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Friday, February 27, 2009

Slow Cooking

Sadly we have not been out to dinner this past week too much. A couple nights of take out of Subway, a quick bite at TGI Fridays, but other than that, we have been home bound. Tonight, I was was surveying the fridge and pantry for tonight's inspiration. I found some crab cakes I had frozen last month. I also had a big package of campari tomatoes sitting on my counter screaming to be used.

Funny thing is, I really don't like tomatoes all that much. Straight up tomatoes that is. In a salad, I generally asked to have them removed. However, I love tomatoes flavoring things..such as ketchup, spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc. I also love sun dried tomatoes.

I came across this recipe from Nigella Lawson for Moon Blush Tomatoes. She takes cherry tomatoes, halves them and adds a few simple ingredients and puts them in a hot oven and instantly turns the oven off. The tomatoes sit in the hot oven all day and intensify in flavor. They can be eaten alone or used in recipes. I decided on using them with goat cheese on a mixed green salad tonight. Along with the crab cakes.

Moon Blush Tomatoes (Recipe by Nigella Lawson, Nigella Express)

about 24 on-the-vine cherry or other baby tomatoes
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Cut the tomatoes in half and sit them cut side up in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar, thyme and olive oil.
Put them in the oven, and immediately turn it off. Leave the tomatoes in the oven overnight or for a day without opening the door.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Klein's Markets Beginning their Transformation

Driving my daughter to dance tonight, I noticed that Klein's Supermarket in Forest Hill is now officially a Shoprite. The signs are down and the new Shoprite logo is now on the front of the building. I learned late last year that Klein's was bought out by ShopRite. Being from Philadelphia, I know Shoprite. There is some comfort level there. When I moved here from Pennsylvania, Acme was the only market familiar to me. The Acme is Fallston is nothing to brag about, but that's another issue. Shoprites have been taking over other stores in the Philadelphia area as well. So, while I am excited for the comforts of "home", it is a little sad that a family business that has been in Harford County for a long, long time is no more. I'm going to miss the Jewish Apple Cake and their rotisserie chickens. They were the best.

For the full story, click here.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dreams Can Come True!

So, we were out for dinner last night at Harford Mall..a quick bite at Five Guys and as we were walking to the restaurant I noticed a sign on the vacant store next to Zacks Hot Dogs (does anyone eat here? Its always empty when I walk by). Coming this Spring...drum roll please...


Oh yes! I'm a major sweet tooth girl and Vaccaro's rocks my world. We go every time we are in Little Italy. Everything they have is great, particularly the canolli and pignoli cookies.

I recall that Maggie Moos was supposed to go into Harford Mall. I'm assuming that is not happening now. That's OK by me, because if Vacacaro's plans to have the same menu items as their Little Italy location then they will have gelato as well.

I can't wait..but on the other hand, I'm going to have to compensate for them coming with extra visits to the gym!

Friday, February 13, 2009

I love you. I hate you.

Let's just say that it is a really good thing that my local Wegmans is 25 minutes away. It's close enough that I can get there easily if I want, but far enough away that I can't run there for my everyday food pick-ups.

If you haven't been to a Wegmans you are really missing out. Wegmans is a foodie's version of paradise. You can find anything and everthing there. Based out of upstate New York, this supermarket has had the distinction of being in Fortune Magazine year after year as being one of the best companies to work for. Customer service is supreme. When Wegmans came to Hunt Valley, MD in 2005 I was truly excited. I have heard about this store from some friends in New York singing its praises They have been slowly expanding on the east coast.

The store in Hunt Valley is their biggest to date. It has a huge section for prepared foods, a huge bakery, a meat and fish section that would have your eyes rolling and a cheese section that rivals many cheese shops. On the upper level is seating where you can eat lunch/dinner.

Today I set out to get my ingredients for my Valentine's Dinner. I'm preparing a kitchen clambake, so I needed lobster, clams and shrimp..along with some other goodies. I picked up a tiny carrot cake for dessert to round off the meal. For the kids, I bought ingredients for the kids to make their own pizza and chocolate fondue for dessert. I am also having company the next day..Brian's dad and his wife. She keeps kosher so I had to pick up kosher meat to prepare dinner for the next night. Add a few moe things in the aisles I could not resist, some take home sushi for lunch and my bill was $130. Ugh. I hate you, Wegmans.

NEWSFLASH!!! I just read on a local blog that Wegmans is coming to Bel Air! Woo Hoo! Its proposed to go in on Emmorton now it will be 15 minutes away..oh this is going to be dangerous!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some Valentine Value in Harford County

As I am writing this post I notice I am talking about Outback Steakhouse. Again. Hmm..Im looking back through my posts and I seem to have several posts regarding Outback Steakhouse or some of their other restaurants in their corporation. Bonefish Grill, Carrabas, Roy's, Flemings. I'm thinking Harford County needs to step it up and and get some more variety..but for now here we go.

This Saturday is Valentines Day and for those of you who like to go out for dinner (more power to you) I saw these deals online in the past few days. Outback Steakhouse is offering a dinner for 2 for $49.99. This includes a Blooming Onion to share, 2 7 oz. fillets, 2 sides, 2 salads and 2 slices of cheesecake. Hmmm..after that much food you can go home and be sick. Very romantic. Bonefish Grill is also serving up a special as well. For $22.50 you get surf and turf"..a sirloin and lobster tail, along with a salad and a side. They have also partnered with Lindt chocolate and diners will get a 1.2 ounce dark chocolate bar at the end of their meal.

We will not be patronizing any restaurant this Valentine's Day. We are not believers in dining out on Valentines Day. Places are always packed and restautants usually limit their menus and jack up the prices. I like to make dinner that night. It's my time to go all out with decadent ingredients and cook up a storm. This year, I'm thinking of doing a "Kitchen Clambake" which I have made in the past. It's one pot, but very indulgent with good seafood. The recipe comes from Ina Garten and could not be easier. You start by sauteing some onions and leeks in a big pot..layering potatoes, sausage, corn, shrimp, clams, mussels and lobster. You pour a half of bottle of white wine on it and let it simmer until everything is cooked perfectly.

Kitchen Clambake (recipe courtesy of Ina Garten)
(Serves 6-8 people)

1 1/2 pounds kielbasa
3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 large onions)
2 cups chopped leeks, well cleaned (2 leeks, white parts only)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 pounds small potatoes (red or white)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
2 dozen steamer clams, scrubbed
2 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, in the shell
3 (1 1/2 pound) lobsters
2 cups good dry white wine

Slice the kielbasa diagonally into 1-inch thick slices. Set aside. Saute the onions and leeks in the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 16 to 20 quart stockpot over medium heat for 15 minutes, until the onions start to brown.

Layer the ingredients on top of the onions in the stockpot in this order: first the potatoes, salt, and pepper; then the kielbasa, little neck clams, steamer clams, mussels, shrimp, and lobsters. Pour in the white wine. Cover the pot tightly and cook over medium-high heat until steam just begins to escape from the lid, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook another 15 minutes. The clambake should be done. Test to be sure the potatoes are tender, the lobsters are cooked, and the clams and mussels are open. Remove the lobsters to a wooden board, cut them up, and crack the claws. With large slotted spoons, remove the seafood, potatoes, and sausages to a large bowl and top with the lobsters. Season the broth in the pot to taste, and ladle over the seafood, being very careful to avoid any sand in the bottom.

Serve with lots of crusty bread to sop up all that sauce. Delicious!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fighting Back

Well, it looks like consumers are going to be the winners in the coffee wars. I read yesterday that Starbucks is going to aggressively go after McDonalds for their breakfast crowd. McDonalds has recently exploded as the place to go for breakfast with the addition of the McCafe. The coffee is pretty good, I have to say. Realistically, Starbucks cannot complete with the dollar value menu at McDonalds. The one thing Starbucks had going for them were the lattes and cappuccinos. Now McDonalds has that.
Starting in March, Starbucks is going to offer a “Value Combos”. For $3.95 you will be able to get a tall latte and either a slice of their coffee cake or their oatmeal. Or you can get a tall coffee and a breakfast sandwich. This is a pretty good deal, as the savings are over a dollar on each.
On a side note, the Oatmeal at Starbucks is priced at $2.45 (in Maryland anyway). It’s pretty good and comes with an assortment of toppings you can choose from. However, that being said, I’ve seen them make the oatmeal, and it is instant oatmeal. You know the kind that comes 10 packets to the box for about $3.99. You do the math. It’s kind of a rip-off. Like I said, I have had the oatmeal because it is really a healthy choice among the pastries in the case, and I’m usually patronizing my local Starbucks after going to the gym.

Monday, February 9, 2009

It Makes Perfect Sense to Bake when the Mercury Hits 60

My love of cooking starts with baking. I have been baking ever since I have been on my own. My most coveted gift from my wedding was my Kitchen Aid stand mixer. I know most girls register for the mixer and it becomes a lovely fixture on their counter. I have given mine good use and consider it a vital part of my cooking tools. I did not cook or bake much as a kid. My mom also was a good cook and loved to be in the kitchen. As much as we were invited in the kitchen to watch her create, my sister and I were not active participants. My mom had her ways. She liked to do things her way and often our help was a hindrance to her.

What can I say. I love chocolate chip cookies. I’m pretty particular about them however. I won’t waste my time on store bought ones. They have to be homemade. Yesterday I had a craving for some. Oddly enough it was the warmest it has been in a while, so you would think I would not want to put my oven on, but I did and I enlisted my five-year old to be my assistant. I have experimented with several different recipes and sizes. The first one I went to was the old standby on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag. An excellent cookie and one I remember fondly from my youth. This is the one my mom made. She would make them smaller than the package recommended. There would be over 100 cookies in the batch. It took a while to bake all those cookies.

Over the holidays, I baked those that were reminiscent of my childhood. Even though I have a double oven, it was still an all day project..but I got a lot of cookies out of it. Some were gifts, and some went directly down the hatch. That’s the problem with little cookies. One or two is not the’s when you eat a dozen.

I recently saw an episode of Good Eats on Food Network. Alton Brown discussed how changing a few ingredients completely change the texture of the cookie. He did three variations of the classic chocolate chip cookie..a chewy cookie, a puffy cookie and a thin crisp one. Today I decided to go with the crisp one. Instead of tiny, little cookies I made huge bakery style ones..using an ice cream scooper to measure the dough. I was only able to fit 5 cookies to a tray and they took 15 minutes to cook each tray. I only got 18 cookies out of the batch, but oh perfection. They turned out bakery quality and you could taste the butter in each bite. So, I present you with the recipe for the thin…go make some cookies! As you can see, my youngest food critics approved.

The Thin Chocolate Chip Cookie (recipe courtesy of Alton Brown)

You will need:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
2 ounces of milk
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sift the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Combine the egg, milk and vanilla and bring to room temperature.
Cream the butter and add the sugars, increasing the speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed and add in the egg mixture slowly. Increase the speed of the mixer until it is well combined. Slowly add the flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop with an ice cream scooper onto parchment or silpat lined sheet pans, 5 cookies to the sheet. Bake 13-15 minutes, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the pans for even browning.
Remove the cookies from the pan immediately and put on a cooling rack. When cool, store in an airtight container. If they last for storing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Use it or Lose it.

Last night, when deciding where to go for dinner, I remembered that I had a gift card to Bonefish that I got during the holidays when I bought gift cards. The card was only valid until February 10th, so we figured we might as well use it. We decided to go to Outback, as we had not been there for a while. So, as I always do, I used call ahead sitting. If you have never done this at Outback, here is a tip from me to you. Always call ahead. We called at around 5:00 pm, wanting to get seated around 6. We were told we could have a 6:15 time, but we would have to wait about 15-20 beyond that. When we checked in we were given our beeper and assured another 20 minute wait. As we were waiting we were hearing the wait of people walking in. Over a 2 hour wait. Seriously. People waited. I could not believe it. First of all, there is no chain restaurant I would ever wait 2 hours for. That is just ridiculous. However, as long as I can remember going to Outback this wait is not uncommon. Secondly, isn’t there supposed to be a recession going on? I guess Harford County is not part of that, because the restaurants are jammed.
I had had steak the night before, so I decided to try a burger. I’ve never had a burger from Outback. Because, if you go to Outback you go for steak, not a burger. There are plenty of other places for that. My mom had told me that she has been getting burgers recently at Outback as swears that they are the best burger she has ever had. So, listening to mom, I went ahead and ordered one. I subbed out a baked potato for the fries and awaited my meal. I have to say it was a really good burger. The meat tasted like their steak, only ground up. I felt the bun was a little big for the burger and ended up leaving most of it. For $8.95, a really good deal.
Brian stayed with tradition and ordered the Outback Special, which is a sirloin cut, with a baked potato and a salad. His standard.
For dessert, we had a new item on their menu..peanut butter pie. I was a little sceptical with the whole peanut butter/salmonella scare thing going round, but our waiter assured us that it was ok. It was more than was really good!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Sweetest Thing

Wednesday is usually our "pinch hit dinner" night. My daughter takes dance after school and my husband usually picks up my son from daycare. By the time everyone gets home its after 6 and we are usually eating leftovers, pizza or picking up a quick bite somewhere. Tonight, my husband was in DC for work so he was unable to pick up our son, so I had to take him with me to dance class.

After dance, I knew I did not have the time to get home and get a meal on the table for the 3 of us, so I took the kids to McDonalds. We went to the Forest Hill location, since it was on the way home from dance. Very busy there tonight. The reason being their was a celebration going on. A large group (at least 25 people) of senior citizens were there celebrating a birthday of one of their friends. There is a nursing home/assisted living place right next door, so I am sure they are all residents there. They had a huge cake, a woman humming tunes on a kazoo, and one of the McDonald's staff members pouring the coffee. My kids got tons of smiles from this group, and my kids were thoroughly entertained by the group. No one offered my kids any cake, which was fine, as my son ended up throwing up in the McDonalds. Nice.

It got me thinking about being little and my own memories of McDonald birthday parties. Remember them? The happy meal, and the Ronald McDonald cake? Surprisingly, my kids have never attended a McDonald's birthday party. Until tonight.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Better Late than Never

I'm finally sitting down with a half hour to spare and catching my breath. We had an extremely busy weekend that started out with Restaurant Week. We had our sitter on Friday night and we headed down to Louisana (1708 Aliciana Street, 410-327-2610) in Fells Point. We had been there once before for my birthday and we were excited to go back (and pay a little less!) Louisiana features french/creole cuisine. The restaurant is really beautiful and when we were seated they took us back to a huge room I did not even know they had. We were able to get a 3 course prix fix dinner for $30.09. I'm assuming the 9 cents is for 2009. Brian got fried oysters, a New York Strip steak and an apple beinet for dessert. I had crab bisque (which they are known for), sea bass and chocolate mousse for dessert. C'est Manifique! Brian thought my meal was a little better than his. He thought the oysters were a little heavy and the steak was good, just not his favorite cut. We did not have any other dining out adventures this past weekend. We were busy with family and the SuperBowl..which is always good eating!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Get your Java on!

McDonald's is offering a great deal for the early risers this Month. Apparently you can get a free medium sized McCafe drink between the hours of 5-8 am every day in February (the shortest month of the year, but hey, who cares). I heard the commercial twice now. Both times, I was still in bed, just waking up so I wanted to make sure I heard it twice before posting. I personally will not be able to take advantage of this deal since I don't leave the house before 8:30 am, but Brian is super excited as he leaves for work at 6:30 in the morning and passes McDonalds every morning on his commute.

It appears that McDonalds is aggressively trying to compete with Starbucks with their coffee drinks. I had heard that they put in a "coffee bar" in the Bel Air location (Route 1/route 24). They actually closed the restaurant for a few days while this renovation was being made. I have had the cafe mocha and it is really good. I was in nutritional sticker shock when I got home and checked the stats..but it was good none the less and hit the spot on one of those cold, running around like a lunatic, holiday shopping days.

Just check with your local McDonalds to make sure they are participating! Drink up!