
Just for the heck of it, we ordered egg fu yung at Kung Fu 12; the veggie option with broccoli sounded good. Minds were blown when we received crunchy deep-fried clouds of egg filled with barely-cooked vegetables, and a cup of cornstarch-thickened gravy on the side. It was closer to a cross between tempura and beer-battered onion rings than to the gravy-drenched omelets we expected. Fabulous, and now one of our regular orders. 


woodlands pie from Underground Pizza Company
Underground Pizza Company makes the list again this year with their stunning mushroom pie. I can't even explain how good their crust is, and the mix of sauteed wild mushrooms on top puts it over the top.


moussaka at Nautilus Diner
When I see moussaka on the specials menu at Nautilus, I order it. While the inch of bechamel makes it a lactose-intolerant person's nightmare, everything else about it is perfection.

pineapple fried rice from Mr Fried Rice at Urban Hawker, NYC
During a marathon eating extravaganza with my friend Daisy, I devoured more than half of this flavorful rice dish. Those flower cut pieces of squid you see at the bottom front were insanely tender, there was just enough pineapple in it that you noticed but not because it was too sweet, and the pork floss on top added interesting texture and crunch. Can't wait to eat this again.

pistachio supreme from Lafayette NYC
Lafayette's spiral pastries made from laminated dough (think croissants) filled with custard (this one is pistachio) are Instagram-famous for a reason. They are fabulous.

crab cake on fettuccine with vodka sauce at Pappas Parkville
I seldom order pasta in a restaurant, but I couldn't pass up this special at Pappas. Their crab cakes are huge and very good, and the pasta was excellent. Best part is that there was a ton of sauce, so between Mr Minx's and my leftovers and adding a few more ounces of fettuccine, we had a bonus crab vodka pasta dinner.


homemade hearts of palm "crab"cake over quinoa and esquites.
I made some pretty impressive faux crab cakes out of canned hearts of palm. Sure, they're a little tangier than real crab, but the texture is similar and they are tasty in their own right.


melon, burrata, marcona almonds, gnocchi at Kneads Bakery
This dish had so much going on, all of it good. It was a cheese course kinda dish because there was a sweetness to it that isn't normally found in an appetizer, and the gnocchi were more like donut holes than pasta, but damn, so tasty. I regret not going back to eat it again before the menu changed.

roasted cauliflower with EWF seasoning 
Seems like I put the seasoning mix that Earth, Wood, and Fire uses on their chicken wings on lots of things, and one of the best was roasted cauliflower. If you look hard enough on this blog, you'll find the recipe, but it won't be credited to the restaurant because I told them it would be a secret. It was, for years, until now it's not.


lentil and duck salad at Petit Louis
Neal and I snuck out for a 3-course lunch at Petit Louis a few weeks before Christmas and enjoyed a lovely French lentil and duck confit salad as our appetizer. It was so good, I invested in a bag of Puy lentils so I can attempt to recreate it at home. 

allium pie at JBGB's
The allium pie at JBGB's, in Remington, has scallion bechamel, cipollini and sweet & sour onions, and garlic oil as well as fontina and mozzarella cheeses on a lovely Neapolitan-style thin crust (dark, blistered, somewhat soggy at the center). I had heard good things about this place and now I wonder why it took us so long to get there.

* 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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