Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Get your purple on, hon

Baltimore is beaming with Ravens pride. We're going to the Super Bowl. Really and truly. We are going the Super Bowl (had to repeat it...) Everywhere you go, people are decked out in purple. They're happy. Smiling. And, asking, "Where are you gonna watch the game?"

What I'm more interested in knowing, however is..."What are you gonna EAT while you watch the game?" Here are some ideas if you want to add a little purple pride to the boofay without hitting the food color.

Fruit platter of grapes, blueberries, blackberries

Also, our friends down at the Four Seasons Harbor East are serving up some purple goodness now through the big game. Thanks to rock star pastry chef Chris Ford, LAMILL is offering purple macarons for $1.50 (filling flavors changing all week long) as well as a special Ravens cupcake - a chocolate cupcake with a purple vanilla buttercream for $2.75 each, $15 half-dozen and $29 dozen. And at Wit & Wisdom, you can have a purple Ravens Royale cocktail - vodka, gin, purple honey and lemon juice, topped with sparkling wine. And...at brunch on Sunday, you can enjoy bottomless purple mimosas. Yikes, sounds like fun! Check out their Facebook page for more info.

While many downtown restaurants close for dinner Super Bowl Sunday, lots of places are offering specials! Here's Richard Gorelick's rundown.

As for me, I feel compelled to watch the big game where I watched the AFC Championship - in my living room in the Hampdens. There will be lots of worrying, pacing, yelling and yes...eating.


p.s. Here are some of my favorite non-purple tailgate-esque party foods.

White Chicken Chili from America's Test Kitchen (it has a kick!)
Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw by Smitten Kitchen
Old Bay Wings from Food & Wine
Pan-fried Onion Dip from Ina Garten
Rosemary Lemon White Bean Dip from Mark Bittmann
Beef Sliders from Martha Stewart
Mexican Layer Dip from Pioneer Woman

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Backyard Chickens in Charm City

So, you have a friend in the country with chickens. Or, you read an article online about people in Brooklyn raising chickens on a rooftop. Or maybe you opened up the new Williams-Sonoma Agrarian catalog and thought...I want chickens! Then you start to wonder if they're even allowed where you live. Well, if you live in Baltimore City, here's some advice from someone who's recently jumped into city chicken keeping.

First, this article from Earth 911 asks some key questions to see if chicken keeping is for you.

If you live in Charm City,  here are the basics:

You must obtain a permit from Animal Control - 410-396-4698
You must register your flock with the Maryland Department of Agriculture - 800-492-5590
The coop must be movable and cannot be within 25 feet of any residence
10 hens allowed per household - no roosters

When I got my chickens two years ago, I did it completely backwards. Here is the order o' biz if you live in Baltimore City: 1) build your coop 2) have it inspected...then...3) get your chickens. This is not completely clear when you call the City, but I'm told the coop needs to be approved sans chickens. I already had chickens in my coop when it was inspected. I was nervous about it since I'm such a rule follower! But it seemed fine...no big drama. The Animal Control officer could not have been nicer.

Once you have built your coop, figured out a routine and have your permit...you're good. Chickens are excellent low-maintenance pets that give you something amazing in return for your love and care - those delicious eggs. They are not, however, leave-for-a-long-weekend animals. They need to be checked on daily - fresh food and water are both key. You'll need to clean out the coop no less than once a week - otherwise, you might have a smelly coop and NO ONE likes a smelly coop. And, every single night, you must make sure they are securely locked inside the henhouse - this is really important.

This past summer, I thought I'd expand the flock and got three new baby chicks. I ordered them online this time (that way, they were 95% guaranteed to be hens.) Sadly, they ended up getting killed by a predator at about six weeks old - we think it was a raccoon or fox. Here's where I wrote about it. Their coop (separate, smaller, temporary) was not quite secure enough and it was just so sad. I cried. (A lot.) But, it happens all the time in more rural areas, so I knew that it was possible in my little backyard, too. The next flock I get will most likely not get names. That's just trouble for someone as sentimental as me. When my three girls stop laying in a few years, I will give them to my friend out in the country. As much as I want to walk the walk of this whole sustainable, local life, I don't think I could cook my hens. Maybe without names next time, that might not be as much of an issue. We'll see, I suppose...

I love my girls. They are chatty, friendly and very smart. Nope, that last one was a lie - they are pretty dumb. But I love them anyway. They follow me everywhere in the backyard and get along well with my yellow lab, Henry. I've also taken the girls to the school where I work to visit the kids - kinda like show & tell. Now when I see them on campus, they shout, "Hey, Chicken Lady!"

Also, if you decide to go down this road, consider getting a backyard composter - your chickens will poop a LOT and that stuff makes the best fertilizer ever!

The first egg

Ah, Gertie...she turned out to be a rooster. Sweet one, too.

 Letting Henry know who's in charge.

The reason for the chickens!

Millie and Dottie

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mac 'n Cheesy Goodness

Since becoming an avid home cook - and giving up cable for about two years - I've begun to appreciate the cooking shows on PBS. You know, the ones hosted by Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, José Andrés, Lidia Bastianich and...America's Test Kitchen. You know the show - they work and work and work on recipes and figure out how they come out best - and then, they show you how to do it. I've learned such helpful, basic tips (for example: always cook pasta about two minutes less than the package states.) I've also become a Cook's Illustrated online member so that I can check out videos and recipes whenever I want. In addition to recipes and cooking tips, they also have equipment and ingredient ratings, too. Best olive oil, immersion blenders, knife sharpeners and more. What a fabulous resource - well worth the $35 annual online fee.

I'd been looking for a good, classic mac 'n cheese recipe and saw Julia and Chris make it on a recent episode of ATK. Their recipe is a crowd (and kid) pleaser and uses very basic, yet tasty, cheeses - Monterey Jack and cheddar. While I love Ina's, as well as Martha's (but it dirties TOO MANY pots and pans) the ATK just may be my fave. Here is the recipe.

p.s. I got cable again a few months ago. Love Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel and of course, Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What's up, Puddin?

Comfort food. I've written about it before. I love what it does. It has a job.

Two years ago when my brother died after a mind blowing two week illness, my family needed comfort. After the funeral some of us gathered and I cooked. The night before, I had thought about what to make...and I decided that soup was the winner. And it had to be comforting soup, so I made Ina Garten's Cheddar Corn Chowder. I'd made it many times before and it's delicious, filling and most of all, comforting. Kids and adults alike, everyone loved it. We sat around that table and multiple servings were had by many, me included. My sister-in-law Karen even made us all laugh and I was so thankful for that. What a terrible time that was, but I honestly felt like the food helped a little.

Last month, my two best friends had major family medical traumas and needed some comfort. Again, I cooked. I didn't know what else I could do. For one of the dinners, a friend suggested that I make chocolate pudding for dessert. To many people, homemade chocolate pudding was a pretty common thing to have with your family...not for me. My mom didn't have a lot of time for cooking since she had six children to care for, in addition to my dad who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis. She always says that she didn't really cook -- she just fixed food. She tended to make things that didn't take too much of her time since there was always so much to take care of on a daily basis. That said, I never felt like I missed out on anything. We ate well.

For my first attempt at homemade pudding, I used a Tyler Florence recipe...it seemed really simple and I had all of the ingredients on hand. Also, I think when you make something for the first time, it's a good idea to go with a pretty basic recipe. I might make Smitten Kitchen's recipe next time - it looks really good and doesn't seem very complicated - it just uses actual chocolate vs. cocoa powder.

Homemade chocolate pudding honestly is such a treat - it's thick and chocolatey, but not too rich or heavy. A perfect, simple dessert. After my friends had plenty for dessert AND there was clearly enough for some leftover for my friend's mom, I doled out a little bowl of it for myself. It made me instantly happy. It was such a sad time, so having a few minutes of happiness was pretty sweet.

We even joked about the fact that we'd always considered opening the pudding packet and stirring it on the stove was "making" pudding. Turns out, we were so wrong.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Housemade pasta, creative pizza, local craft beer and more at Birroteca

I think I'm in love. With a restaurant. Birroteca. And it's literally a minute from my house, so...an affair has ensued. I think I've told everyone I know how fantastic this place is. It really could be love. And by the looks of the place, many other Baltimoreans are also having a love affair. Packed - all the time. So, be sure to make a resie on Open Table or just go early and sit at the bar. 

Don't dismiss Birroteca as a pizza place. Or a regular old Italian restaurant. Or, that they only serve beer (but I will say, the beer is a very, very good reason to seek this place out.) Or be weirded out by the location. Why you SHOULD go? The menu is inventive, delicious and beautiful...but not stuffy or pretentious. The servers and bartenders are friendly, helpful and yes, they do sport kinda hipster-esque outfits...but there is no side of 'tude with the plaid shirts. This place is laid back, comfortable and welcoming. So good. I wish I could go once a week. 

Here are a few photos of some of my favorite dishes at Birroteca.  (Wait, is beer a dish?) 
p.s. They are very nice about letting you have a taste of the beers before you order...

Who knows what beer this is? I've tried so many...

Crispy polenta (crispy outside, soft and creamy inside) with eggplant ragu dippage
My favorite thing there - and I usually don't love eggplant...

Risotto with lobster, calamari, artichokes and topped with baby lamb chops

Crudo of porchetta, tuna aioli and pickled fennel

Ravioli with butternut squash and madeira sausage

Fazzoletti with wild boar bolognese


Pizza with spicy fennel sausage and mushrooms 

Pizza with duck confit, fig onion jam and trugole cheese, topped with duck egg

Grilled calamari with lemon, garlic and parsley

Ricotta cheesecake

Happy girl and her beer

And check out Richard Gorelick's and Wesley Case's Baltimore Sun write ups.  

I overheard some folks talking recently about how much they did not like Birroteca. I wanted to shout, "No, no, no. Go back! You got the wrong things!" Here's what I would absolutely not skip: crispy polenta, grilled calamari, kale salad, sausage and mushroom pizza, duck pizza, butternut squash ravioli with madeira sausage, wild boar bolognese and...if they have it, get the ricotta cheesecake. I also loved the olive oil and sea salt ice cream. The flavors are subtle and delicious. And...each night there is a special dish served family style. The folks next to us got the lobster risotto topped with baby lamb chops and that's on my list for next time (have to remember to go on a Wednesday and pray it's still on the menu...)

Seriously, this place is not to be missed. Go!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A delicious adventure begins

About a year ago, I started playing around with recipes for salted caramel brownies. Heard the word salt and thought, YES! After changing the ingredients and measurements a few times, I ended up with what I felt was a darn near perfect brownie - rich, dense, fudgy, chocolatey, a tiny bit salty.

Dannng, look at that.

Then, I started doing some weekend cooking for private clients - busy people who just want a nice home cooked meal that would feed them on Sunday and also give them leftovers for part of the week. Simple good food prepared with local, organic, ingredients (in-season from the Waverly Farmers Market whenever possible) including dishes like herb roasted chicken, butternut squash risotto, tons of soups and stews, pies, etc. I offered the salted caramel brownies to my clients. And...they flipped. OUT.

I found out over time, too, that they are even better a few days after they are baked and camping out in the fridge. They become more dense and there's something about letting it thaw slightly and biting into a rich, thick brownie (and looking at the salt and caramel added to the top just before they are packaged) that just makes you happy. Even for me, the gal who prefers savory to sweet nine times out of ten. This is my kind of dessert.

Then things got interesting. I was telling my friend Susannah about them and she offered to sell them at her amazing shop, Ma Petite Shoe. If you're not familiar with Ma Petite Shoe, they have been selling shoes and chocolate on the Avenue in Hampden for over ten years now. Such a great shop - shoes and chocolate! Susannah is someone I trust and admire and we've been friends for many years, so it's perfect that she is the person I'm working with to launch my side biz. So, now I deliver periodically to Ma Petite Shoe and each time I do, the brownies fly out the door. They are boxed ready for gift giving and sell for $4.99 each. Worth every single penny. Many of my friends refer to them as the "crack brownies" but I didn't think that name was really the "brand" I was trying to create...but you can call 'em that if you want.

So, get to Ma Petite Shoe, hon. Also, I have been selling food photos, brownies and jars of salted caramel sauce and three kinds of jam - fig jam, bacon bourbon pepper jam and grapefruit ginger pepper jam. Great to have on hand during holiday entertaining season and also for hostess gifts and stocking stuffers.

From my little urban farm to you, happy eating!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Giving Thanks

Cooking. Relaxing. Friends and family. Great food. No pressure of gifts! I love Thanksgiving.

When I was a kid, my parents would host all of our aunts, uncles and cousins for Thanksgiving dinner at our house in Kingsville. It was so much fun...laughing, catching up, hearing old stories from our parents, watching football and the best part...eating! We had a traditional meal of roast turkey and sides like mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, sauerkraut (you have to have it, no questions - this is Baltimore), gravy, soft dinner rolls and butter. Old school. So many great memories. I loved every minute of it.

Over the years we got together as a big family less often, cousins moved south, my brothers had their own families and in-laws, etc. So, during much of my adult life, I've celebrated the holiday with different groups of friends and family and it's actually been lots of fun. Once I went to the home of a vegetarian friend and had tofurkey - not bad at all, but I kinda missed the real bird. One year, my friends and I made pizzas using ingredients from Baltimore's amazing Italian grocery, Trinacria.
That was a Thanksgiving I will never forget!

While I do miss the old days of Thanksgiving for 30, it's also fun to mix it up and also to start new traditions, too. The last few years, I've hosted my mom at my house in Hampden. As the youngest of six kids, it's pretty darn cool to get to be in charge! I do the turkey, a few sides and sweet potato or pumpkin pie and mom brings a few sides, too. Two years ago, we just roasted a turkey breast and a couple of legs...and that was great for the two of us. But last year I wanted lots of leftovers, so I ordered a whole local, organic bird from Andy at Andy's Eggs & Poultry at the Waverly Market. Doing that again this year - thanks, Andy! Thanksgiving is the one time of the year when I actually love leftovers. Nothing like hanging out in your jammies the day after Thanksgiving enjoying a plate of leftovers for lunch. Heaven.

These days, thanks to Tyler Florence, I butterfly the bird. I happened to catch him on the Today Show last year and he showed how to easy it is to split it in two right down the back. This way, the turkey only takes an hour and a half or so to cook, stays very juicy and the skin is nice and crispy. I thought, I can do that (you need a good, solid sharp chef's knife or kitchen shears.) And, I did it. It was delicious.

Also...check out this piece from the food lab over at Serious Eats - some very helpful advice to guide you as you prepare to cook your feast, And here are some recipe ideas from Epicurious, Gourmet and Food52. Good stuff!

After Thanksgiving, two of my favorite things to make are turkey pot pie and pumpkin ice cream.

photo by the kitchn

For the pumpkin ice cream, it couldn't be easier. Scoop filling out of leftover pumpkin pie, mix with some really good vanilla ice cream, freeze and enjoy later.  Ridiculous.

Here's what I want to know: What are your favorite things about Thanksgiving? Do you and your family or friends have any interesting traditions? Any recipes you'd care to share? Post them on my facebook page!