Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sweetest Season At Larriland; When A Pick-Your-Own Farm Becomes A Great Bring-Your-Own Date

Peaches at Larriland
The sweetest season of the year has begun, and you need to get to Larriland Farm to pick yourself a piece this fall.

The summer fruits have truly arrived with peaches, blackberries, and raspberries.  The tomato fields are packed with red.  The apples have started, and they'll run through October with the pumpkins and the hay-maze-weekends.

Last week, we drove to Woodbine for peaches and tomatoes.  Like 70+ pounds.  It was easy.  We filled two boxes of peaches from three or four trees.  No one needs two boxes.  We have had two pies, four pints of salsa, and cut fruit at every moment.  They're heavy with juice and sweet throughout.  They're terrific gifts.

My peach advice is "Bring a wheelbarrow."  Larriland has nice plastic ones, and you take over when someone else checks out.  My tomato advice is "Be picky."  Orange tomatoes will ripen into red.  But cracks and splits will rot too soon.  Mrs. HowChow was picky.  I made mistakes.

Tomatoes -- going in sauce
Real tomatoes are spectacular.  The flavor keeps me from eating them 10 months of the year.  Chop them.  Mix with basil.  You can make a meal by putting that on toast and calling it bruschetta.  Chop, cook and cook down 24 pounds of them, and you can end up with 6+ quarts of canned tomato sauce -- but that will cost you the better part of the day.

So much cooking that my feet hurt.

Seriously, you should go see Larriland.  It's 30 minutes from most of Howard County, an easy drive on U.S. 70.  In October, they add food on the weekend and a maze of hay bales for the kids.  For kids, it's a great day, especially if you pick a pumpkin.  

For other folks, it's a great date -- pick up some barbecue from Town Grill in Lisbon, then drive to the farm to pick apples, picnic with your barbecue, and maybe get a jack-o-lantern to carve together.  Very easy to bring friends along.  Mrs. HowChow's friends gave me the once over on an early Larriland trip.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Big Do Those Cups Need To Be?

The cup at Mangoberry is human-sized
Great moment at Tutti Frutti in Fulton: A woman chastises her three boys for ignoring her instruction to get the smallest cups, only to round the corner and realize that the giant bowls in their hands are the smallest available.

How big do yogurt cups need to be?

The by-the-ounce yogurt trend has been great fun for me.  I like the sour and fruity yogurts, and I love topping off with mochi and the little round balls that burst when you bite them.  (Occasionally, I need to ignore the fact that those balls look like a 1970s fishing bait that was some a troublingly-similar type of fish egg that you slid on the hook.)

But the bowls are ridiculous.  They run from huge to huger to hugest.  I have eaten a perfectly fine dessert that barely covered the bottom on a bowl.

Mangoberry in Clarksville has a plastic cup.  It's still a big cup, but you can layer nicely.  Yogurt - toppings - yogurt - toppings - yogurt.  That's a cool innovation -- although the Rita's folks would say that they have been layering Italian ice and custard forever.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Whirlz Yogurt Coming To Dorsey Search

The frozen yogurt wave is washing across Dorsey Search with a new Whirlz Yogurt Bar coming to the shopping center off Rte 108.

I don't know Whirlz.  There's a Facebook page that says it is a locally-owned store, not a chain.  The Whirlz will be next to Yama Sushi, which seems like a nice dinner-dessert option.  I assume this will be one of the by-the-ounce yogurt joints, but the sign promises a "twist."

Beautiful Butterfly Roll At Yama Sushi

Butterfly roll at Yama Sushi
"Which roll is this?" we asked.  "Look," the waitress said, "You can see."

Of course, that's the butterfly roll.

I have said before that Yama Sushi breaks into the top rank of sushi spots with interesting rolls and dabs of unique sauce.  Our new find is the butterfly roll -- salmon draped over a center piece of avocado and tuna, topped with a spicy mayonaise.  Again, it's fresh fish, balanced nicely and touched off with the sauce.

The design on the plate is just extra, but it's the type of attention to detail that makes Yama Sushi such a smart place.  They do a bunch of nice rolls.  The "sweet mango" wrapped really good fruit around a tempura shrimp.  They coat that plate in a sauce so good that I was dipping other rolls in that long after the shrimp was gone.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tour Gorman Farms -- Free, Close, Easy

Come tour Gorman Produce Farm -- a free trip to see a working farm just minutes from Rte 29.

The Liker family will open their farm to the public on September 8 in partnership with the Laurel Historical Society.  The society is running a "Tasting Laurel" series, and they'll start where the food starts -- at the farm.  To reserve a spot, call the society at 301-725-7975.

The farm is on Gorman Road just east of Rte 29.  The series will run into November with their fifth "Taste of Laurel" event.

Boo! Boo! Candy Companies Are Bad Sports

Boo! Boo!
We hadn't even gotten kids back to school when candy companies started to stuff Halloween down out throats.

Don't get me wrong.  No one needs to push Halloween on me.  We're your neighbor who put a host of giant spiders crawling across their house.  We decorate.  We hand out good candy.  We love seeing our neighbors and everyone else who floods our street.  But we do all of that in October.

Last week, I saw Halloween displays at Giant and Wegmans.  Too early.  I know they're just trying to capture the folks who buy candy early, but they're sapping the fun from the season when they try to start up 10 weeks before the holiday.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Awesomeness: People Came To Main Street

Thanks to everyone who joined in the publicity for the Main Street Appreciation Weekend.  People really came out.  That's the fun we can have where a few blogs post and other folks keep passing the word.

Congrats again to Tom Coale, who must be beaming now that his idea has really turned into people sitting down in restaurants and walking around stores.  Tom blogs at HocoRising, but he does lots to connect folks in the real world as well.  Thanks also to Richard Gorelick and all the Sun reporters who told people about the event.

Main Street could still use your business.  Go grab lunch or dinner this week.  For ideas, check out the recommendations in the comments to a prior post.  Or scroll through the Facebook page where some people posted photos and descriptions of where they ate or shopped on Main Street.

(Update:  Tom posted on Monday about the weekend.)

Best Ethiopian Food In Howard County

Ethiopian takeout at Roots Market
It's just Ethiopian food.  No one has opened an Ethiopian restaurant in Howard County.  But Roots Market has imported the food from Silver Spring.

The Clarksville grocer stocked a half dozen dishes cooked by the Gete Restaurant when we came through the prepared foods section on Thursday.  One with green beans and carrots.  One with greens.  One with beets and potatoes.  Two varieties of lentils.

They're all delicious.  The deep, but mild flavors that make Ethiopian so interesting.  They're all vegetable stews, although the pureed lentils were a contrast -- intensely spicy.  We bought the whole lentils.  For $8, we each got large scoops at two meals.  For $25, you could create a three-dish dinner that would easily serve four people.

Roots curates a pretty good wall of prepared foods.  Mrs. HowChow can't roll through without a container of the guacamole.  They deploy those "tasting" stations that always reel us in.  I only bought Gete's food because I tried the greens and thought they were outstanding -- the perfect texture of tender, but still something to bite.

We also ended up with Effie's Oatcakes, a last-minute trap laid at the checkout and baited with these cookie-crackers that taste of oats, butter, and a dash of salt.  Not Ethiopian, but worth picking up as well.

If you want an Ethiopian restaurant, you just need to go one exit outside the county -- Soretti's on Rte 198 in Burtonsville.  Soretti's has become a nice, casual restaurant.  It opened years ago as a cofee shop, but now it is strictly lunch and dinner.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's Official: Main Street Appreciation Weekend

Main Street businesses are open even though CSX is still cleaning up coal from the train derailment in Ellicott City.

Most importantly, there are memorials for the two women killed -- including a scholarship fund in the memory of Elizabeth Nass that I mentioned in yesterday's post.

In addition, some folks have banded together to encourage you to head to downtown Ellicott City this weekend.  Mostly, we're emphasizing that restaurants and stores are open on Main Street.  But Tom Coale of the HoCo Rising blog has helped whip some extra fun by encouraging people to make a special trip to businesses that have endured a flood, a blackout and a train derailment in the past year.

Ray Rice made a pitch.  Now, there's a Facebook page where you join Tom's effort.   This is just a community effort, and it's just a nudge to go eat somewhere that you already enjoy.  These folks are hurting, and you can make a difference even while you're having fun.

Check out the comments to yesterday's post for people's suggestions about where and what to eat -- and for a description of how to drive into Main Street from Frederick Road and where to find parking. Wordbones points out that the stroll down from the public lots will offset the ice cream that you should buy at Scoop-Ah-Dee-Do.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Main Street Appreciation Night:" Downtown Is Open, Battered Enough To Appreciate Business

Go eat in downtown Ellicott City -- echoing an off-the-cuff campaign that Tom suggested this morning on the HoCo Rising blog.

The train derailment is a tragedy, and Tom is right that it seems to be keeping people from Main Street, which hurts the restaurants and shops there.

The fact is that places are open -- places like Portalli's, Pure Wine, Bean Hollow Cafe, Rumor Mill, Diamondback Tavern, Sweet Cascades, Scoop-Ah-Dee-Doo, etc.  I hear that custemers have dropped, maybe because people think that businesses are closed.  But Main Street is open, and you can get around.

Go tonight.  Go this weekend.  Eating out is a pleasure, not a sacrifice.  But your pleasure -- and Tom's idea -- can help out some people who have had a year of floods, blackouts, and now train disasters.

If you haven't been to Main Street recently, you should check it out.  Restaurants worth a drive.  Ice cream and candy shops to browse.  A bunch of "antique" stores to nose around -- with some modern, fresher places like Sweet Elizabeth Jane and Little Sunshine Trading.

What do you recommend to eat on Main Street in Ellicott City?  Give me a restaurant or store and something that you order there.  You can make a point and eat way better than a fried chicken sandwich and those waffle fries.

Update:  I was on the end of an email string, but it appears that people can donate in memory of one of the women killed in the derailment.  Her family is creating a scholarship fund for Mount Hebron High School graduates attending James Madison University.

Elizabeth Nass Scholarship Fund/mthptsa
c/o M &T Bank St. Johns Lane
9125 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nikki's Picks: Diamondback's Corned Beef, Portalli's Cioppino, And A Fight For Dessert

Irish Dip sandwich at Diamond Tavern
Nikki moved to Howard County two years ago from Northern Virginia.  Like me, she and her family remember that as the land of great restaurants -- and delivery.  They're slowly eating through the area, and they're happy with their new culinary universe.  In particular, they're becoming regulars at the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City for its food, service, prices and the kids menu where kids eat free on Tuesdays.

"It helps," she says, "that they've made the effort to learn our names, and start pouring my sangria when I walk in the door."

Nikki is helping to revive the HowChow "Trolling" posts.  Like Crunch Daddy last month, Nikki has offered up three paragraphs -- three places or dishes or experiences that she recommends.  This is a way  talk about places where we haven't eaten and talk about dishes that might not be my first choice.  You can find lots of great food in Howard County, and I'm open to suggestions if you'll email three paragraphs, a photo, and a disclosure if you're connected to any of the joints.  Click here for the rules.

But back to Nikki:

I'm not a food blogger, or any type of blogger, yet.  But I am an eater.  A picky one.  Unfortunately, being picky and being unable to tolerate the texture of certain foods (sushi...beans...) can be limiting.  That doesn't mean I don't have favorites.  I'll start with the Irish Dip sandwich at the Diamondback Tavern.  Tender and generous slabs of in-house corned beef on a buttered and grilled hoagie roll dolloped with grainy mustard, swiss cheese melted on top.  It's served with a small crock of french onion soup, an inspired au jus, for dipping.  I get it with their huge and crispy onion rings, instead of fries and I'm happy for days.  I'm sure a great beer would be the best drink to go along with this - but I'm a fan of their fragrant, spicy sangria - and drink it with whatever I order. 
Next, with the same owners, is the cioppino over linguini at Portalli's on Main Street in Ellicott City.  Portalli is very, very picky about their seafood and it is obvious with this plate.  Lump crab, tender scallops and perfectly done shrimp over velvety linguine - in a fancy white wine sauce.  It is rich and decadent, but still feels light. I haven't had it for almost a year (two kids and a budget keep us from 'fancy' food on a regular basis), and I still think about it.  I love that portions are small, letting us eat a multi-course meal and walk away feeling full but not stuffed.  It gives us a chance to try more of their menu when we go, and every item has been fantastic and fresh.  
Last, something sweet.  I am honestly torn between a fresh twisted donut at Bon Appetit bakery and the "coffee crazy" cupcake at Cooks 'n Cakes -- both on Rte 40 in Ellicott City.  The cupcake is devil's food with a cinnamon-espresso buttercream that has enough of a bitter coffee bite to make a grown-up treat.  The donut, when fresh and still a little warm, is amazing -- crispy crumbs on the outside, tender yeasty goodness on the inside.  Luckily, we live just minutes away because, after a few hours, they are still good, but not amazing.  The cupcake, on the other hand, stands up to the test of time, so I'll have to go with that one. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hot Dogs For Adults -- Spicy, Smoky Fare

Adult hot dogs at Wegmans
I'm looking to grill over Labor Day, but I want the best food that I can make with the least work.

Basically, I want adult hot dogs.  Or sausages.  Those will work for my plan to throw stuff on the grill and not worry myself with custom orders.

Over the past few years, I have become a chicken sausage fan.  All the flavor, a fraction of the fat from pork sausages.  The Harris Teeter spicy Italian sausage has been a staple, and I always pick up a half-dozen when I can get to the deli at Whole Foods.  Plus, I have advocated sausages from Laurel Meat Market, Boarman's, Family Market and others as your gateway drug to trying new markets.

My recent discovery was Hartmann's hot dogs at the far end of the deli at Wegmans.  They're cooked through when you buy them.  You just heat them on the grill, and they had a peppery, adult flavor -- absolutely worth whatever fat and other items are ground into the dog.  They actually taste smoked.

What should I try?  I will probably sample a few of the other Wegmans offerings.  They seem to tend towards European sausages with German names.  I'll probably splurge on a few Laurel Meat Market spicy Italians to split with friends.  And I'll try to get up to Oella for the best hot dog bun that you'll ever find.

What else do you recommend?  What do people buy at J.W. Trueth?  Anything from a package?  I have been burned by so many pre-packaged sausages.  Even expensive brands can be bland and slimy.

(Update: Last month, people put some nice advice in the comments to the hot dog bun post.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ann's House Of Nuts Closing In September?

Ann's House of Nuts has been telling people that it will close its retail store in September, according to multiple comments on the blog and Facebook page.

The Columbia store sells nuts, dried fruits, candy and more.  It would be a bummer to see it close.  Anyone know official news?

Maiwand Kabob -- The Kitchen Makes It A Best

Maiwand Kabob's gyro
Sometimes, you need to just put something down for a while so that you get excited when you pick it back up again.

We hadn't been to Maiwand Kabob in maybe a year when they opened their second Columbia location off Route 175.  So the dishes arrived on our tables fresh and almost-new to us -- beautifully flavored, nicely-cooked, and still one of the best meals in Howard County.

Maiwand Kabob is an small Afghan chain that started in the Harper's Choice village center and has expanded to Burtonsville and Hanover.  The kitchen would stand out with just the kabobs, Afghan specials, and an array of sides and vegetables.  But then they drop fresh bread -- right out of the clay oven -- that makes a combination that truly stands out.

This isn't spicy food.  Afghan flavors -- at least at Maiwand Kabob -- are fresh and flavored more with herbs than hot peppers.  Anyone who likes grilled meats, great bread, or vegetables can find something delicious on the menu.  If you're new, start with a kabob, some of the Afghan sides, and one of the best sandwiches in Howard County.

Grilled meats are harder than they sound.  On bad days, I have pulled some sad, dried meat off my grill.  In contrast, Maiwand serves skewer after skewer of marinated chicken, lamb and beef.  At the new joint, Mrs. HowChow got the juicy chunks of white meat chicken, grilled crisp on the outside but moist throughout.

Aushak at Maiwand
We tend to pair one order of chicken with one or two of the dishes that Maiwand calls appetizers.  They each offer unique flavors, and they're perfectly sized to share.  You can't go wrong.  Baked pumpkin comes tender and sweet, topped by just enough ground beef for a rich contrast.  Mantwo are meat-filled dumplings topped with yogurt and mint.  Aushak are ravioli filled with cooked scallions and topped again with the yogurt-mint-meat sauce.

Everything pairs well, and you'll use the tandoori bread to soak up the sauces.  (And, of course, everything can be augmented with a little fried treat like the plate of samosas.  That Afghan variation was one winner during Samosa Week in 2011.)

In the end, Maiwand is a great restaurant because that care and inspiration spread to everything on the plate.  I have bemoaned the pedestrian rice and beans at even Mexican restaurants that I enjoy.  But Maiwand Kabob offers hot bread right out of a clay oven.  It serves long-grained rice with a sheen of oil, raisins and maybe cinnamon.  Not greasy rice.  Talented rice made rich with the absolute minimum mixed in.

The new Maiwand Kabob is in the shopping center with Target and Big Lots just north of Rte 175.  It's a few doors down from the Pier One.  The new spot has counter service like its predecessors, although it's larger and a little classier on the decor.  (Several people also noted that prices seem $2-5 higher on many items.)  It's extremely kid-friendly.  It's not a first date place unless you know you're taking out a food-first, atmosphere-second person, but it's nice enough for dates 3-5 if you think they'll enjoy good food.

And Maiwand is definitely #1 if you're looking for one of the best sandwiches in Howard County.  I love a gyro, but I have aged out of the frozen, greasy sandwiches that most people serve.  Maiwand delivers.  That's sliced, moist meat served with fresh onions, lettuce, and a tangy sauce.  Just the right amount of sauce to compliment the gyro, but not soak through the bread.

Maiwand's gyro brings together everything that they do so well -- high quality meat cooked right, a fresh sauce that gives you flavors that are unique but accessible, and attention even to details like the bread.  Anybody can pull pita bread from a bag.  Maiwand Kabob wants to be better than that.

Check out all the posts about Maiwand Kabob.  And, if you order the gyro, try to skip the fries.  They're fine, but they're the one disappointment and taste right out of a frozen bag.  Next time, I'll beg for a little rice instead.  If you're looking for Afghan but live south of Rte 32, consider Mimi's Kabob in Clarksville.  Another casual place with counter service and a similar menu.

Maiwand Kabob (second Columbia location)
6131 Columbia Crossing Circle
Columbia, MD 21045
(410) 872-0975

NEAR: This is just north of Rte 175 at Dobbin Road.  It's in the shopping center with Target and Big Lots.  It's a few doors down from Pier One.

Maiwand Kabob on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mango's Grill Re-opening In Laurel

The Mango's Grill restaurant is re-opening in Laurel -- a little farther south from its former location.

Mango's Grill offered casual Mexican to a loyal clientele, but the building was demolished as part of redevelopment of the area around U.S. 1 and Rte 198.  So the restauranteurs rented a new space a few blocks south on U.S. 1 -- the former home of India Gate.

George Berkheimer over at the The Business Monthly has been keeping an eye on the space.  He says the owners were planning to open the new Mango's Grill in the first week of August.  Now, an anonymous comment says that the owners says that they'll open on Thursday.

There Is Fresh Cotton Candy In The Columbia Mall

Cotton candy at the Columbia Mall
You can buy fresh cotton candy in the Columbia Mall -- along with other circus foods at a small cart in the center of the shopping area.

Look near the water feature in the center of the lower level -- near where they sometimes display automobiles.  We found a cart selling cotton candy right from the machine.  Fruit flavors, along with pistachio.  Mrs. HowChow had bought some earlier in the summer, and our second $3 bag was just as airy and sweet.  They're running a cotton candy machine at the stand, so it's fresh.

It's a quick treat.  But it's good enough that I'm trying to figure a way to serve it to friends this weekend.

(Update Sept. 2013:  They moved the cart a little closer to the food court after installing a cupcake bakery under the escalator near the water feature.  You can still buy great cotton candy.)