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!


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Good eats in Charm City

What's the best meal you've had in B'more recently? That's a tough one. For me, it's more than just the food. It's the people I'm with, the surroundings, the service, the vibe, etc. And yes, of course...the food. If the food is bad, what's the point?

Some friends and I were talking the other day about our favorite restaurants in Baltimore. There were some strong opinions! Here are some of mine...not really in order. I love them all for very different reasons.

b - Bolton Hill

Cozy, warm space....chalkboard menu, friendly service and of course, amazing food. Love the roasted forest mushrooms, bistro salad and crispy pork belly...entrees like duck confit, steak frites, roast chicken. Yum. Oh, and the homemade ice creams and sorbets - interesting flavors like cardamom, ginger and blood orange. They also have excellent wine selections and they're half price on Tuesdays. Add in al fresco dining in charming Bolton Hill on a beautiful night - perfect. It feels like a nice night out but not too fancy (I love 'not too fancy'.)

The Food Market - Hampden

Creative, delicious food, reasonable prices and - it's not trying too hard to be cool. But it just IS cool. Super talented Chef Chad Gauss and the oh-so-charming front of house man, Elan Kotz are quite a team - turning out great food and giving diners a smooth, enjoyable experience. My favorite things here change a lot because the menu changes with the seasons and local ingredient availability (and also because I can walk there and seem to be there every other week.) This summer, I loved the heirloom and burrata (soft, buttery cheese...oh, dear it is gooood) salad with balsamic...and the lobster roll, soft pretzels and Buffalo pickles are always a hit. Plus, they do brunch and offer free valet. Yes, it's loud, but they're continuing to work on that. Request a table in the's quieter. Or even better? Get there early, sit at the bar and you'll be outta there as the crowd begins to swell. Love, love, love

Corner BYOB - Hampden

I'm an adventurous eater and here, that's a good thing. But if exotic meats (think elk, kangaroo...) and fish you may never heard of (skate, sablefish...) are not your thing, you might go for mussels, burgers, steaks, risotto, salads and more. Yum. The people here are so accommodating, helpful and best of all, they want you to love your meal. Every time I've visited, the food has been fantastic. Audible gasps (but then, that's me.) I also love that it's BYOB - bring something from home or hit the Wine Source next door. Some of my friends have complained to me about the corkage fees, but I really don't mind them. This is a gem.

PABU - Harbor East

What a great place. Izakaya style's kinda like a restaurant and a very cool bar in one. Food and beverages are both to be appreciated equally. Modern, yet approachable. The sake list was artfully curated by sake sommelier Tiffany Soto. She is insanely talented and will help guide you through the list (and her Sake 101 classes? Fab.) Chef Jonah Kim is skillful, creative (you have to have his 'Happy Spoon') and he locally sources his meats, dairy and more. These people are true artists. Get down to Harbor East..have a great dinner out with friends, take a sake class, sushi rolling class and hit their great happy hours. It's really like no other place in town. (Here is a little more in depth look at PABU.)

Woodberry Kitchen - Woodberry

Duh. Spike and Amy Gjerde's comfy supper joint. They got it all right. The space, the people, the vibe, the menu...oh, how I love it here. I can't always afford dinner here, so sometimes I just meet a friend at the bar early (like by 5:30, no later) to have a cocktail and nibble on simple snacks like kitchen pickles, smoked onion dip and deviled eggs. What you must try? The CMP. I am not a huge sweets gal, but holy dirt...I fully agree with Duff Goldman that the CMP is amazing! It comes in a glass with a hard sugar top. You have to tap the sugar to break in and then you find malt ice cream topped with marshmallow fluff, chocolate sauce and wet peanuts. Happiness.

Peter's Inn - Fell's Point

Part neighborhood bar, part gourmet restaurant. The New York strip, mashed potatoes and garlic bread make me very, very, very happy. The menu is smart and tight and changes a lot, which I love. They do 1/2 price wines on Wednesdays and have a great selection of draft beers. Highly recommend the white chocolate caramel pot du creme for dessert. I do not get down to Peter's nearly enough. Such nice people - they really know what they're doing here. And, the ladies room is quite entertaining!

Iggie's - Mt. Vernon

If there is ever a time when I like "fancy", it's on my pizza. You know, unique toppings like red onion confit, roasted duck, mushroom ragu...stuff like that. But then at a place like Iggie's, even a basic cheese or pepperoni pizza is not's insanely good. You can also "take and bake" your pie if you want to cook it at home, too. And the best part? It's BYOB! Weekend afternoons are a great time to go - sit outside and watch the world go by. Even though some great new pizza places have opened recently (Hersh's is amazing and their menu is much more extensive), I still think Iggie's makes my favorite pizza in town.

Little Grano - Hampden

Tiny, tiny, tiny. Catch it at the right time? Heaven. And it's BYOB. You choose your pasta and your sauce (I am a big fan of the Bolognese), add in a nice little salad, pour your wine and enjoy. Go early, or will be happy!

Here is Baltimore mag's list of top restaurants for last year.

Also, check out these new dining spots in charm city and let me know what you think.

Johnny's - Roland Park

Birroteca - Hampden
Kettle Hill - Power Plant Live
Gordon Biersch - Harbor East
Ouzo Bay - Harbor East

What local restaurants do you LOVE? Fave dishes?

Here some yum plates from some of my faves (and others I didn't write about this time around...)

Happy spoons at PABU

Crispy polenta at Birroteca

Cipolla pizza at Iggie's

Cappuccino at Johnny's

Macarons at LAMILL 

Shrimp and grits at Langermann's

Candy bar dessert at Blue Hill Tavern

Duvel at Alonso's

Roasted pork and fennel sausage at 13.5%

Sofi's gruyere and bacon crepe 

Bolognese and ravioli at Little Grano

Lobster wedge salad at Thames Street Oyster House

Buffalo pickles at The Food Market

Skip the chains, go local!

p.s. My current restaurant crush is Birroteca. More on that later...