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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Get Your Free Dessert at Vaccarro's on September 15th!

Oh Happy Day! Look what I got in my email mailbox tonight!

Dear Vaccaro's Customers:

Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop will be giving away our famous cannoli, colleseos, eclairs, large gelatos, large mochaccinos and a five-cookie assortment tomorrow, Wednesday, September 15th from 1-3 p.m.

Why all the SWEET free desserts? Vaccaro's is participating in a two-hour promotion tomorrow (Wed. 9/15 from 1-3 p.m.) to promote the season premiere of Top Chef Just Desserts, airing 11:00 p.m. Wednesday night on Bravo TV.

Four Vaccaro's locations that are participating: Little Italy - 222 Albemarle Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 Canton Square - 2919 O'Donnell Street, Baltimore, MD 21224 Hunt Valley - 118 Shawann Road, Hunt Valley, MD 21030 Harford Mall - 696 Belair Road, Bel Air, MD 21014

Other Baltimore places are participating too, along with Charm City Cupcakes and Godiva.

Win $5,000 - while at Vaccaro's eating your complimentary dessert, take a picture of you/Vaccaro's Desserts and upload to:

Additional information can be found on Top Chef Just Desserts Fan Page

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow - tell your friends!

I'm not certain if you can do takeout for this deal, or you have to eat it there. I'm hoping takeout is an option so I can bring some home to Mr. Baltimore Bites.

I'm a huge fan of Top Chef, and I am really looking forward to Top Chef Just Desserts!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Baltimore Bites Goes on a Road Trip!

Summer is winding down. You can see the hints everywhere. In my house it is school buses, new backpacks, new clothes and a schedule that is so tightly synchronized, the Pentagon would be proud.

Before we headed back to a "routine" we decided to "Get out of Dodge", mind you, with a little escape to that magical city of New York. For a 3 day trip, we put a lot on the agenda. American Girl for my daughter and me. The Lego Store and Nintendo for my son, ice cream at Serendipity, pizza from the oldest pizza restaurant in the country, Central Park, and heart attack inducing rice pudding. The final thing on our list not to miss was doughnuts.

Doughnuts. I am so "take it or leave it" with donuts. Mostly, I am a leave it (unless Krispy Kreme glazed are involved). I can proudly walk into Dunkin Donuts at any given time of the day, get my coffee and that's it. I can not make this statement anymore because I discovered Doughnut Plant.

Doughnut Plant has been getting a lot of press as of lately, which steered my husband and I to find it when we went to NYC this time around. The Neeleys of Food Network mentioned it on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate". Bobby Flay challenged the guy on "Throwdown", and it was written up in Bon Appetit magazine as one of America's top 10 donuts. Yeah. We had to go see what the fuss was about.

After taking a jaunt to the Lower East Side, we found the place. Small little place. Non-descript with the exception of a sidewalk blackboard outside with today's specials. I've been to this neighborhood of NYC before and totally have walked by.

Walking in, we were armed to try a few. Sadly, they were cash only, and we only had $10. (This has changed since then!) Doughnuts were not cheap..we are talking anywhere from $2 to $3 per donut. We decided on the Peanut Butter and Jelly, the creme brulee and the tres leches.

These are not doughnuts. They are true pastries.

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Not a traditional looking doughnut. The doughnut is square shaped so that the filling (real raspberry jam) goes ALL THE WAY AROUND the donut. Not a glob in the middle. The outside is a yeast doughnut, smothered in a peanut butter glaze with chopped peanuts. Unbelievable. The four of of each had a bit and I can honestly say it was a huge doughnut.

Creme Brulee: This came out looking like an over sized munchkin. This was no munchkin, my friend. The exterior had caramelized sugary coating and the inside was a creamy custard. Yeah. Creme Brulee.

Tres Leches: Oh dear God, this was the most amazing doughnut I ever had. It is a cake doughnut that has almost a milk filling inside. I am generally not a cake doughnut fan. If I am going to eat a doughnut, I like my doughnut yeasty and fluffy.

Everyone agreed the tres leches was absolutely knee buckling. So, with the change we had from the $10 and some coins I found in the bottom of my purse we got another.

This location is the original Doughnut Plant. Doughnuts can be found in specialty food stores in NYC as well, including Dean and DeLuca, Zabars, Joe's Art of Coffee, among other vendors. Weirdly enough, Doughnut Plant also has bakeries in Japan and Korea.

Doughnut Plant 379 Grand Street, NYC, NY 10002 (212) 505-3700
Closed Mondays

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cupcake Wars in Haford County: It's On!

I was on Facebook over the weekend and noticed one of my friend's "like" of a Cupcakery in Havre De Grace. Immediately I looked at the page, and indeed, there is a Cupcake lady in Havre de Grace who already has over 600 followers. How have I not heard of her before? Her shop is called Sweet Devotion Cupcake & Creperie and it appears that she will open a storefront location in the Havre De Grace area in early September. It will be located along route 40 (near Bulle Rock) in the small shopping strip next to Bruester's Ice Cream. Along with a variety of cupcakes daily she will also have sweet and savory crepes, scones and coffee. Sweet Devotion also does beautiful cupcake bouquets that are amazing and would be a unique centerpiece for a party.

Well Harford County, it appears we have 2 cupcake businesses which can mean some yummy and friendly competition.

Flavor Cupcakery has been public for about 3-4 months now and I can testify first hand that her product is delicious. There is not currently a storefront for the cupcakes, but 4 flavors a day (Tuesday through Saturday) can be found at several Bel Air area coffee shop locations. When I spoke with employees of the coffee shop, it appears that she provides them with a dozen assorted flavors each day along with some sampler packs. She also does custom orders as well. I have already had my fair share and the flavors are really great. I have been hearing some buzz that a storefront is in the future so we will have that to look forward too.

Sweet Devotion is in another area of Harford County. At first I thought to myself..Havre De Grace, Aberdeen...wasn't my first thought to put a cupcake joint. But with the changing demographics of that area, BRAC coming in...this may work. I don't have a business or marketing background, but I think of cupcakes as "impulse" buys (outside of ordering them for events, birthday parties, etc). Most cupcake places I know in other cities tend to be in walking neighborhoods. This location will definitely require the forethought of wanting a cupcake. I think an ideal location for a "Cupcakery" would be downtown Bel Air. There is quite a bit of foot traffic for local businesses, the courthouse and various town celebrations. Let's face it. Cupcakes are downright trendy right now, so that local would be a natural and fit in with the shops such as Tiddlywinks, Tiny Toes and Tiger Lily.

I have not had a chance to taste Sweet Devotion's cupcakes yet, but I'm quite excited to try them! She already has a few things going for her in her favor. It appears she has a large following on Facebook, a storefront that will be open 7 days a week and many more flavors to choose from daily. While I do not live close by (this may be a good thing!) I will have opportunity to stop by a bit as it may be a great place to have breakfast while my kids are in Hebrew School in Havre de Grace.

I'll be back with a review as soon as I can!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Salad I Keep Going Back To

So hot here last week. I'm sure that statement is like playing a broken record for the East Coast. I really do not remember a summer when the temperature has been this hot for so long. We are not even getting good rain out of it. We will get a dark sky, a rumble of thunder to set my dog off in an anxiety attack and a quick shot of rain. Not enough to cool things off. It's positively dreadful.

These days I don't feel much like cooking anything. Surprisingly I'm still hungry for meals though. I just don't feel like going through the efforts of preparation. Thoughts have turned to salad.

My routine this summer is pretty non-stressful. Two days of working out of the house where I pack my lunch and 3 days that I work from home. Those days, after dropping the minors off at camp I get a good workout in at the gym and come home wanting to eat, but not wanting to cook. Salad fits the bill.

The salad I have been making almost daily has been a goat cheese salad. Love, love, love goat cheese. Something about the texture and the tang. I also love the fact you don't need a ton of it to get great flavor. I used to make a breaded goat cheese salad as an show stopping first course, but wanted to make something a little faster and a tad healthier.

Goat Cheese Salad with Creamy Vinaigrette
1 serving

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons of champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 clove of minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste.
2 heaping cups of mescalin
4 very thinly slices of a leftover baguette from dinner the night before (if you are married to someone like my husband, there is always bread, but I have to hide the leftovers)
1-2 ounces of goat cheese.
2 tablespoons of roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven (or toaster oven!) to 450 degrees

In a big bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the olive oil slowly until the mixture forms an emulsion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put the greens on top of the salad and put aside.

On a cookie sheet, very lightly sprinkle some olive oil on the bread slices. Put the bread in the oven and watch it close. Since it is cut thin you do not want to burn it. You are looking for a nice golden color. Remove the bread and divide the goat cheese on slices. Return to oven and melt the cheese ever so slightly.

Toss the greens in the bowl with the dressing and put on a plate. Arrange the goat cheese toasts on the salad and sprinkle with the walnuts.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is it Too Much to Ask?

Searching my archives for dinner yesterday I decided on a healthy chicken and veggie dish. I searched my pantry and had everything I needed for the most part except the veggies. I remembered that the Bel Air Farmers Market is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, so I figured I would hit it after dropping off the kids at camp for the broccoli and red pepper I needed.

Let's go back a couple years. I had been to the farmer's market before and to say I was disappointed in it was an understatement. I think there were maybe 6 vendors basically spread out in a parking lot with what looks like was picked from their home vegetable garden. There were a few produce guys, flowers, a baked good lady and a meat truck.

Well, apparently there has still been no vision to what a farmers market should be. When I picture a farmers market, I see a variety of vendors selling produce, homemade food items, dairy, meats, etc. I also see places that shoppers can sit, enjoy freshly prepared foods purchased at the said market. The Bel Air Farmers Market remains exactly as I remember it from a few years ago. A huge disappointment. I was able to get a couple of heads of broccoli, but not a red pepper to be found.

Come on people. We are in Harford County. One of the more rural counties in Maryland. I pass by tons of farms when I drive around. Yes, there has been a boom in commercial properties in the last few years and yes, we are losing some of our green pastures to chain restaurants and shopping. However, there is still so much more that can be done!

I've been to the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Cockeysville several times. While this is still not the big farmers market I envision, it is closer to what I think would be a no-brainer for the county. Open on the weekends. Fridays and Saturdays. A place to shop for fresh foods for the week. A place to have breakfast and lunch. A place to have ice cream and hang out with friends. Popular vendors can have satellite markets such as Bloom Broom for dairy, Bomboys for candy and ice cream. A local Italian restaurant can sell packaged, stove to table entrees. I have so many ideas.

Indoors would be ideal. The now abandoned Giant and Superfresh in Bel Air would be the perfect location.

Anyone on board with me?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Unprentious Scone

Oh, how I love a day with nothing on the agenda. Trust me. This is a very rare occurrence in our household. Between family obligations, birthday parties, baseball games, other scheduled activities and other commitments a day off is few and far between. Today is one of those days. Nothing. I don’t even care if it stopped raining and it is sunny outside and I should go to the pool. I have a whole day to myself with my family to catch up on things at home.

Sleeping until 8:30 am was a great way to start off the morning. Even better was my kids were still sleeping. I can’t even begin to tell you how I treasure that window of time that I am up in the morning catching up on email or Facebook with my cup of coffee before the chaos sets in.

With days like this, the whole day looming ahead I think about things I can cook or bake. I really did not want to invest a lot of time with a hot oven while it’s record breaking heat out there, so It would have to be something that needed a small amount of bake time. Peering in my refrigerator I spot a pint of blueberries and a quart of open buttermilk and my thoughts turned to scones.

My husband loves scones. It is his usual "go to" pastry at Starbucks along with this coffee. However, this man is picky about his scones. He does not like them too sweet, does not want them too crumbly and they should have some denseness to them. I had the perfect recipe tucked away that is quick and easy and gets a seal of approval from him. These scones are from Tyler Florence, of Food Network fame. What I love about them is my choice of using buttermilk or heavy cream during the prep. Don’t get me started on the cream. Oh boy, does that make them good. Today, I had buttermilk in my fridge and since I am trying to eat more low fat this was the source of dairy today. Also, these scones aren’t prepped and shaped like traditional scones. They are not rolled out, cut with a cutter in traditional triangular scone shapes. Once the batter is combined the dough is a sticky mess that is just scooped out in large spoonfuls on cookie sheets to bake for 15 or 20 minutes. Presenting the more rustic, casual scone. No heirs about this breakfast biscuit.

For fast prep, I combine all the dry ingredients in my food processor. I keep my butter in the freezer, cut in little pieces and pulse it through the dry ingredients until it resembles damp sand. I then beat the egg with the buttermilk and ran that through the food tube until the dough is just combined. You could make them the traditional way that is stated in the recipe below. Personally I like to take shortcuts when I can.

The orange glaze is completely optional. I personally like it. I like my pastries to have a sweet side, and the glaze gives the not so sweet scones a little something extra. The orange complements the blueberries beautifully. My husband asked to leave the glaze off a few. He is purist and thinks the glaze was not needed. I obliged, but after he sampled it both ways, he ended up with the way Tyler meant them to be.

Orange Glazed Blueberry Scones (recipe by Tyler Florence)

Makes 6 enormous scones

• 2 cups unbleached flour, plus more for rolling berries
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut in chunks
• 3/4 cup buttermilk or cream
• 1 egg
• 1 pint fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar; mix thoroughly. Cut in butter using 2 forks or a pastry blender. The butter pieces should be coated with flour and resemble crumbs.

In another bowl, mix buttermilk and egg together, and then add to the flour mixture.

Mix just to incorporate, do no overwork the dough.

Roll blueberries in flour to coat, this will help prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the scone when baked. Fold the blueberries into batter, being careful not to bruise. Drop large tablespoons of batter on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until brown. Cool before applying orange glaze.

Orange Glaze:

• 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
• 3 tablespoons of orange juice

To prepare Orange Glaze:
Combine powdered sugar and orange juice in the a small bowl. Whisk until the mixture forms a glaze.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Cake for Now. A Cake for Later.

I am of the firm belief that everyone needs a basic cake recipe. I am not talking about the kind of cake that is covered in frosting and has candles stuck in it. Cheesecakes and fruitcakes also do not fit this statement. You know the kind of cake I am talking about. The go to cake. The cake that can be brought to the impromptu barbecue. The kind to serve at Sunday brunch along side of a good egg dish and really good coffee. The one that you can always have on hand.

I have been making this cake lately. I made it for the first time from a mix (shock..gasp!). While browsing through Stonewall Kitchens website for products I ran across Ina Garten’s pantry items that are sold on the site. Specifically I scanned down to the “sale” items. An orange pound cake caught my eye. Only $5.99, marked down from $10.95. I added it to my cart along with a few other goodies and waited for my shipment.

Flash forward 3 days. My cake mix arrives and I wrinkle my brow in a bit of frustration. To the mix I have to add my own butter, egg, fresh orange juice and orange zest. Hmph. This does not sound very convenient to me. So, I gather up the needed ingredients, lugged out my juicer and got to work. The end result was very good. A very good solid pound cake.

Out of curiosity, I took out my Ina Garten Family Style cookbook. I opened to the Orange Pound Cake recipe and scanned the ingredients. I had pretty much bought a mix for everything I already had in the pantry. Sugar. Flour. Baking Powder. Salt. Confectioners Sugar. Plus, this recipe makes 2 loaves. One for now, and one for later. I don’t need a mix for this. I can do this freehand!

Once again, I set out to work. It’s a basic pound cake recipe with all the ingredients you would suspect. A small amount of buttermilk added to the mix adds the slightest tang. Orange is the star here, so if you are not a fan of orange we really can’t be friends and you probably will not like this cake. It’s a triple shot of orange. Zest running through the cake, a sweet orange syrup infused in the warm cake as it cools on racks and an optional orange glaze to adorn the top.

This recipe makes 2 loaves, so make sure you have 2 pans before you start. I suppose you can half the recipe, but really..what would be the point of doing that? The workload would be the same to make two and you end up with an extra cake that freezes beautifully for the next time you need that “Go to Cake”.

I have a big container of blueberries that the markets seem to be giving away this week, they are so cheap that would complement that cake I have in my freezer right now.

Orange Pound Cake
(adapted by Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

*If you are freezing the cake for a later use, omit the glaze.

• 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
• 2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
• 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
• 1/3 cup grated orange zest (6 oranges)
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, divided
• 3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the glaze:

• 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
• 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/2 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and 2 cups of the granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, and the orange zest.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the orange juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.

While the cakes bake, cook the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with remaining 1/2 cup orange juice in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes. Take them out of the pans and place them on a baking rack set over a tray. Spoon the orange syrup over the cakes and allow the cakes to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the orange juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hello Cupcake!

First, my apologize for being so lazy with the blog. What can I say? I can make excuses, but I won't. You know how life gets busy and things are put on a back burner. Yeah. That's what happened.

I'm also thinking of twisting the blog topics a little. Yes, when the blog was first created it was a place to talk about place to eat. I'm thinking about mixing it up a bit with some cooking of my own too. additions to the places to go, hopefully I can offer up some great food to make as well.

Let's get back to the original purpose of the blog. Food to eat in and about Harford County. It's exciting people. We got Wegmans coming in about a year, Famous Daves just around the corner in August and we now have a cupcake lady! Cupcakes! I am obsessed with cupcakes. Love to make them..I even dreamed of having my own little cupcake shop at some point..still a pipe dream. In the meantime I can enjoy the Flavor Cupcakery.

My first experience with the Flavor Cupcakery was at my friend's 40th birthday party. My friend Lisa had the cupcakes at her party and told me that she was going to open up a bakery on Main Street in Bel Air. Bell and Whistles...I was so excited. At the party I was able to sample traditional vanilla and chocolate ones and they were quite good.

Flash forward about 6 months. Flavor Cupcakery is supplying many of the local Harford County coffee shops with several flavors a day. She also has a website with an extensive menu for personal orders and catering. It appears that you can pick up personal orders at the coffee shops she supplies or they can be delivered to you for a nominal delivery fee. I was in Coffee Coffee the other day with my little ones and we shared a Cookies and Creme (chocolate cupcake with Oreo icing) and a Turkish Coffee (vanilla with cardamon tones with an expresso icing). Both were delish. It does not appear that she has her own walk in bakery at this point, but is well on her way to a very successful venture.

I mean, really? Who does not love a cupcake. It is relatively harmless (I tell myself this every time I peel back the paper wrapper) with only a few bites, right? It's not like eating a piece of cake, huh?

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Baltimore List

Since moving to Baltimore 7 and 1/2 years ago, my husband and I have ventured into all aspects of the city and suburbs. Living in Harford County has its limitations. Basically we have our choice of almost every chain restaurant, but we definitely like to "eat outside the box". That being said, we also like to go where people recommend as well. Recommendations from trusted friends have led us to Blue Moon Cafe for breakfast, Salt for dinner, and Little Italy for the Pane Rotundo and all you can eat dessert at Vacarros. I found this list that appealed to me immensely from the Baltimore Sun.

100 Things that Baltimore Foodies Must Try

After browsing the list, I have had 28 of them. Looks like I've got another resolution for 2010.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A big cheer for Sushi..RA! RA! RA!

Yes readers. I know it has been a long time since I last posted. I know that I really have no excuses, but I can claim 2 kids, 2 dogs, a husband, a job and running a house...but I know you don;t want to hear that. You are hungry and just want to eat. I'll try to do better.

Last weekend, my mother-in-law took my kids for a few days which allowed me and the Mr. to get out and whoop it up. We have been wanting to try Ra Sushi in Fells Point for about a year no. The restaurant is a chain out of Scottsdale, Arizona and serves traditional sushi and some inventive rolls in a hip atmosphere that does not represent the typical Japanese restaurant. It is noisy, with loud music pumping. So anyway, I was researching the menu before we went to get recommendations on what to get and I discovered that they do a happy hour every day of the week. From Monday through Saturday (3 pm-7 pm) they offer many of their drinks ,sushi items and appetizers for half price. On Sunday they do a reverse happy hour from 8 pm until midnight. We decided to go to the reverse happy hour. It was a no brainer. Most of the items on the happy hour menu were things we wanted anyway. It was a little tough waiting until 8 pm to eat, as we were used to eating with kids. So by 8 pm our tummys were rumbling and we were ready to take on some serious sushi. We ordered way more than we usually do, but we figured it was so cheap and allowed us to try different things. We ate ourselves silly along with drinks for about 4o dollars. Probably could have done it even cheaper if we did not order so much food.

Last night we went back to RA for the Saturday Happy Hour and took the kids with us. They were the youngest patrons there (and we were probably the oldest), but they were happy to munch on edemame, veggie tempura and chicken yakatori while we got our sushi on. We ate our typical favorites like spicy tuna and spicy yellow tuna rolls. RA has a signature rolls called the Viva Las Vegas Roll which is a filled with kani kama and cream cheese, the Viva Las Vegas roll is fried tempura style and topped with crab and a sliced lotus root. The lotus root is sweet and light and perfectly complements the spicy tuna and tempura batter. It is a pretty heavy roll and after 2 pieces I'm pretty much full from it but it is really good.

We were so happy to discover RA, and to be honest we would probably only frequent RA during the Happy Hour since sushi is quite expensive anyway and the happy hour is such a ridiculous good deal.