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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 12, 2011.

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Thai  peanut chicken wrap
When it was announced that Au Bon Pain was taking over the space at UMMS that for many years was inhabited by a Donna's, I greeted the idea with enthusiasm. Sure I was annoyed that a nationwide chain would be replacing a branch of the home-grown roasted vegetable maven's popular coffee shop, but after 12 years, I was tired of the food's high prices and the employee's attitudes. The folks at Au Bon Pain have so far been nothing short of courteous, and dare I say it, downright pleasant - always a good thing to encounter first thing in the morning, pre-caffeination.

While this neighborhood is already rife with restaurants that offer sandwiches, I was mostly excited about Au Bon Pain's array of fresh pastries and hot soups that would now be available to area diners. However, it's summer - too hot for soups - so I have stayed with sampling sandwiches for now.

On a recent weekday not long after Au Bon Pain opened the deli side of its operation, I tried the Thai Peanut Chicken Wrap (all natural grilled chicken, field greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, fried wontons, and Thai peanut dressing). The chicken, despite being white meat, was fairly moist, and I liked the inclusion of field greens rather than romaine or iceberg. The sandwich was crunchy and fresh tasting and the plethora of vegetables made it seem actually somewhat healthy. My only complaint - and it's a big one - is that they omitted the peanut sauce. Without the sauce, the sandwich was overall on the dry side. I'll chalk that up to being so new.

On my second try, I got the Roast Beef Montana, which had roast beef, an herbed cream cheese, and oodles of spicy brown mustard on a toasted cheese baguette. While mustard on roast beef violates Minx's Rule of Meat and Condiments (mustard on pink cold cuts, mayo on gray or white ones), the beef was pink enough to nearly qualify. As with much deli roast beef, it was kinda rubbery, but it tasted fine. Could have done with half the mustard, but maybe they were trying to make up for the lack of sauce in my Thai peanut wrap. The marinated red onions, however, were a nice touch and I wish there had been a wee bit more of them.

Finally, on an afternoon during which I was a bit pressed for time, I tried a Mediterranean Wrap (field greens, roasted red pepper hummus, feta, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and sun-dried tomato relish) from their Grab N Go section. The wrap was not soggy in the least and boasted a filling heavy on cucumbers and olives with a bit of zesty sun-dried tomato flavor. The hummus was barely detectable, and then only as a texture. Not bad at all, and definitely a quick way to get in and out of the busy restaurant at lunchtime.

While the selection of sandwiches isn't groundbreaking or anything, and the chicken salad isn't half as good as that served by the hospital cafeteria (made by Aramark!) I think ABP fills a need for those of us in a hurry or who want a chocolate croissant or giant pecan roll for breakfast.

Au Bon Pain
UMMS
22 S. Greene Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(800) 825-5227
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I usually plan meals in advance of a trip to NY, except if I'm meeting someone there for dinner.  I trust a resident of the city to do a better job of choosing a place than I might. But I did plan my own Monday breakfast at Pondicheri. This modern Indian restaurant not far from my hotel has several interesting options for a morning repast, including stuffed South Indian dosas, omelettes and sandwiches, coconut pancakes, and masala fried chicken. I was originally going to get the keema (a minced lamb dish) and eggs, but when I realized there would be a chance of smelling like fried lamb all day, I opted instead for the saag and egg on sourdough toast.

The toast was thickly cut and topped with a generous portion of spicy creamy spinach and a just barely set sunny side up egg. It was messy and delicious. (Move over, avo toast!) The kale and cucumber salad on the side was equally tasty, but I was picking kale out of my teeth for hours afterward....

Though I was in town to attend the Fancy Food Show, I like to take a break from walking through the many aisles of specialty foods and do a bit of non-food shopping. My primary goal was to buy some dancing shoes. Mr Minx and I recently started ballroom lessons, and I have found my various non-slip-soled shoes to be an impediment to proper spins on the dance floor.

After breakfast I strolled over to a shop on Madison Street that had a small collection and nothing for my problem feet. I then hiked over to 8th Ave to Worldtone Dance. (The blocks between 7th and 8th Avenues must be the longest blocks in the city. So. Much. Walking.) Worldtone's selection was another thing entirely. The photo below shows less than half the shoes they carry for women, and they not only had shoes with some arch support, but also ones that had cushioned insoles. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a pair that had both AND low heels, so I settled for the heels and the comfort--I can add arch supports. The staff there was quite helpful and seemed happy to bring out piles of shoes for me to try on. They were also good at answering questions and instructing me on how to fasten the curious buckles that come on dance shoes.

After a bit more shopping, I hit up Bergdorf's for some perfume-sniffing and got a lovely makeover from David at Estee Lauder, my dining companion of the previous evening. He can make even me look good.

Later on, my roommate Dara and I met her high school chum Michael for dinner. He had chosen Cafe Fiorello, a New York institution situated across the street from Lincoln Center. Dara and I shared a chilled octopus salad while Michael enjoyed items from the vegetable antipasti bar.

I wasn't supposed to eat pasta, allegedly being on Whole30, but Cafe Fiorello is a bit spendy. The only things I could afford were pasta-based, so I sprung for the carbonara. Topped with a whole poached egg and a generous quantity of guanciale lardons, it was a worthwhile splurge.

Dara was craving eclairs, and Epicerie Boulud next door had them. Since I had already blown the diet (the day before...lol), I had a yuzu tart. It was very much a lemon meringue pie, with yuzu, and a crust that was a bit difficult to puncture with a plastic fork. However, I managed to soldier on!


Pondicheri
15 W 27th St
New York, NY 10001

Worldtone Dance
580 8th Ave
New York, NY 10018

Cafe Fiorello
1900 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

Epicerie Boulud
1900 Broadway
New York, New York 10023


* 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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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 27, 2010.

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I noticed that a few people have found my blog by doing a Google search for Next Food Network Star contestant Aarti Sequeira's tandoori paste. So I dug around on the Food Network Web site and found it. I was going to post it here, or maybe just the link, but I thought, "why not try it for myself?"

So last weekend I found myself toasting spices in a skillet, adding them to yogurt, and making a marinade. While I had most of the whole spices on hand, I did not have fresh ginger, and I increased the amount of paprika because the dish looked a bit pale when I used the amount as written. Plus I made half as much. My edited version of her recipe follows.

I served the chicken with various sides including the okra dish we got from B'More, some raita made with radishes and cucumber, a quick stir fry of onions and mushrooms seasoned with a little cumin and the leftover tamarind dipping sauce from our B'More samosas, and naans from Trader Joe's.

Our cilantro plant had gone to seed, but I used it for garnish anyway. The fresh and soft green seeds tasted almost exactly like the dried coriander in the dish, but with a tiny bit of cilantro-ish-ness.


It was really good! The spice mix was so aromatic, three days later the house still smelled like an Indian restaurant. And the sauce was so tasty, I stored the leftovers in the fridge for future use. So far, it's made a great spread for a tuna salad sandwich on leftover naan. :)

Tandoori Chicken (inspired by Aarti's recipe)

Spice Paste
2 fresh green cayenne peppers or 1 large jalapeno
1 1/2 Tablespoons fenugreek seeds
1/2 Tablespoon coriander seeds
5 cloves
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
2.5 Tablespoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cloves garlic
Juice and rind of 1 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups full-fat plain yogurt
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon canola oil

Put the chiles, fenugreek, coriander, cloves, the seeds from the cardamom pods, paprika, and cinnamon in a saute pan and heat over medium heat until fragrant and toasty, about 5 minutes. Shake or stir the pan frequently to prevent burning. Grind to a powder in a coffee or spice grinder.

Blend the garlic, ginger, and lime in a food processor until the mixture is very smooth. Add the spice powder and blend again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Blend the spice mix with the two cups of yogurt. Use half of the yogurt mixture as a marinade for the chicken. Marinate the chicken for at least 2 hours and up to 8.

Add the oil to a saute pan and heat over medium heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and add to pan. Turn heat

Find Aarti's original recipe for Tandoori Chicken here.
And read Aarti's blog here.
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It might seem that I go to New York a lot. I do--at least 3 or 4 times a year, and mostly for the purpose of eating. My most recent trip was to the Fancy Food Show, which I attended with the lovely Dara of Dara Does It and Dining Dish.

Though we both start out in Baltimore, we don't travel together. She favors the bus, while I take Amtrak. I mean, I ride the bus twice a day, five days a week. I deserve to travel in relative comfort sometimes! Our various means of transportation get us to the city at different times and in different places. So while Dara goes straight to the Javits Center and starts walking the show, I hoof it from Penn Station to our nearby hotel and check into our room. With that accomplished, I take the subway to Javits Center.

In past years, I emerged from the 7 train to a Hudson Yards complex still under construction. This time, my path was scaffolding-free. Since I was so close, I decided to check out the mall part of the new complex and have lunch. On my way in, I chuckled at the many people waiting in line to walk around in the Vessel, a huge sculpture made of staircases in the form of a shawarma (or gyro or al pastor) rotisserie.

You see, it, right? Shawarma.
Once inside, I made use of the touch-screen map kiosks to find Fuku, a fast-food fried chicken restaurant that is part of David Chang's Momofuku empire. I wanted to try one of his chicken sandwiches for a while now, but I had concerns. Would it be too spicy? and could I order it without its usual topping of chickpea butter? The answers were "no," and "yes," in that order. While the sandwich was indeed spicy, it wasn't beyond a level I could tolerate comfortably. And the cashier didn't blink when I asked her to leave off the butter. (Chickpeas and lentils give me severe stomach cramps.) I don't know what the butter added, but I certainly didn't miss it.

After the sandwich, I went upstairs to Van Leeuwen ice cream. I sampled a couple of both the dairy and vegan flavors and ended up with a scoop of Earl Grey. The ice cream was smooth and creamy, but not overly unctuous, and was a perfect antidote to the spicy sandwich I had just consumed.

The mall was otherwise unremarkable, full of overly expensive shops catering to the one percent. Not my scene. Yes, I do go to Bergdorf Goodman just about every time I visit New York, but only for the beauty floor; seldom do I purchase anything. I'm rather obsessed with perfume, and Bergdorf's has one of the best selections of fragrance around. Also I like to visit with friends who work there.

Speaking of friends from BG, I had dinner that evening with my friend David, a makeup artist with Estee Lauder. He was going to be in the Village, so we agreed to meet at North Square at the Washington Square Hotel.

Neal and I had stayed at that hotel 15 years ago, and I had no idea there was a restaurant. Or maybe it wasn't there back then. In any case, North Square seemed to be a popular place, as it was full by 6:30.

We started our meal with blistered carrots with lemon tahini, pomegranate, and pistachios. It was a generous portion and could make a nice light entree with a salad or a side. I liked the contrast of tender carrot and the various crunchy toppings.

For my entree, I had the coriander-crusted scallops with quinoa pilaf, sauteed market greens (spinach) and coconut lemongrass sauce. While the scallops were nicely cooked, and everything was tasty, I didn't really detect either the coriander or the lemongrass. David had a burger, which he seemed to enjoy.

We passed on dessert. I had already been bad and had ice cream at lunch, not to mention more ice cream at the Fancy Food Show. And I was supposedly on the Whole30 diet. Not on this day, sister!

Fuku
20 Hudson Yards
New York, NY 10001

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
20 Hudson Yards
New York, NY 10001

North Square
Washington Square Hotel
103 Waverly Pl
New York, NY 10011

* 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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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 30, 2008

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After reading this entry on the blog French Laundry at Home, I was determined to try it for myself. After all, I owned the cookbook, and had neglected the huge tome ever since I purchased it from a book discounter several years back. Mr Minx and I both enjoy salmon, and I thought the recipe could be fairly simple, with some modifications.

The original recipe calls for creating a rub of citrus zest, salt, and sugar in which the salmon would marinate for a period of time. That was easy enough. Then it should poach in 110º olive oil. Yeahh...olive oil is expensive. Sorry. I'm not going to waste a bottle of it to cook fish. I figured pan-sautéeing would be good enough.

The fish was supposed to marinate for 1 hour for every half inch of thickness (if memory serves). That would be less than two hours for the salmon I had on hand. Unfortunately for us (and the fish) following that time frame proved impossible as the kitchen sink decided to back up and refuse to drain at just about the time I was ready to remove the fish from its citrus spa treatment and had pots and pans stacking up to be washed. The cookbook admonishes that leaving the fish in the marinade would result in a dish that was too salty. So as Mr Minx ran out to get some drain cleaner, I, in desperation, resorted to rinsing the fish in our tiny bathroom sink. As I opened the foil wrapper, I was sad to see a puddle of liquid under the fish. Not only would it be too salty, it would also have the consistency of rubber bands because too much moisture had been drawn from the flesh.

Maybe poaching in oil would have restored some resiliency? But I was not to find out.

In addition to all of the citrus zest, the recipe also calls for marinating orange segments in a mixture of simple syrup and vinegar to create a confit (you catch that, Kit?) As I had a whole grapefruit on hand, I used that as well. It turned out fine.

Another component of the dish was pea shoot coulis. The local supermarket doesn't carry pea shoots, and they're probably not in season anyway, so I used sugar snap peas. Unfortunately I had no tamis in the house so the purée wasn't as smooth as it should have been, and I opted not to thin it out so it was more like a mash. Or mushy peas. Only not mushy.

I didn't think that pea puree was enough of a veg, so I made asparagus as well. And of course the dish had no starch element, and that's simply not allowed in Casa Minx! So I fried up some sliced yellow potatoes, simply seasoned with salt and pepper.

Plated, it looked pretty enough. But the citrus flavor was barely noticed beyond the salt. And the texture of the fish was terrible. The confit was mild, as were the peas. The potatoes, however, were quite good. If not for the chopped chive garnish and the asparagus, this would have been a fairly flavorless meal.
One I'm not likely to try again.
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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 3, 2007. I remember this meal very well.

We have been back to Michael's and it was much better. No sign of the annoying waitress either.

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Last night I went out to dinner with my friend Stacey and her friend Alex. Friday night at 7pm is a bad time for dining out in Baltimore if one doesn't have a reservation, but we gave it a shot. Alex wanted seafood, mentioning crab cakes in particular, so I did a quick Google search to see where they might be found in the northern Baltimore County area. I knew Ocean Pride would be packed, and they were. We definitely didn't want to wait 45 minutes, so headed further up York Road. I had never been to Michael's Café, but read that they had crabcakes, so we gave it a go. Unfortunately for us, they could accomodate us right away. At least, we got to sit down. Actual accomodation was a long time in coming.

Right away, our waitress came up to recite a list of specials in her bizarrely nasal Minnie Mouse with strep throat voice. She took Alex's drink order for an iced tea and left. A minute or so later, she brought the tea, and a small plate of butter, and then disappeared for a bit. Which was fine. Since one of us is constantly talking, I needed the extra time to grab a minute here and there to actually concentrate on the menu. Bread eventually came, but Minnie Mouse disappeared fast without taking our order. After what seemed like an eternity, she returned and we requested the seared Ahi tuna, calamari, and crab/shrimp dip appetizers. Alex and I ordered crab cakes for our entrees, and Stacey decided on scallops. And because some of us really needed a drink, I selected a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel, very nicely priced at $25.

Alex's side salad came first, a decent-enough looking mix of greens and other salad veggies, with dressing on the side. Unfortunately, it looked as if the dressing cup had come off of someone else's plate - it was barely half-full. Alex wanted extra dressing, so needed the waitress. When she arrived with our wine (presenting it to Stacey, even though I was the one who ordered it), her response to the request for extra dressing was, "no." Considering we had been sitting in the restaurant for about 45 minutes already and had only gotten one salad, some rolls, and now wine, I didn't think Minnie had any right to attempt humor. She did bring the dressing with the appetizers, which we fell upon with vigor.

The ahi tuna was quite nice, albeit outrageously priced at $12. (One can get a more generous portion of even o-toro for less at a reputable sushi restaurant.) Seven long thin slices of tuna, raw in the middle and crusted with peppercorns and sesame seeds, lay atop mesclun greens dressed in a nice soy vinaigrette, with small dollops of wasabi sauce and a Thousand Island-looking aioli at the compass points. The tuna was delicious, as were the greens, and a larger portion of both would have made a nice dinner in itself. The menu claims that the calamari is "hand breaded," but I believe those hands worked for a frozen seafood plant somewhere far away. The adequate portion of squid, both rings and tentacles, were unexceptional, the bland breading tasting of nothing, and the accompanying marinara was merely something red and wet in which to dip the seafood. As for the crab and shrimp dip, I was hard-pressed to find any actual seafood in the pink-colored cream cheese goo, but it was tasty enough slathered on the crisp slices of garlic bread that came with it.

Surprisingly, the entrees came not long after the dinner plates were cleared. At least the kitchen's timing was good, if not the waitress'. Each of us got two vegetables with our protein, but somehow my green beans ended up on Alex's plate. Minnie Mouse went to fetch some for me and actually did arrive before I was finished eating. My single crab cake was full of lump crab, with very little binder, but it was overall fairly bland and needed more seasoning of some sort. The side of tartar sauce tasted weird, and I didn't bother with the cocktail sauce, since I don't think it goes with crabcakes. The potato, baked in foil, was predictably arid, but the beans, once they arrived, were cooked perfectly crisp and bright green; slicked with a touch of fat of some sort, all they needed was a bit of salt to bring out their flavor. Stacey's scallops came in a ghost-white creamy wine sauce, but the generous portion was well-cooked and flavorful. Her side of beets came from a can. Alex did not comment on the quality of her entree, but I did notice her request for mayonnaise (presumably for her fries) was never fufilled.

Minnie Mouse's appearances at our table were sporadic, and she never seemed to be around when we needed her. For instance, when our appetizers arrived, she still had not brought Stacy a place setting or napkin. After her fork ended up with the dirty appetizer dishes, she was not given a replacement with which to eat her entree until she managed to flag someone down. When pouring my wine, Minnie slopped it all over the base of my glass, and I was afraid to lift it lest I dribble on my shirt. She offered to bring a napkin to clean it, but that took 10 minutes. By the end of the meal, we were completely exasperated and opted to find dessert elsewhere. It was close to 9:30 p.m. when we left the restaurant, and I noticed the table next to ours was turned over twice while we were there. Oddly enough, they had the same waitress.

Although parts of the meal were enjoyable, I can't say I plan to return to Michael's Café. It's a standard, run-of-the-mill Maryland seafood restaurant, somewhat dingy, with mostly unexceptional food and poor service. We were seated within sniffing distance of the restrooms (which are badly located behind a short partition and which open directly into the dining room) and practically on top of a service station with various piles of whatnot on it but not useful things like napkins and silverware. Some attention to detail was evident in the meal: the green beans; the nice crisp dinner rolls; the perfectly cooked tuna. But other signs suggested the kitchen was on auto-pilot: the half-full salad dressing; the canned beets; the dull calamari. I can't blame the fact that it was prime time on a Friday night - the place was full but not busy, there was no line to get in, and the pace overall seemed to be quite leisurely. Nobody looked harried, distraught, or overworked.

Michael's is a place that has its regulars, and indeed I knew one gentleman who confessed to eating there every weekend, at the bar. That's well and good for them, if they like what they get. They can have it.

Michael's Cafe Raw Bar & Grill
2119 York Rd
Timonium, MD 21093
(410) 252-2022
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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 22, 2008.

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Check out my late friend Jim Six's song, Cook Somethin' Up, "a tasty blues concoction filled with references to celebrity chefs from the Food Network."
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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 01. 2009.

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I don't know why I got it my head to make tapas for Memorial Day. Not exactly traditional, is it? I thought it would be a good excuse to get out the grill and cook up the leg of lamb that's been in our freezer for a while. Not that lamb needs excuses. Nor is tapas the most popular way to accompany it. But once I get something in my head....

Since Mr Minx had to fiddle with charcoal and all that, I thought it would make it worth his while to toss some chicken breasts on it too, to eat later in the week. Then I invited my brother, which killed the leftovers idea.

The spread consisted of grilled chicken and lamb (mingling on the same plate, both marinated in lots of garlic and soy, with tomato paste on the chicken and brown sugar on the lamb), grilled shrimp, potatoes and chorizo (from José Andres' tapas cookbook), endive salad with bleu cheese, tomato and herb salad (herbs freshly-plucked from the freshly-planted garden) with goat's cheese, marinated mushrooms, and "crab" balls. There was also some red pepper mayo for dipping, bread, and Marcona almonds. Oh, and a pitcher of sangria!

Cheap sangria: 1 bottle Sutter Home "white Cabernet Sauvignon" ($5.99), 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1/4 cup leftover cheap brandy, 1/4 cup cheap Triple Sec. Fruity and boozy and a fine accompaniment to my selection of eats.

I tried to get a good combination of textures, flavors, and temperatures going and think I was pretty successful.

The endive salad was pretty basic: sliced Belgian endives, bleu cheese crumbles, balsamic vinaigrette. I usually add walnuts, but bro is allergic to them, and anaphylaxis is a real buzz kill. The tomato herb salad had pineapple mint; sweet, Thai, and variegated basil; French tarragon; chives and chive blossoms; and some store-bought cilantro (it refuses to grow in my garden). And a couple gobbets of goat's cheese. The tomatoes were the "on the vine" type, which I've been having roaring success with recently. Don't know where in the world they were grown (nobody will ever accuse me of being a locavore) but they have been juicy, red, and sweet.

The potato recipe called for Spanish chorizo, which I could not find at Giant. Go figure. However, I always have Mexican chorizo in the freezer so used one of those. Being raw, they have a very different texture, and are flavored primarily with annatto. Unfortunately, the pimenton called for in the recipe was quite masked by the annatto. The potatoes were tasty anyway, but I will endeavor to make them with the proper chorizo next time.

The marinated mushroom recipe came from a little tapas cookbook called Tapas Fantasicas that I got for Christmas a couple years back. Sherry vinegar is very...pungent...so I was worried that the mushrooms would be too tart. I used a combination of baby bellas and shiitakes, and it really was quite delicious. I'd make them again.

Marinated Mushrooms

1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T water
1/2 t dried tarragon
1/2 t brown sugar
dash Tabasco
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until softened. Add mushrooms and stir to coat with oil. Continue to cook for another minute or two. add vinegar, water, tarragon, sugar, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Cover pan and simmer on low for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Remove from heat. Cool mushrooms in marinade. Eat at room temperature.

As for the "crab" balls.... Remember the fish tacos I made earlier in the week? Weirdly, after I washed and dried the fish, my hands smelled like crab meat rather than fish. So I saved a piece of the cooked fish, for experimental purposes. I flaked it, added crab cake ingredients (Old Bay, bread soaked in milk, mayo) and made three small balls which I fried up for tapas. They fell apart, as my crab cakes usually do, but they tasted reasonably crabby. Because it had been sauteed, he meat was a little tough; if I try something like this again, I think I'll poach the fish so it stays soft.

Gotta admit - Mahi from Trader Joe's is far cheaper than crab meat, and it's no less crabby than the flavorless non-blue-crab "jumbo lump" they sell at the supermarket.

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on June 24, 2011.

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With the recent demise of one of the few Vietnamese restaurants in the area, Saigon Remembered, I decided we need patronize the other Viet joint in town to make sure that one stays around for a while. Pho Dat Than, an offshoot of a Columbia restaurant of the same name, is located just below the annoying traffic circle at the crossroads of York, Joppa, Dulaney Valley, etc., in Towson. Luckily, the circle can be avoided by parking in the lot behind the Recher Theatre, accessible via either Joppa Road or Towsontown Boulevard.

Pho Dat Than's decor is pleasant enough - it's simple and tidy, with mint green walls, high-backed booths, and tables arranged in neat rows. On the early Friday night we were there, the restaurant had a decent number of diners, and I could see carry-out orders lining up on what used to be a sushi bar in the back. That boded well for weekend traffic.

I had already perused the somewhat messy online menu and knew what I wanted us to try. But first, we ordered some iced coffee. The Vietnamese version differs from the more familiar Thai in that rather than receiving a glass of ready-made coffee, a cup of sweetened condensed milk topped with a metal brewing device full of coffee grounds and water, along with a glass of ice, is brought to the table. I was afraid that I'd spill the coffee all over the place while transferring it from cup to glass, but with judicious use of the saucer (and assistance from our waiter), it was easier than it appeared. The coffee was rich and dark and sweet - everything a good iced coffee should be, except cold, since the ice melted on contact with the hot coffee.

We started our dinner with an order of Bò Lá Nho (grilled beef in grape leaves). I recalled having this dish at Saigon Remembered and liking it very much. Pho Dat Than's is different in that the grape leaf rolls are larger, with less of a smoky flavor than those at SR. However, the juicy chopped beef (rather like a succulent meatball) and slightly charred bits of grape leaf were a lovely combination of flavors and textures, and much more to my liking than the usual rice-stuffed Middle Eastern/Greek version.

Next came an order of Muc Rang Muoi (crispy spicy squid). The only dish that didn't come with a small bowl of nước chấm, the ubiquitous fish-sauced based accompaniment for many Vietnamese dishes, it still benefited from a drizzle. The calamari was not as crispy as I'd have liked, possibly because it was served on a bed of roughly-torn iceberg lettuce, nor was it spicy, but it was pleasantly chewy and otherwise tasted fine.

Bún Thit Nuóng Cha Giò (grilled pork & cha gio vermicelli) was a huge bowl of slender rice noodles topped with thinly sliced grilled pork, beansprouts, carrots, shredded lettuce, cilantro, plus crushed peanuts and scallions. It was very similar to the other noodle dish we tried, the Bánh Uot Cha Lua Thit Nuóng (plain rice crepe with Vietnamese ham and grilled pork), which only differed in that the noodles were thin and sticky sheets - similar to the wrapper of the Chinese dim sum dish cheong fun - and the inclusion of steamed pork roll, which I suppose was the "Vietnamese ham."

The combination of smoky pork and bland noodles, sparked with additions of nước chấm and cilantro, was delicious. I preferred the vermicelli over the crepes, which were too gelatinous even for me. The pork roll (which I initially took for chicken or turkey) provided nothing but texture to the dish, as the flavor was nearly nonexistent. I could detect a vague peanut aura and maybe nuances of wet newspaper, but that's about it. Stick to the grilled pork.

Overall, the meal was pleasant and the quantity of leftovers made for a tasty supper a couple days later. I'm looking forward to going again, to experiment with different meats and definitely try the pho, which seemed to be on quite a few tables while we were there.

Pho Dat Thanh
510 York Road
Towson, MD 21204
(410) 296-9118
Posted on Minxeats.com.
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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on April 30, 2014.

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Have you ever read a food magazine and felt the urge to cook one of the recipes RIGHT NOW? As in, drop the magazine and run to the kitchen immediately? I had that feeling when I spotted the recipe for savory granola in the April 2014 issue of Bon Appetit. I had just turned the oven off 10 minutes earlier after removing a tray of roasted broccoli and knew I wouldn't have to wait for the thing to pre-heat (it takes forever, which can be a real buzz-kill during a cooking frenzy). We had most of the ingredients--old fashioned oats, walnuts, sesame seeds, fennel, seeds--and I substituted for a couple others (pumpkin seeds in place of sunflower seeds, skipped the pistachios entirely). I mixed up the ingredients pronto and banged them into the hot oven.

Now you must recall that I had just roasted broccoli. At 450°F. So the oven was a wee bit hotter than it needed to be, hence the charred appearance of my salad topping (some of the black bits are black sesame seeds though). No matter, even slightly burnt, the granola was AMAZING. It took all of my willpower not to shove handfuls of it into my face hole. The combination of nuts + fennel seeds is delicious and I wish I had thought of it myself.

Rather than eating all of it right then and there (it makes about 3 cups), I decided to use it as a component in the dinner I was preparing--cold rice salad with Chinese sausage and a peanut butter vinaigrette. Oh, and roasted broccoli.

I wanted the salad to have a peanut sauce flavor, but not a standard sweet peanut sauce. Instead, I made it ultra vinegary, using both rice wine and Chinese black vinegar (also called Chinkiang vinegar). Chinese black vinegar is, as Isaac Mizrahi is fond of saying, EVERYTHING, Darlings. It's mellow, malty, and woodsy, with a burnt caramel aspect. If you're a vinegar fan (and I know not everyone is...weirdos), then you have to try it. I then added a bit of agave syrup, soy, and sambal oelek for heat. (We use Huy Fong brand, the company that makes the ever popular "rooster sauce" sriracha. Oelek is different in that it's just crushed chiles in vinegar and salt, no garlic or sugar.) It was perfect on plain steamed rice garnished with Chinese sausage and scallions.

I tossed the broccoli into the salad after the sauce was added, because I didn't want the broccoli to have soggy florets. And then I sprinkled a bit of the granola on each serving.

So. Good. I need to make this again very soon.

Rice Salad with Roasted Broccoli

Roasted broccoli:
3 broccoli crowns
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt

Peanut sauce:
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave syrup
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
5 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sambal oelek
1/4 teaspoon salt

To assemble salad:
3 cups cooked, room-temperature rice (Jasmine is nice, or basmati)
3 Chinese pork sausages, sliced into coins, lightly fried, and drained on paper towels
1/2 cup julienned carrots
3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

Savory granola (optional, but delicious)

To make broccoli: Preheat oven to 450°F.

Remove thick stem from each broccoli crown. Break the floret into small pieces. Cut the stem into lengthwise slices. Toss both florets and stems with olive oil and salt and arrange in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Roast for about 20 minutes, turning broccoli halfway, until tender and browning in spots. Remove from heat and set aside.

To make peanut sauce: In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and stir well. Taste for seasoning--it should be vinegary, lightly salty, and lightly spicy. Add more salt and sambal if you wish.

To assemble salad: Using a fork, stir rice into prepared peanut sauce until well-coated. Add the sausages, carrots, and scallions and toss to combine.

Serve at room temperature with a helping of broccoli and a sprinkle of the savory granola.
Posted on Minxeats.com.

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