Ice cream update! With coffee rant bonus!

31 10 2008

Last summer, I was going on about ice cream.  In the comments, I was asked if there was Gelato anywhere in town.  At the time, I did not think so, but now there is!  Gelato at the new coffee place: The Baltimore Coffee Company opened in a new shopping center on…Corporate Drive?  Or is it Crestwood?  I can never keep them straight.  Anyway, it’s behind MOMs.  We met a friend for coffee there yesterday.  It has that nasty flavored coffee whiff and the espresso was burned and the brewed coffee weak…but we’re serious coffee snobs.  People who are able to just enjoy coffee without judging may be perfectly happy.  Steve was bummed to see that they keep the beans in open bags, as light and air are the enemies of roasted coffee.  We went home w/half pound each of Tanzanian Peaberry and Ethiopian Yergacheff. Made the Peaberry today–bleh.  I’ve been getting Peaberry from the Frederick Coffee Co.  It’s better.  But still not great.  We used to get Peaberry from a roaster in Leesburg, but the actual roasting machine set the building on fire so we can’t get THAT anymore.  After that, we got Arabian Mocha Sanani from Starbucks, but they discontinued it and we don’t like any of their other coffee.  So now we are adrift, trying coffee here and there.  Steve roasted his own for a while, but his rigged up roaster broke so THAT was out.  Being a Polly Pickipants can be troubling.

Oh, the Gelato was pretty good.  I had Tirmisu, Steve had Chocolate Hazlenut.  Not stellar, but good.  It looks gorgeous in the case, though.  I’ll try a fruit flavor next time, since those are generally my faves with gelato.   I just wanted a flavor to go with coffee.

So.  yes, there is gelato.  Anyone got a great coffee secret?


As American as…

13 10 2008

Apple pie!  A couple months ago, we saw the Good Eats episode about apple pie and it just looked soooo good.  But it required a few purchases before I could get started.  I got grains of paradise from The Spice House (don’t forget the “the” in that address or you will get a…different sort of website). I went to Amazon for my pie bird and a deep tart pan.  Then I went to Mountain Valley Orchard in Cavetown for my apples.  They have a great selection, really good prices, and they don’t spray the trees with pesticides past the blossom stage.  It’s not organic, but it’s better than nothing at all.  The Stayman are great this year.  They were my childhood favorite and I hadn’t had a good one in years.  Finally, I hit Trout Liquors for my Applejack.  I was ready for piemaking.

I used a mix of all sorts of apples, mainly stayman, gala, and fuji.  It was sort of an all-day thing, but well worth it in the end.  The apple juice reduction made the top crust super crisp.  The texture was just perfect.  And so pretty, look!

With the tart pan, you can just push it out and it looks gorgeous.  And when sliced, the apples just stay put, perfectly stacked, each coated with yumminess.

We each had a slice before bed and then a slice for breakfast…and then it was gone.  Sigh.  Guess I have to go back to the orchard…

Restaurant review–Volt

10 10 2008

Steve and I had our 15th anniversary yesterday and we celebrated by giving Volt all of our money.  I’ve been dying to try it after reading all these great reviews and seeing the chef at the Farmer’s Market so often.  We got a chef’s table so that we could get a tasting menu.  As I mentioned before, I just love little bits of lots of things.  I was so thrilled that there was a vegetarian tasting menu–how rare it is for an upscale restaurant to offer more than a cursory veggie dish!  I’ve just finished Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and he couldn’t have more scorn for the herbivores.  But he clearly hasn’t had THIS food.

The chef’s dining room looks like it seats about 20.  Steve and I were given a 4-top, and we sat side-by-side so we could both watch the kitchen.  The room is clean and elegant–clearly refined, but not at all stuffy.  When we were seated, we were offered a cocktail menu.  I got a Negroni (which was served on ice, a no-no in my book) and Steve turned into a girl and ordered the cantelope mojito that the server recommended (“How about *I* order your Negroni and you order the mojito?”  “Oh no, if you want a girly drink, you have to OWN it.  Sure you wouldn’t rather have a Fuzzy Navel?”  “Or an Appletini?”).  We were brought house-made breadsticks brushed with olive oil and fennel pollen (“Did she just say ‘fennel pollen?'”  “Yes, I believe she did.”  “I call bullshit.”).  For the record–I tasted nothing that suggested fennel pollen to me.  But it was a perfectly lovely breadstick.

Our meal opened with canapes from the chef–a demitasse of creamed celery soup with white truffle oil (yum!), a cube of “compressed watermelon” with something balsamic on it (good, but kind of silly), and a “beet macaroon” stuffed with a goat cheese mousse. cow.  I have no idea how this beet thing was made, but it looked like a wee beet sitting on its head in a soup spoon.  But it was as light as air, it was some kind of beet meringue…I don’t know, but it was weird and delicious and interesting.  The beet part collapsed in my mouth, almost like cotton candy.  I could have eaten a box of those guys.  I dreamed about beet bon-bons while we tried to figure our how one compresses a watermelon.  I think it’s a big industrial press that goes really slowly.  Steve thinks they give the watermelon a high-stress job and a demanding family and then hound in until it collapses under the pressure.

The bread lady showed up (is there a fancy term for the bread lady, like sommelier for the wine dude?) and offered us a selection of breads.  I went with the french and it was so good I didn’t venture to the other sorts.  The butter was sublime and I think I saw the wrapper in the kitchen, confirming my suspicion that it was Vermont Butter and Cheese company butter, the kind that has sea salt chunks in it.  mmmmm.

Our first official course was a tasting of beets.  I imagined a row of different sorts of beets, maybe with a fancy sauce each, but no!  The weird beet meringue was back, this time in a long cylinder.  There were also poached beets and raw beets and, I think a couple of turnip chunks.  It came with that goat cheese mousse and was just delicious.  It might have been our favorite course.  And it was beets, of all things, a vegetable I didn’t even like until this year.  It was a shining testament to the fact that simple food, prepared perfectly does not have to be fancy (okay, the fluffy beet tube was pretty fancy.  But the other beets were just…beets).  All the dishes were just beautiful, too, and we could see the chef placing everying Just So.

Next came a shitake mushroom veloute with a sabayon of pine nuts (translates to smooth buttery mushroom sauce/soup topped with a smooth fluffy pine nut sauce) served layered so that it looked a bit like a black and white cookie from Brooklyn.  It had the occasional bit of thai basil flower in it, creating these little bursts of anise flavor.  Pheonmenal.  I seriously wondered if anyone would notice if I licked the bowl.  Maybe I should have caused a distraction…”Hey!  Brad Pitt just went into the main dining room!  Hurry!” nom nom nom.

Third course: Fennel and Farro risotto.  I had to look this one up, as I didn’t know what farro was and was suprised when my RISotto appeared to be made of wheat berries.  Farro, it appears, is some sort of ancient wheat that turns up in Italian food.  So, you know, wheat berries.  Which is not to say it wasn’t yummy, because oh it was.  It was topped with beets (it’s what’s in season, and lord knows they work ’em). and had a really rich, full flavor.  If I hadn’t been assured it was all vegetarian, I’d have sworn there was a meat base to the stock.

The final savoury course was an eggplant confit on cannelini beans.  Confit, it turns out, means that a food has been preserved in its own fat, more or less.  Clearly that was not the case here, but whatever it meant, it was the only time I’ve ever really enjoyed eggplant.  Not at all mushy or oily, it was toothy and flavorful.  There was a really nice smokey taste in there somewhere as well.  As will all the other dishes, each bit was delicious on its own, but really fablulous when eaten all together.

There was kind of a long wait for our final course, a tasting of apples.  I kind of thought they forgot to give it to us.  We got the madiera, we got coffee….then they brought us a little cake with a candle on top to wish us happy anniversary.  It was, of course, very yummy.  We’d only had a couple of bites when the apples arrived.  This was the only real bungle in the service, I’m not sure what order things were supposed to have gone in, but as it was we got madiera, a wait, then coffee, then a wait, then cake and then the final course right on top.  I’d have liked to have had the madiera and the apples and then the cake with coffee.  As a final touch we got a tray with a fruit square (more please!), biscotti, and some chocolates (meh.  AND I was full, but I left those alone after one bite).

Other stuff: We both had the wine pairing.  I wouldn’t bother in the future.  I’d never done a wine pairing before, so I was curious, but the fact is, I don’t like white wine.  I’d just get a nice pinot noir and be done with it.  Also, I’m pretty sure the sommelier is just making stuff up.  “This wine is from the Fredonian region of Provolone.  The terrior suggests a hint of manganese and the floral notes of acidopholus.  The winemaker only smokes clove cigarettes so that his ash can complement this vintage.”  Then he takes it to the next table and tells them it’s made by blind elves in the center of a hollow tree.  Sure, okay.  Steve was reasonably certain there’s just one big vat of white wine with a bunch of tubes leading out, each labeled with a different varietel.  But it’s all Franzia in a box to us.  The reds were really nice, though.  And I LOVED that Madeira.  I was the driver, so I was just having a sip or two of each wine.  I should have just mooched off of Steve and saved a bit of dough.

Service: Aside from the dessert glitch, the service was impeccable.  Efficient, polite, well-trained.  They never made me feel like a clodhopper.  Best of all?  I don’t know ANY of their names.  None of them told me.  Which is good because I. don’t care.  Our main waitress clearly watches Mad Men and gave us a Joan-like “of course” at every request.  It was pretty amusing.  Since I’d just read the Bourdain book and have a bit of a thing for Gordon Ramsay shows, I was expecting a foul-mouthed chef yelling at Central American cooks, but no.  It was all but silent, with the cooks working diligently. In fact, we became convinced that we were looking at a sham kitchen and somewhere in the back there’s a lot of yelling and clanging pots and sudden fires.  There wasn’t even anyone calling orders.  They just seem to know what to cook.

And they know how to cook.   Volt is one of the best restaurants I’ve visited.  I just wish I wasn’t going to need to squirrel away money for a year to go again.  We’ll go a la carte next time as Steve wants more of the steak and I would like a trough of soup and wheelbarrowfull of beety poofs.

Ethnic Grocery–Russian!

19 08 2008

Little makes me as happy as an ethnic grocery of some sort.  The less familiar I am with the food the happier I am.  It’s like a little vacation in an exotic local–new smells, unfamiliar language, packaging that doesn’t look like what you see at Giant Eagle.  One of my favorite grocery experiences was at the Carribean place on the corner of N.Market and 7th St.  The carried a product called “Dried Snails on a Stick.”  And it appeared to be–wait for it–dried snails on a stick.  There were meats in the coolers I couldn’t identify with a forensics expert.  Blackened and haphazardly hacked.   I maintain that it looks as if some animals were herded into the shop.  The coolers were opened and a bomb went off.  Then the coolers were closed.  Eat up!  Hot sauce that would curl you hair, too.   There wasn’t enough there for a vegetarian that I’ve been back, but it makes me happy to see it there.

My newest discovery is the Russian market on the corner of E.Church and East St.  It’s in that location that people keep opening delis.  Steve and I often wonder what makes the 3rd guy think HIS deli will thrive when the previous two have closed within months?   I think it changed hands 5 or 6 times in the 8 years we lived downtown.  Well now it’s a deli/grocery specializing…okay pretty much exclusively carrying, Russian and other Slavic foods.  I know NOTHING about Russian food or language.  The girl working in the store very sweetly escorted me around trying to tell me what things were.  Most packaging has some English on it–at least an ingredients list–so it wasn’t a total walk in the dark.

My family loves Halvah–traditionally a sweet sesame paste.  Ben likes that traditional kind, but most of the rest of us find it bitter.  We loved, however, the sunflower seed halvah we found at the European Market (that’s what it’s called.  Even though most of its food is techincally Asian).  I always have to sample the sweets of other lands.  It’s a pretty safe bet that the candy bar doesn’t have meat, even in Slavic countries.  We got a pretty tasty vegetable pate in a jar and I saw a lot of pickles.  Other than that, well, you’re left with a few cheeses.  It’s a meaty place, so if just seeing meat skeeves you, you might oughta stay out.  I’m hearty farm girl stock, though, so I spent a good long time poking around.  I visited twice, once getting mostly sweets (you can get various chocolates by the pound, and they have some yummy German Kinder chocolate as well).

My second trip, I got some kefir cheese, which I’d never tried.  Kefir is a terrific source of probiotics and can often be digested even by people with sesitivities to most dairy (your mileage may vary).  The cheese is textured like feta, but flavored like cream cheese.  I find I like it crumbled on my salad.  I got a whipped butter, which was disappointing.  Not the grand European butter experience I’d hoped for, but the kids like it b/c it spreads easily.  From the freezer, I got…crud, I through out the package and I wont remember what they were called..but they were like teeny pieroges–pasta stuffed with potatoes and fried onions.  I boiled them and served them mixed with broccoli and cherry tomatoes.  Simple and kind of bland, but the kids LOVED it.  I have to go back and try the feta, it comes in such huge blocks I was daunted.

It’s tiny and cramped, but certainly worth a field trip, if only to gawk and pick up a Kinder Egg before you go.  Support diversity of cuisine!

August Cornucopia

11 08 2008

Walking into the Saturday Farmer’s Market in August just makes me happy.  So much food!  And look at all those people!  I like to start on the far side–near South Mountain’s booth–and work my way over.  I’m not sure what farm I hit first, as they had no sign, but the guy behind the counter said that a chef from Volt had just been by.  That bodes well, I think.  Can’t wait to see if they’re offering some critter-free yumminess!

I got a LOT of food.  Beets, greens, lettuces, onions, melon, blackberries, cukes, corn, herbs, beans, potatoes, and more.   I got 25 pounds of tomato seconds for 20 bucks from Summer Creek farm.  They’re organic, so that’s a fantastic deal.  Rick Hood, the owner, said he brings 2 boxes of seconds every week, but if you want to reserve a box, to give him a call at 301-271-9399.  I didn’t get to the box until Sunday, and I only had to throw one small tomato out and cut out one bad place from another.  For “seconds,” they were in great shape and tasted fantastic.

The weather is good, so I’m canning!  We don’t have central air, so the thought of heating up the kitchen in August is usually daunting, but this is the perfect week to can.  I felt like I worked my butt off, but when I think of the shelves and shelves of food my mom used to put up every summer?  I’m a huge wimp.  I got several jars each of dill and sweet pickles,  about 4 pints of salsa, 3 wee jelly jars of pickled roasted jalapenos, 3 quarts plus 2 pints of tomatoes.  Won’t get us through the winter, but it’s still nice to see.

I shouldn’t be telling you this…

16 07 2008

I probably should keep this a secret so that you don’t run out and buy them all and leave me waiting for the next shipment.  I’m a giver, though.  I’m just great like that.

Okay, you know the Asian Supermarket?  It’s on W. Patrick Street, just as you leave the Downtown, in that shopping center with Mexicali Cantina.  First: great store.  Owners are super nice, more selection than you could imagine being crammed into such a small space.  And Bubble Tea.  And fresh soft tofu for only 50 cents a block.  Seriously!  My kids eat that stuff like normal children eat candy.  although mine eat candy too (esp. candy from the Asian Supermarket–Hello Kitty Lips!).  Anyway.  I found this wonderful thing back when I’d totally cut out all sweet cookie like things and was looking for something reasonably virtuous that I could add back to my diet.  I found it by accident, having purchased the bag simply b/ there was no way to tell what on earth it was.  The packaging is illustrated with many sorts of beans.  Once I got it home, I saw the little seal that says “Vegetarian health food.  Delicious nutrition. Egg yolk biscuit.”  But when I bought it, I’d only seen the ingredients: brown rice, husked lotus, pearl barley, buckwheat, oatmeal, pea, small red bean, black glutinous rice, corn, egg powder, vegetable oil, sugar, soy sauce powder, glucose.

pei tien 99 biscuits

They most remind me of those wafer cookies with all the layers of ice cream cone like stuff with vanilla creme.  Not quite, but close.  And GOOD.  The owner of the market told me they always have an open bag in the store.  Which may explain why they’re often gone form the shelves.   In two cookies, you get 106 calories, 1g of fat and 3 g of protein.  They’re practically a good for you!  Hooray for Taiwan!

Let’s eat!

6 07 2008

My kids didn’t have a swim meet this week, so I got to the Baughman’s Lane Farmer’s Market–woo!  I like to start at the far left side, the side where South Mountain Creamery sets up.  I first bought two potted herbs–rosemary, which we all know and love and I didn’t manage to plant at a normal time, and dwarf curry, which I’ve never even heard of.  It smells like curry powder.  I know that curry powder is a mixture of other spices, so I have no idea what this little guy’s deal is, but I love him.  Herb guy said to bring it in over the winter.  Will do.  Over to Glade Link for 3 qts of blueberries.   Then I meandered around, gathering beets, kale, chicory, romaine, onions, potatoes, snow peas, and cucumbers.  Finished up at Scenic View, buying apricots and corn and two kinds of cherries.  Got home and find I’d never actually picked up the cherries. Grr.  I’ll head up to Catoctin Orchard this week and snag some more.

Fresh corn (picked that morning, they told me!) means fire up the grill.  Dinner was my favorite–just piles of fresh, unadorned vegetables.  Summer food at its finest.  Took this pic before the taters were off the grill, so add them in mentally.


Broccoli was the last from my OWN garden.  I’d need a full farm to support us, I think.  I remember back to my dad’s garden–it was such a pain in my rear, all that odious weeding and harvesting–and realize I’d need one the same giant size to be able to have home grown food in the winter.  Um…thank goodness for grocery stores?  I prefer to keep my canning and freezing to whim-inspired, not necessity-driven.