Thursday, September 30, 2010

Link: Rumor Mill on HoCo Rising

The Rumor Mill in Ellicott City gets a rave this morning from the HoCo Rising blog.  HocoRising talks up chef Matt Milani, who sounds really adventurous and who put out finger foods and small plates that sound terrific.

Honestly, the Rumor Mill and the Pure Wine Cafe have languished on my "to do" list.  They're not close.  I hadn't heard much talk.  Suddenly, I am desperate to try "lollipops" of blue cheese, beet and bacon that were made on an "anti-griddble" and that HoCoRising describes as melting in your mouth.  This is the benefit of a web of small blogs about Howard County -- more voice means more eating.

Will Your Home Owners Association Serve Scotch?

My homeowners association has never offered me a drink -- let along an entire night of scotch tasting.

But the liquor will pour on October 24 when the Harpers Choice Homeowners Association hosts a dinner and scotch tasting at Kahler Hall.

The Columbia homeowners association is charging $100 a ticket ($75 for non-drinkers) for the event when a representative of the Scotch Malt Whiskey Association of America will pour the samples.  The event is co-sponsored by the Wine Seller in Ellicott City.

I can only hope that my homeowners association takes a lesson from Harpers Choice.  For next year's annual meeting, I'm thinking martini bar.

For more information about the Harpers Choice scotch tasting, call 410-730-0770.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Touche Touchet's Cake Decorator Rita Llanso Wins Grand Prize In A National Contest

Rita Llanso of Touche Touchet won the grand prize at the 2010 Pillsbury Grand Championship Cake Decorating Contest, according to the Columbia bakery's Facebook page.

I'll try to find more later today.  We need a photo of the winning cake.

(Update: Photos on the Touche Touche Facebook page.)

Thanks to Kyle for the photo of the bakery.

Ann's House of Nuts In Columbia

My grandfather and his brothers eventually shut down their company that manufactured womens nightgowns.  (Uncle Adrian's standard line: "I have been in ladies' underwear my entire life.")

They shuttered the Bridgeport factory and moved into World Headquarters for another decade.  It was a converted two-bedroom house behind a gas station.  Rundown.  Completely unprofessional.  But a place where the brothers went daily to talk, read the paper, and be ready for the main event: lunch.  At one point, they had stationary with "World Headquaters" across the top.

Ann's House of Nuts isn't as ironic.  Ann's is a serious nut and trail mix company with a factory in North Carolina, and their world headquarters on Snowden River Parkway in Columbia.  It's a real headquarters with a serious retail store.

Ann's retail store sells a few different lines.  Up front was an outlet section -- big bags of peanuts or yogurt-covered raisins for $1.  Much of the store was Ann's House of Nuts branded stuff -- nuts, trail mixes, rice crackers, and more.  Then the back was bulk items, including candy and tons of baking supplies.

Obviously, you should go to Ann's for nuts.  My nephew and I got a huge bag of peanuts, and they had walnuts, pecans, pistachios, and almonds.  You can buy pounds of nuts if you needed, including whole nuts in their shells if you wanted to put out a bowl with a nutcracker.

But fall is the perfect time to check out Ann's for all kinds of stuff.  Seasonal stuff and candy for Halloween.  Baking supplies like sprinkles and chocolates.  Exotic dried fruits like figs, kiwis, etc.  I had expected a pretty basic outlet, but Ann's runs a professional space.  It's shelved and displayed like a regular store, and they worked the crowd -- winning over my nephew with a lollipop.

Ann's House of Nuts store is open weekdays.  I don't know nut prices, but I got the vibe that prices were good.  The outlet stuff was clearly a deal, and the rest seemed like an amazing selection with reasonable prices.

Ann's House of Nuts World Headquarters
9212 Berger Road
Columbia, MD 21046

NEAR: Ann's faces Snowden River, but it is actually on Berger Road.  You turn onto Oakland Mills Road -- a right turn if you're coming from Rte 32 and a left if you're coming from Rte 175.  Then right on Berger Road.  Click here for coupons.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Raging Bitch India Pale Ale & Baltimore Beer Week

This has been the summer that I drank Raging Bitch pale ale from the Flying Dog brewery in Frederick.

Dry, fresh beer.  Crisp, but surprising refreshing considering that it's bitter as you swallow.

I barely drink liquor these days, so I don't have the vocabulary -- let alone the comparison -- to give you a comprehensive review.  But Raging Bitch has been an absolutely perfect beer.  Delicious flavor.  Light on a hot night.  Great with food.

Flying Dog's beers are available at almost every liquor store these days, although I picked up my last two sixpacks from the Perfect Pour in Elkridge.  The bitterness has been the real surprise.  For the past few summers, I bought wheat beers.  They're smooth and sometimes thick.  I wouldn't have asked for a bitter beer, but the Raging Bitch has been ideal every time that I crack open a bottle.

If you want real beer advice, you should always check out the local blogs like the Baltimore Beer Guy and Beer in Baltimore.  You also need to check out the Baltimore Beer Week, which runs for a second year on October 7-17, 2011. 

The Baltimore Beer Week is a spectacular local event.  I love what appears to be teamwork between the beer afficianados, the brewers and the local beer bars.  You actually get 10 days of events -- everything from featured events aimed at thousands down to free tastings at local liquor stores. 

Locally, you can try a beer history class at Howard County Community College.  A free Flying Dog tasting at Snowden River Liquors in Columbia.  A pub tour in downtown Ellicott City.  And then there are specials at a bunch of Howard County restaurants -- daily events a places like Judge's Bench, Victoria Gastropub,  T-Bonz Grill,  and Frisco Grille & Cantina.  Go on the Baltimore Beer Week Web site and search by venue.

(Update: In the comments, ADM IV copied out addresses for Web pages that show all the Howard County events, although Blogger doesn't turn them into links.  The HocoRising blog did a similar list, and his post includes links that you can just click.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Could Hofbrauhaus Replace ESPN Zone?

Here's something to chat about during Baltimore Beer Week -- Could Hofbrauhaus replace the ESPN Zone in Baltimore?

An anonymous commentator says he/she talked to the manager at the Pittsburgh beer hall and was told that they're negotiating to take over the ESPN Zone space in the Inner Harbor.  The Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh appears to operate under a license from Staatluches Hofbauhaus in Munich, which means that the German beer and food must be pretty close to authentic.

I won't get excited yet because it's an anonymous comment on a food blog.  But I would love some sausages and pretzels.  The Hofbrauhaus in Pittsburgh has a dining room and then a beer garden overlooking the river.  That business model seems to take advantage of the harbor view and the big space in Baltimore.
Anyone know more?  As always, thanks for the comments.

(Update: Oh, no!  Robert says in a comment below that Hofbrauhaus is more tourist than authentic German, and the other review that I heard was "Their beer is just OK . . . [but] could be a fun place."  So it's a rumor, and it may not be as exciting as I thought.  We'll see.  But a fun tourist spot does make sense in the Inner Harbor.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dinner Tonight: HoCo 360 Found Food In Your Yard

The Hoco360 blog should be on your list for great photography of local life, but it is also elbowing into the food blog space.

Now you get a great photograph and a link to a recipe -- all based on food that you can collect for free in your yard.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Richard Gorelick To Become Sun Restaurant Critic

The Sun has promoted Richard Gorelick to become its new restaurant critic, replacing Elizabeth Large who retired earlier this year.

Gorelick has reviewed in Baltimore since 2002 -- first for the City Paper and then for the past two years as a freelancer for the Sun.  He starts Monday, and he will take over the Dining at Large blog as well.

The Sun's article talks about Gorelick's freelance writing, but it strangely omits the fact that he also had been working with neuroscientists.  Gorelick first crossed paths with the HowChows because he was working with Barry Gordon's cognitive neurology / neuropsychology group.  I can only assume that restaurant critic is such a serious job that no one wants to admit Gorelick was dabbling in some second-rate subject like medical research at Hopkins.

Tamar Fleischman in the Examiner says Gorelick is breaking with the anonymous critic tradition.  She says lots of people know Gorelick and that he looks like an iconic rock star.  So keep an eye out.

Canned Peaches At Larriland Farm

The next two months are perfect for Larriland Farms -- pick apples from the trees, select a pumpkin from the field, and enjoy the last outdoor weekends of the year.

Definitely check out the farm store that Larriland has expanded over the past two years.  (If nothing else, buy the dried fruit candy at the checkout.)  Keep your eyes out for canned peaches.  Larriland had them at the end of the summer.  They're peaches grown on the farm, then canned locally.  Four dollars is expensive for fruit, but I bet that they're delicious -- and that I'll cherish them in mid-winter when they'll be the taste of summer in a can.

Larriland Farms in Woodbine is an easy 30-minute drive from almost anywhere in Howard County.  From the southern county, take Rte 32 to I-70 West.  From Columbia or north, take Rte 29 to I-70 West.  Larriland has hit the perfect tone where it's family-run and friendly, but professionally operated so that everything runs well.  Click here for all the Larriland posts.

If you go to Larriland, consider a barbecue meal before or after at Town Grille in Lisbon.  It's great BBQ even though it is inside a gas station.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Re-Thinking The Columbia Wegmans: Let's Aim To Open On Memorial Day 2012

Even someone loopy enough to run a food blog can see that it is crazy to stand outside a half-built grocery store in February.

So I'm rethinking my call for a mass rally at the Columbia Wegmans site on Valentine's Day 2011.

At this point, the smart money would bet on a Columbia Wegmans by Summer 2012.  They're clearly re-grading the entire site, and there are finally big machines working off McGaw Road.

So I'm shifting my call to arms to Memorial Day 2012.  That's a heart-stopped delay for someone remembers being horrified when someone said the Howard County store might not open until 2009.  But it seems silly to stand in the snow a year ahead of schedule.

Let's make sure Wegmans knows that we are planning for early Summer 2012.  Memorial Day.  Still cool enough that you'll want to explore the cheese section, but just in time for grilling and summer vegetables.

You can join a Facebook group or just sign up for the Facebook event.   The motto remains the same:  "If they're open, we shop. If they're not, we help build."  I'll adapt the plan as we get closer.  Maybe they'll offer samples or early tours. Maybe we'll bring power tools to help with the punch list.  Or maybe we'll just run a guerilla barbecue on the side of McGaw Road.  Viva la revolution.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trolling: Breakfast At Frank's, Gyros At Hickory Ridge, And The Orange Fluff At Meadows

Today's Trolling takes you across the county from Jessup to southern Columbia.  Dennis writes about his weekly breakfast at Frank's Diner, then talks up two of the joints in the Hickory Ridge village center in Columbia.  That center -- just north of Rte 32 on Cedar Lane -- has become a magnet for casual dining with Chick'n Pollo for Peruvian chicken, Luna Bella for pizza, and Maruha Steakhouse and Sushi for Japanese -- plus Dennis' two favorites:

Every Saturday morning my daughter and I go to Frank's Diner in Jessup on U.S. 1 just south of Rte 175. This is rare find for the area - an authentic New Jersey diner transported to MD! The menu is fairly standard diner offerings. Great breakfast offerings (even goes deep to have local favorites like Scrapple). Of note is the kids/seniors breakfast - one egg, one pancake and side of bacon or sausage for only $4.99. The best thing though is the staff - Mr. & Mrs. Frank are friendly and inviting, always taking time to talk to my daughter about school, her placement drawings, etc. The wait staff is also very friendly, we feel right at home!
Columbia can be a tough location for non-chain dining. One great find that overcomes that issue is the Hickory Ridge Grill. Great Greek selection (the gyro is my favorite) and their kids spaghetti is a 'real' meal - penne pasta with red sauce and ginormous meatball. The staff is extremely friendly, usually have two or three people stop by our table to see how our meal is going.
Throughout the summer the family and I frequent and seek out new ice cream joints. We've tried all in the area and have found the best to be The Meadows Custard in Columbia. My favorite item is the Orange Fluff.  Its the perfect blend of orange, vanilla and creaminess of a nice shake. Typically my daughter wants to trade her choice with mine! Also, their blue raspberry ice is fantastic. Best blue raspberry flavor I've found. That is my two year old son's favorite item, he never hesitates to order it.

Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Deep Frozen Cocktail Samosas At Indian Markets

Your real fear at an Indian restaurant is that they'll think you don't like spicy food and just omit the spices that bring all the flavor.

Take samosas, for example.  Bad fillings make samosas as useless as a cheap egg roll.  But aimed at an authentic market, Indian food brings spice in a complex way -- more than the simple heat of a hot pepper, it's a spice mix that may warm your mouth but zings instead of just stinging.

The Deep brand samosas bring that authentic favor right to your freezer. These are convenience food.  Three bucks for 50 bite-sized samosas that give you the healthy taste of lentils and the healthy spice aimed at people who know Indian food.  They're really delicious, and they hold their own with most frozen food -- although they're not going to beat takeout from House of India.  I ate them as weeknight dinners.  You could easily serve them up as party appetizers.

Don't deep fry them.  You can put a film of oil in a frying pan and saute the frozen samosas until they're crisp on the outside and heated all the way through.

I bought the Deep samosas at Columbia Halal Meat, a nice Pakistani market on Rte 108 near the Costco in Elkridge.  I think that I have seen the brand -- and assume they have the samosas -- at other Indian markets, including Eastern Bazar or Apna Bazar in Laurel or Food Cravings or Desi Bazaar in Columbia.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

They're Giving Away Crabs At Frank's Seafood

Think about Frank's Seafood on Sunday because they were giving away crabs on Saturday.

Not free crabs.  But the cold crabs -- steamed this morning and completely delicious -- were on special.  They were $1 each or buy-a-dozen-get-a-dozen-free depending on the size.  Those are some nice deals.  I got a half dozen of the $1 crabs and filled a bowl with picked meat.

Frank's in Jessup says its Sunday hours are 12-5.  They have crab meat and crab cakes to go with the hardshells.  They also have a wide variety of fish and seafood.  I considered a dozen oysters.  They were offering samples.  But fish and crab were more than enough for us tonight.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Off-Topic: Cool Mini-Hotel Opens in Ellicott City

A new four-room hotel with a Beatles theme has opened on Main Street in Ellicott City, reports Wordbones on the Tales of Two Cities blog.  The last thing that I need is a hotel room in Howard County, but the Obladi hotel seems interesting.

Will Elkridge Get A Sonic Burger Spot?

Has anyone heard about a Sonic opening at the site of a McDonalds that had a fire last December in Elkridge?  Vicki posted a comment saying that neighborhood rumor says Sonic might open at the Washington Boulevard site.  Heard anything?

(Update: Trevor-Peter writes below that a Sonic doesn't seem likely.  He says Courtney Watson posted a month ago that McDonald's says the store will continue to be a McDonald's.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The "Woodberry Kitchen Problem," Or How Do Our Best Restaurants Compete Across Two Cities?

This is what I will call "The Woodberry Kitchen" problem.

People think that I eat out way more than I actually do.  The key to a hobby like writing daily about food is to write short and to make sure that you see posts in the basic food that you enjoy.

The truth is that Mrs. HowChow and I eat from restaurants a few times a month around Howard County.  Often, it is a weeknight.  Or it's a point when we just want to relax.  We eat broadly, but we tend to eat in the middle ground -- casual places that serve dinner for two for $20-40.  We grab burgers at Victoria.  We go for Korean barbecue.  We get sushi at either The Sono or The King.

But there is an upper limit.  We'll spend $50 for our favorites -- or to get some extras at House of India that will become two lunches.  But we often leave Howard County for special meals.  There are nights when we're going to spend more money or when I'm making reservations for someone's birthday, and the truth is that I keep going back to Woodberry Kitchen.

Now, I'm the perfect customer for Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore.  I love the fresh ingredients, minimal cooking, and small plates.  In July, we had a meal where we didn't pick a dish that had been cooked.  Pickled eggs, a raw peach dessert.  Three of the courses were just perfect produce, sliced and served with spices or vinegar.  We spent less than a night at Sushi Sono and left as happy as I have ever been in a restaurant.

But it makes me wonder how high-end restaurants compete in Howard County?  

I can list restaurants in Howard County with high expectations: Portalli's, Bistro Blanc, Venegas Prime Filet, Aida Bistro, Cafe de Paris, Tersiguels. . . .  But as I consider my "best restaurants" list for 2010, I have only eaten at half of these places.  

Obviously, some  people expect to spend $50-75 for two on a weeknight, but that seems more common in Bethesda than in Kings Contrivance.  When people like me schedule a special night, we're fine with driving into the city -- in fact into either city -- so Howard County high-end is competing with local, cheaper options and with the high-end places as far as 45 minutes away.

What Howard County restaurants are worth the extra money?  What do you order for your special nights?  Or, if you run one of these restaurants, what do you think people should know about your place?  The risk of high prices is that people have high expectations.  So how do you entice people to try you out and leave satisfied?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Link: Twist & Turn On Dining At Large

Twist and Turn in Highland got reviewed by John Lindner on the Sun's Dining at Large blog.  He did not enjoy his lunch.

Pakistani Hot Pepper Gummis at Columbia Halal

Hot pepper gummy bears could be an absolute joke, but the Chili Mili candies are actually more delicious than I expected.

I bought two bags -- 25 cents each -- at Columbia Halal Meat on Rte 108 figuring that they'd be humorous.  But I have bought a dozen since then because they're pretty good.  They're spicy.  Spicy enough that the heat builds over even a little bag.

These are along the line of the super mango lollipop from El Patio Market or the candies at Mexican places like Lily's Mexican Market that mix salty, spicy and sweet.  If anything, the Chili Mili gummies are more mainstream than, say, tamarind maracas.  These are candies, nothing artisenal.  Gummies on the stiff side, and the sweet, hot flavor building as you eat each one.  Maybe not kid-friendly, but great fun for anyone who likes sugar and spice and everything nice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Link: Gunpowder Bison Burgers On Sarah Says

The new deck at Sarah's house was christened with bison burgers from Mom's Organic Market in Jessup, which she wrote up on the Sarah Says blog.

Sarah bought the Gunpowder Bison burgers in Mom's small meat section and grilled them with potatoes and the last summer peaches.  If you check out her review, poke around her weekly reviews of her CSA among her posts about food.

First Takes On Red Pearl's Dim Sum

Red Pearl opened this summer with regular Chinese food and a separate Sichuan menu on the lakefront in Columbia.  In August, they brought back dim sum, which echoes the past when Jesse Wong's Hong Kong served the Chinese brunch dishes in the same space.

I plan on trying it out, but Kyle provided an early report about the dim sum offerings.  He says it joins his rotation with Hollywood East in Wheaton and Asian Court in Ellicott City.

When the family does dim sum, we used to always go to Wheaton, usually Hollywood East. After reading Howchow and trying Asian Court, we put it in the rotation. We had tried Jesse Wong's Hong Kong for dim sum way back when but found it to be overpriced and mediocre at best. It never made the rotation and disappeared before I gave it another chance.

After quality and service, I tend to rate dim sum places by how crowded they get and the percentage of Asian faces. I figure the more of these two, the more authentic the place. Finally I consider the space. Most dim sum places have too many tables and tend to be dark and closed in. But half the fun is watching the carts maneuver and people navigating the maze to try to get somewhere.
Having held out for a couple of weeks, I tried Red Pearl on Sunday. I had been by there the week they premiered dim sum. I noticed the metal dim sum steaming dishes on the tables but ended up next door at Sushi Sono.
Red Pearl dim sum worked on all levels. The definitely Hong-Kong-style dim sum was above average in quality and fairly priced.
We were early but the place got very crowded by noon. Our table was one of the very few that had all non-Asian faces. The place was bustling, and the cart/people entanglements were fun to watch.  Where we were seated, the tables were so close you're practically eating at the same table.  The cart coverage was good and asking for things not on a cart was easy. Though the place was dark, the high ceilings and modern decor gave it a pleasant airy feel.
The quality of the steamed dumplings, baked pastries, and fried items was above average. The dumplings noodles were thin with good texture,  the pastries nicely flaky, the fried items not greasy and the fillings were descent. Not feeling adventurous, we passed on the chicken feet, tripe and everything on the jellied savory cakes cart (haven't seen one of those before on it own cart), soft sweet tofu (don't have a clue what this is but it was pasted in English on the pot) cart, and the porridge congee cart.  We didn't try any but there were lots of extra larger dishes like the head-on shrimp, clams, and noodles. The only disappointment was the eggy and tasteless custard pastry filling. The pineapple bun was excellent.
The cart service was excellent especially since most of the operators spoke English. The wait staff was spread way to thin.  Our water glasses were empty most of the time, and checkout was a wait. For a place that just started serving dim sum, I was impressed. Red Pearl is in the dim sum rotation now and the closest one too.
Anyone else have a report?  Any special items?  Anything that you particularly recommend? 

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grilled Cheese & Co. in Catonsville

The secret to most great sandwiches is fresh, interesting ingredients.  The secret to great grilled cheese is butter.

I'm still trying to put those ideas together just like the folks at the Grilled Cheese & Co.  The new Catonsville restaurant offers high-end grilled cheese -- unusual ingredients like roasted peppers, steak, or barbecue sauce.

I want to love it, and I think some of the sandwiches would be delicious.  But everything isn't better with butter.  Great grilled cheese sandwiches depend on fried, crispy bread, and I don't know that every great sandwich ingredient wants to be surrounded by buttery crispness.

Cheddar, bacon and tomatoes sounds right.  But I tried their new "santorini" variation with gyro meat, feta and tzatziki sauce.  Gyros are a great sandwich, but I didn't feel like they got any better when they were buttered and grilled.  Actually, the gyro meat wasn't that great.  But, even more, I wondered why I'd want butter on a Greek sandwich.  Mrs. HowChow said the same thing about her sandwich of mozzarella and peppers.

The irony is that butter changed my cooking when a roommate opened my eyes beyond the Low Fat Era style in fashion when I first cracked a cookbook.  (His advice is expensive now so it's good I listened.)  I want the grilling and the cheesing to improve sandwiches, but it's not like you're substituting margarine out of the gyro or the Italian sausage sub.

Like Coal Fire Pizza, this looks like an idea designed to franchise or expand.  I'm not arguing with the basic idea or with the quality of ingredients -- except the gyro meat -- that were worth $7-8 per sandwich.  I'd jusy go for the basic sandwiches next time, something that wants a crispy, buttery outside.  You can make a great sandwich with tomatoes and the right cheddar.  Of course, Grilled Cheese & Co. needs a full menu, so they offer salads and side orders of chips or fries, regular or sweet potato.

Grilled Cheese & Co.
500 Edmondson Ave
CatonsvilleMD 21228

(410) 747-2610

NEAR: Grilled Cheese & Co is on Edmondson just inside I-695.  It's just north of Rte 144, one of the main drags through Catonsville and a straight shot from downtown Ellicott City.

Grilled Cheese & Co. on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cookiepalooza at Touche Touchet - October 8-9

Cookiepalooza comes to Touche Touchet on October 8 and 9 with cookie sampling, voting and $1 cookies at the Columbia bakery.

This is the second year that they've sampled new recipes and celebrated the cookie.  Check out their Facebook page for more details.

Feel Better Takeout From Red Pearl

Sometimes, you just need food.  I have spent the last week with a cold and spent yesterday collapsed on the couch.

Wednesday night, I had RDADoc's delicious brisket, but then I relapsed over night.  We cancelled services with my family yesterday, so I missed out on the lox and whitefish that had been our centerpoint.

I barely ate until 8 pm when Mrs. HowChow arrived home with takeout from Red Pearl in Columbia.  I wasn't hungry when she woke me to ask about dinner.  I wasn't hungry when she ordered.  I wasn't hungry when the came back.

Then I ate soup and two plates of Chinese food as soon as she served.

Hot and sour soup, kung pao chicken, beef szechuan, and crispy walnut shrimp.  She stayed away from the authentic Szechuan menu because she didn't want anything profoundly spicy for her patient, but the food and the heat were exactly what I needed.

Until that point, my day had tasted like fever and hand sanitizer.  The soup broke that up, and the beef and chicken both had good flavors, light heat and none of the cloying sauces that turns me off most Chinese food.  Even Red Pearl's American-style dishes are drier than most Chinese restaurants.  The sauces coat the meat, but they don't soak into the rice.

Pho from An Loi had been our go-to takeout when we need to feel better.  But Red Pearl hit the spot.

Red Pearl started dim sum last month, and I'll post the first report next week.  Stay tuned and cover your mouth when you cough.  Cough in your elbow like Elmo.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine in Burtonsville

Our outlet for Ethiopian food continues to expand and improve as Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine converts to a casual restaurant.

Soretti's Ethiopian is the name of the family-run restaurant on Rte 198 in Burtonsville. It opened as Coffee Oromia and sold a few Ethiopian items under a coffee shop menu. Now, the rechristened spot serves a broader menu of beef, chicken, lamb and vegetable stews.

I don't claim Soretti's competes with the Ethiopian hotspots in DC.  But it's a great casual option for injera and the vegetable, beef and chicken stews that make Ethiopian unique, tasty and really healthy as well.  The injera bread isn't Mrs. HowChow's favorite, so I have stopped at Soretti's most often for lunch.  The vegetable combination has become my go-to dish because you get a half-dozen flavors that make for a memorable meal.  Lentils, beans, carrots, greens, cabbage -- they're all recognizable and accessible, but cooked with flavors make them new.

I'm also a sucker for Ethiopian meat stews.  The meat often seems lean and can be tough, but the right stews are spicy and delicious.  Beef or chicken tibbs are easy entries into the cuisine.  If you go with two people, I'd recommend ordering two combinations -- one vegetarian and one meat.  You'll get to try most of the menu, and you'll be bound to find something that you like.  And you need to eat the entire injera that comes under your stews.  The sauces soak into the bread, and those soaked pieces can be the best part of the meal.

Soretti's is a comfort food like of place.  You sit at a casual table, and the owner comes around from the counter to take your order.  If you're new to Ethiopian, just know that you eat with your hands.  You'll get injera under the stews, plus more pieces on the side.  You rip bite-sized pieces of bread, then use them to scoop up the stews.  If you can eat guacamole with a Frito, then you can eat Ethiopian.  It's easy and fun.

(Update: Soretti's has just gotten nicer in 2011.  They spruced up the art and the curtains at the front.  In early spring, they were running an $8.50 special at lunch.  Still a huge plate of food, but a special price.  The vegetarian combination had five items, including greens, lentils, and a spicy tomato salad.  Check out the injera made from authentic teff -- an Ethiopian grain that makes a drier, less sour bread.)

Burtonsville is super-convenient off Rte 29, and it is just one exit south of Howard County.  If you're go down there, check out the the homemade ice cream at Seibel's or consider dinner at Cuba de Ayer or Maiwand Kabob.

Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine

15510 Old Columbia Pike (Rte 198)
Burtonsville, MD 20866

NEAR: This is on Rte 198 just west of Rte 29. From Howard County, you take the first exit on Rte 29 south of the river. That exit puts you on an old piece of Rte 29 that passes an Indian temple and a garden center. Turn right on Rte 198 at the traffic light. Soretti's is a block up on the right next to a Maiwand Kabob outlet.

Soretti's Ethiopian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reviews Of Local CSAs For Howard County

What do you think of your CSA?

I had thought that I would be a natural at "community supported agriculture."  I thought that I would post every week about my first year of CSA deliveries and what I had whipped up with the vegetables.

As summer closes, I haven't been inspired to post much.  The drought made it had a hard year to farm, and I knew that I was buying into the risk/reward of a real share.

But I haven't done much more than cut up vegetables this summer.  We eat tomatoes with salt, maybe some cubed cucumber and mint.  We cherished baby lettuces at the start and the melon this week, and I was completely amused by the eggs that I got through a fluke.  But I have been a bit puzzled about what to do with four carrots or two beets or a dozen green beans.  I'm not planning right.  Or I'm not prepared with recipes.  So I'm puzzled and wondering if a CSA delivery is smart for me if I have to go shopping after work to create a meal.

What has your CSA delivered this year?  Would you do it again?  How are you using the vegetables?  Do you keep basics on hand so that you have what you need?  How do you use small amounts?

I'm still figuring out my thoughts for 2011.  Howard County has a bunch of CSA options.  I started small this year, encouraged by a place where I could pick up in the evening.  But I may need to go big and get deliveries like Sarah Says posts about.  I would have to figure out a way to pick up at one of the established places like Gorman Produce Farm or Shaw Farm, the Columbia farm whose manager has posted comments on HowChow.

(Update: For 2011, check out my February 2011 post about CSAs.  Please add your reviews there.  I'd love to know what you recommend.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trolling: The Next Generation To HowChow Readers Starts With Adult Food Friendly To Kids

Rachel takes us trolling with the next generation of HowChow readers.  Her family loves grownup food, but they go with 3 1/2-year-old twins and a one-year-old.  So Rachel says that they have found a few non-chain restaurants that we have come to rely on for our family meals away from home.

Everyone in our house loves Frisco Grill in Columbia (soon to move and become the Frisco Tap House). Yes, it is mostly a bar but the atmosphere is calm and inviting. The children's menu satisfies with cheese quesadillas and burritos. The grownups fight over who is eating the chorizo nachos too fast and there is always a beer or two that keeps us happy.
We have also had good luck with Bangkok Delight in Columbia. The umbrellas on the ceiling, two interesting water fountains, and a children's menu that has "chicken on a stick" (chicken satay) keep our children entertained. The staff is super friendly and very welcoming to the children.  I stick with the pad thai (discovered at Noodles Corner ages ago) and finish off the kid's satays.  My husband is working his way through the various curries and hasn't developed a favorite yet. 
The Kings Contrivance Village Center is our spot for pizza and a quick dessert, especially in warm weather. Trattoria de Enrico has reliable quality and our twins are fans of the pizza and the baked ziti. After dinner we can't resist a walk across the courtyard to Rita's for a nice dessert which we enjoy by the fountain.
Trolling on Tuesday is my attempt at a series where readers would share three things with other HowChow readers -- favorite restaurant dishes, food to buy, food experiences, etc.  Click here for all the Trolling posts.  Click here for the explanation and the rules.  Anyone can submit.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Emergency: Where Can John Buy Crabs?

Emergency!  Where can John find crabs -- other than Franks Seafood in Jessup, which is apparently sold out for Sunday?

John left a comment on this week's Franks post, and he needs a place to buy a half bushel of hardshells for Sunday.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Columbia Wegmans To Open Summer 2012 Now That Site Plan Was Approved, Says Wordbones

The Columbia Wegmans is on track for a Summer 2012 opening, according to Wordbones on the Tales of Two Cities Web site.

Wordbones reported that Wegmans received final approval of its site plan last week.  That means the company can apply for their building permit and start building the store.  One change: There will be an entrance directly from Snowden River Parkway, not just from McGaw Road.

I have heard several reports of heavy equipment working hard on the site.  Obviously, I need to recast my campaign to open the store by Valentine's Day 2011.

(Update: The original post -- and the original tweet-- said Summer 2010 instead of Summer 2012.  That was just an error, probably caused by my sorrow and memory of the days when I said, "I can't believe Wegmans won't open until 2009.  That seems so far from now.  Thanks to @dawnpopp for pointing out the error.)

Lemonade With Orange Blossom Water Inspired By The Lebanese Taverna That Howard County Needs

Howard County needs Lebanese Taverna.  The takeout version from Rockville.  The fancy one from Harbor East.  I'll take any piece of the local chain, and I'll start with lemonade.

Mrs. HowChow had lunch last month at the Tysons Taverna, and she brought home the idea of lemonade with orange blossom water.  It's a Lebanese idea, apparently.  The Cortas brand is distilled in Lebanon for sure.

I took the idea into the kitchen and played a bit.  Sugar, water and lemon juice with a touch of the orange blossom water.  The Taverna waitress said they use two cups in a huge container, so I put a teaspoon in each small glass.  The lemonade came out beautifully -- a touch exotic little the bitter orange note.  Play with the proportions by adding the final water gradually, and you can make it your own.

You can get orange blossom for $3-4 at most Middle Eatern markets -- certainly at Ceazar International Market in Elkridge.  I think you'd get it at Pars Market or Nazar Market in Columbia.

Lemonade w/Orange Blossom Water
Makes two small glasses

1 c. sugar
1c. water, plus more cool water
3-4 lemons
bottle of orange blossom water
2 small glasses

1) Put the sugar in 1 c. water and microwave on high for a minute or two until the sugar has dissolved.  Let the simple syrup cool.  (You could dissolve the sugar into less water.)  You'll end up with extra syrup.

2) Juice the lemons.  You'll get pulp and some seeds.  Strain out the seeds.  A little pulp was nice.  Three lemons got me a little more juice than the half-cup that I needed for two.

3) In each glass, pour in 1/4 c. simple syrup, 1/4 c. lemon juice and 1 tsp of orange blossom water.  Taste the lemonade.  It was way too strong for me.  You can follow my lead and just add 1/4 c. of cool water and a few ice cubes. Or you can slowly add cool water and ice until you reach a flavor that you prefer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zoku Popsicles: The Best Toy For Your Freezer

I'm trying to clear my kitchen of one-trick ponies -- the bread machines, the donut machines, the countertop gadgets that don't work as well as a good solid pan.

But I have to admit that I have fallen in love with a $50 popsicle maker.

Williams Sonoma's Zoku popsicle maker is a loaf-sized gadget that you store in your freezer.  There is some liquid sealed inside.  You pour juice or some other liquid into the three holes on top, and, in less than 10 minutes, you have popsicles.

You can have popsicles of almost anything.  We started with a peach puree.  We used lemonade.  My nephew made a batch of lemon-lime.  A touch of sugar, but they were far more sour than I had ever expected an eight-year-old to enjoy.

The Zoku's beauty is that you can freeze almost anything.  (Except diet soda.)  Simple juices.  Adult recipes like cilantro and lime.  Creams.  Crazy mixes like layers of red watermelon topped with a layer made from melon rind and lime.  Even people who don't love to cook can play with popsicles without a fuss.

And let's be honest:  It's instant gratification.  You can buy popsicle molds for way less.  You can even buy popsicle cookbooks.  But the Zoku freezes three popsicles in less than 10 minutes.  Then freezes three more.  (Up to nine, says the box.)  A kid's snack or an adult dessert.  You can have what you want in minutes, and it's a blast.  We have bought two as gifts so far this year.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

DeDe Basil Seed Soda: The Absolute Craziest Soft Drink That You'll Actually Think Is Delicious

Would you drink a soda that tastes like banana but looks like it's home to a herd of paramecium?

No, laughs Mrs. HowChow.  But she's missing out.

The grocers at Columbia Halal Meat sell a Thai soft drink made with basil seeds and honey.  The seeds float in a cloud -- each about half-inch apart.

The drink, made by DeDe, tastes fruity and sweet.  Certainly honey.  Maybe banana.  The seeds don't really taste like anything.  They have the texture of tapioca in bubble tea or maybe a softer feel of pomegranite seeds.  Overall, it's refreshing and fun, certainly unique.

Apparently, the basil seeds are natural and a traditional Thai ingredient.  They swell in the soda.  Safe, fun and definitely not a protozoa in the bottle.

(Update:  Look for DeDe soda in the Asian groceries like Family Market in Columbia, Lotte in Ellicott City or H Mart in Catonsville.  I don't recommend the similar soda that comes in a can.  Not that I have any expertise in basil seed soda, but I didn't like the taste as much.)

One warning.  You may need a bottle opener to pop the DeDe cap.  There is a metal ring that should open the top, but I am only one for three.  Twice, the metal tore off, and I used a bottle opener instead.