Monday, February 26, 2024

Visiting Charm City? You Need to Try This!

When I go to NY and visit with my friend Daisy, she takes me to all the best eateries. And I don't mean fancy 3 Michelin star restaurants like Le Bernardin. Instead, she takes me to the best places to get banh mi, birria tacos, ice cream, and pizza. In a city like New York, there's more than one place to get the "best" in pretty much any category. Here in little old Baltimore, however, there are far fewer choices. Sometimes I think, if Daisy came to visit me here in Baltimore, where would we eat?  

neighborhood bird from Ekiben
First of all, we'd go to Ekiben and chow down on the chicken sandwich known as the Neighborhood Bird: a fat fried Taiwanese-curry-seasoned chicken thigh or two (I've even had a sandwich with three!) crammed into a rather large and pillowy bao bun and topped with sambal mayo and a handful of herbs. Another must-order there is the gluten-free tempura broccoli topped with sliced Chinese sausage, fresh herbs, red onion, and a dose of rice vinegar. Those are my favorites, but to be very honest...everything at Ekiben is perfect.

Koco's crab cake, served at home
Koco's Pub is next on the list. While I'm sure all their grub is good, unless one is allergic to shellfish, the massive 11-ounce crabcake is mandatory. Right now, one cake with crackers, lettuce, tomato, and pickle is a splurge at $36.99; four bucks more will get fries and cole slaw, too. If one is feeling cheap, there's a smaller 6-oz cake available (Wed - Fri until 4pm only) for $22.99. I suggest going for the gusto and getting a 11-oz sandwich, which is plenty large enough for sharing. Daisy will probably want her own. Honestly, I think she has two stomachs. 

steamed crabs from Salty Dogs
We might opt for steamed crabs, though not necessarily instead of crab cakes. I like getting carry-out from Salty Dogs, but we could dine in at Bill's Terrace Inn, instead. Bill's crab cakes are pretty decent, so we could get both cakes and steamed crabs there. Mmmm...making myself hungry here.

mushroom "crab" cake at Foraged
Keeping with the crab cake theme, we'd probably also hit up Foraged and sample their "crab" cake made with lion's mane mushrooms. So good. And also a selection of their pig parts, definitely the kool ranch pig ears, maybe some snout and/or jowl. One really can't go wrong there.

bone marrow crab dip from True Chesapeake
I'd also want to take Daisy to True Chesapeake. For oysters multiple ways, of course, but also for the fantastic crab and bone marrow dip and also to eat whatever invasive species they might have on the menu at the moment, snakehead or blue catfish or both.

loaded yuca fries from La Food Marketa
We also might go to La Food Marketa, where we'd order the yuca fries loaded with short rib and a fried egg, the reuben quesadilla, the street cauliflower, and any number of other fine things. Or we could go to their sister restaurant, The Food Market, and order pretty much everything on the menu, but especially the soft pretzels and a Baltimore club.

ice cream cone at the Hampden location of The Charmery
What about dessert? I think a scoop of Old Bay Caramel ice cream from The Charmery would do nicely. Or any flavor from Taharka Brothers.

New York has world-class Chinese food, so there's no place in Baltimore that would be particularly impressive to someone who lives in Manhattan. Folks from other areas, however, I'd absolutely take them to Red Pepper or Kung Fu 12. It seems that half the restaurants in NY are Italian, and while we have some good places in the Baltimore area, nothing tops what New York has to offer. The same for pizza, though I feel like the pies at Squire's are different enough for a visitor to appreciate. They're not NY-style, for sure, and not Neapolitan-style either, with their firm and crisp crust and somewhat sweet and herby sauce. One can say the same for Ledo, which some will argue isn't even pizza. (Then what is it?) 

If any other Baltimore-area readers have suggestions as to where to take an out-of-towner for a Baltimore dining experience that won't be found anywhere else, I'd love to hear your ideas. Leave a comment!

* 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, February 19, 2024

The Remedy to Chilly Weather: Drink More Hot Tea

In a world where everyone seems to be in a hurry to do something or get somewhere, there's an age-old tradition that offers solace, comfort, and a myriad of health benefits: enjoying a hot cup of tea. This beverage has something to offer everyone from lifelong enthusiasts to newcomers to the world of tea.
  • Stress Reduction - There's a reason why a cup of tea is often referred to as "a hug in a mug." The soothing warmth and gentle aroma of hot tea can work wonders for your mental well-being. Tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to promote relaxation and reduce stress. The ritual of preparing and savoring a cup of hot tea can provide a calming break in a hectic day.
  • Improved Digestion -  Many herbal teas, such as peppermint or ginger, are well-known for their digestive benefits. Hot tea can help alleviate digestive discomfort, reduce bloating, and ease indigestion. It's an excellent choice after a heavy meal or when you're feeling a bit under the weather.
  • Antioxidant Boost - Hot tea is packed with antioxidants called catechins. These powerful compounds help combat the harmful effects of free radicals in your body, which can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and support overall health. Regular consumption of hot tea may contribute to better long-term well-being.
  • Enhanced Hydration - Staying adequately hydrated is essential for maintaining good health, and hot tea can be an enjoyable way to achieve this goal. While water is the ultimate hydrator, tea is a close second. The warm, comforting nature of hot tea can encourage you to consume more fluids, especially during the colder months. However, to reap maximum hydration benefits from tea, make sure that it's herbal or decaf.
  • Improved Focus and Mental Clarity - The caffeine in tea, though generally lower than in coffee, provides a gentle pick-me-up that can enhance focus and concentration without the jitters or crashes associated with coffee. Hot tea can be a great choice for those looking to stay alert and productive during the day.
  • Variety and Flavor - One of the great pleasures of hot tea is its wide array of flavors and blends. Whether you prefer the robust taste of black tea, the earthy notes of green tea, or the delicate sweetness of herbal infusions, there's a hot tea for every palate. Exploring different types of tea can be an enjoyable journey in itself.
One may purchase loose or bagged tea in any grocery store or bodega, but I have found that the best stuff comes from specialty tea purveyors. 

actually, my all-time fave was Chicory Dickory Dock, now discontinued
I discovered David's Tea on a trip to New York. Pre-COVID, this Canadian tea company had two locations in Manhattan, and I particularly enjoyed visiting the one on Bleecker Street in the West Village. The employees at this narrow storefront were always happy to let me smell any of the dozens of brews available and I rewarded their patience with making multiple purchases. And by multiple, I mean one or two ounces of six to eight teas at a time. While they have a great selection of non-caffeinated teas--which is what drew me to them in the first place--my favorite is their high-caffeine Coffee Pu'erh, which I drink sparingly. Though I am no longer able to browse David's in person, I place regular orders through their website. At this point, I have quite an embarrassing stash of their products on hand.

August Uncommon Tea is another favorite tea purveyor with a beautiful selection of tea varieties with intriguing names like Dolomite, Biarritz, and Cult of Demeter. I don't quite remember how I stumbled upon this company; perhaps it was via one of Facebook's fiendishly on-the-nose target ads. In any case, I ordered several samples and fell in love. August does smoked teas particularly well, and Outlaw, a smoky cherry black tea, is a favorite in this house.

The Whistling Kettle is a company we found recently. I responded to a PR email and was rewarded with a sampler of eight of their fall-oriented teas including Autumn Haze, Apple Cider Donut, Gingerbread Cookie, and Pumpkin Cheesecake. Besides seasonal offerings, WK has the entire rainbow of tea offerings from black, green, and white to red (rooibos) and even purple. They also have tisanes, yerba mate, hemp leaf, and chaga mushroom teas. The Whistling Kettle has many intriguing flavors that I hope to explore and will be adding this company to my regular tea-ordering rotation.

Do you have a favorite tea company that I should know about? Leave a comment!

* 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, February 12, 2024

Pumpkin Thai Curry with Shrimp

Recently, I borrowed a copy of the Beat Bobby Flay cookbook from my local library. Sorry, Bobby, but why buy the cow when I can get the milk for free? The book has some good recipes, and I was particularly attracted to the pumpkin red curry with seafood--but not as written. It seemed like it would be better as a soup, so I made the appropriate adjustments. Cuz that's what I tend to do.

I wondered what the warm spices (cinnamon, etc.) brought to the table and found that they transformed a Thai red curry to something more like a Massaman curry. I adore red curry, Massaman not so much, so if I make this again, I will leave out the cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg, perhaps replacing them with lemongrass and makrut lime. Bobby used eggplant and sweet potato in his version, but I swapped in regular potato for both. 

Supermarket red curry paste, like Thai Kitchen brand, is pretty mild, heat-wise. I had just received a shaker of McCormick's roasted garlic/cayenne/onion/pink salt blend and thought that would be a good way to boost the heat while also seasoning the soup. You all know how much I like chili crisp, and this stuff gives some good chili crisp vibes, only without the oil. I used a teaspoon in the soup, but added some at the table as well, which gave the dish just enough of a kick. I quite like this seasoning, and will be using it a lot. It comes in a ginormous container, too, which is useful.

Thanks for the recipe, Bobby. I won't be buying the book though.

Pumpkin Thai Curry Soup with Shrimp
I knew this would make far more soup than two people could eat in one meal. I didn't want to deal with rubbery shrimp in reheated leftovers, so I only added as many as I thought Mr Minx and I could eat at one time. The leftovers equaled approximately 5 cups, which I tucked in the freezer for future use, perhaps with chicken or another different protein. 

1 cup coarsely chopped onion
Pinch of kosher salt
2 t extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t ground allspice
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
2 T Thai red curry paste (if you're using a supermarket brand, like Thai Kitchen, use 3 T)
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 13.5-oz can light coconut milk
2 shrimp, chicken, or vegetable bouillon cubes; if using Knorr XL (double) cubes, just use one
2 medium new potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon McCormick Roasted Garlic and Cayenne Pepper with Onion and Himalayan Pink Salt, plus more for the table
1 t smoked Spanish paprika
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
1/4 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted
3 T pomegranate seeds
1 scallion, white and light green part sliced into thin rings
Plain yogurt, sour cream, or creme fraiche

Make soup: Saute onion and a pinch of salt in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, stirring regularly. Add the dry spices and the curry paste and stir to combine. Cook a couple minutes, stirring constantly, to toast the spices, then add the pumpkin puree and coconut milk. Add 3 pumpkin cans of water to the pot (about 6 cups) with the bouillon. Bring to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld and develop. Add the potatoes; cook 15 minutes and test the potatoes for doneness. Once they are tender (might take a few minutes more), add the McCormick seasoning and smoked paprika. 

Add the shrimp and cook until they are pink and firm, 3-4 minutes.

Make garnish: In a bowl, combine coconut, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, and scallion. 

To serve: Ladle soup into bowls. Dollop with yogurt and sprinkle on some garnish. Season with additional McCormick seasoning, if needed.

Makes about 2 1/2 quarts.

* 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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Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Restaurant Review - Villagio Cafe

We have visited Villagio Cafe--a cute little Persian restaurant on York Road just a few blocks over the County Line--many times, so I was surprised to realize that I hadn't yet written about it. Several posts on NextDoor recommended the restaurant, and while that forum is generally a site that causes one to lose all faith in humanity, this was the rare piece of good advice. 

Villagio Cafe has a lot going for it: the food is excellent, the service is very good, and the prices are shockingly inexpensive. Plus, it's within walking distance from our house. 

chicken and beef koobideh kebabs with shirazi salad (front) lamb koobideh with rice (back)
There are plenty of kebabs on the menu: chicken, beef, and lamb shish kebabs which include peppers and onions; chicken and beef kebabs without the veg; and koobideh kebabs which are made with ground chicken, lamb, or beef mixed with onions and seasonings (similar to kofta, lule, and seekh kebabs). I can't stop eating the juicy and flavorful koobideh, so it's rare that I stray to the other types. Though I will say, there is so much onion in the koobideh, if I get carryout or bring home leftovers, I have to be prepared for not only my refrigerator to reek, but also the whole house when I warm them up. (Worth it. That's what scented candles are for.) The kebabs all come with insanely buttery basmati rice, lovely warm pita, and grilled tomato. Sometimes, however, I don't want the rice and exchange it for a side of shirazi salad, a simple combination of diced cucumber, tomato, onion, and parsley, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Villagio Cafe has six other rice dishes on their menu which can be substituted for the plain basmati for an upcharge; all are uniformly delicious.

tah dig topped with chicken fesenjan
As much as I enjoy the koobideh, I most often order their tah dig, or crispy rice, topped with a stew of chicken with walnuts and pomegranate known as fesenjan. (There is a possibly inauthentic but still tasty fesenjan recipe here on the blog.) It's not the most beautiful thing in the place, but I can't get enough of the buttery, salty, crispy goodness of the rice and the tangy richness of the stew. 

lamb shank with baghala polo
I also recommend their lamb shanks, which are stewed to extreme tenderness and accompanied by baghala polo, or rice with dill and fava beans. Honestly, there's nothing I've tried that I wouldn't order again, though I think that serving dolmas piping hot are a little weird. 

And now I have a craving for lamb koobideh, so if you'll excuse me....

Villagio Cafe
6805 York Rd, 
Baltimore, MD 21212

* 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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