Ann’s Dari-Creme

Ann’s Dari-Creme, Glen Burnie, MD

I was joking around about local hot dog spots (see “What’s So Great About Ben’s Chili Bowl?“) and mentioned I might check out Ann’s Dari-Creme in Glen Burnie, MD — a tiny little place which looks even tinier since a shopping mall sprang up behind it. I had heard about it years ago when I first moved to the Annapolis, MD area from a friend who had grown up in that area, but I never bothered to check it out. I wasn’t inclined to go out of my way for a hot dog.  But, after I mentioned it in my other post I had to look it up to create the website link (they don’t have their own website, but I linked to the section about them) and I discovered that it’s considered quite the little local gem. There’s an article in the Washington Post that I never could get to load, and allegedly an article in the Washingtonian that I couldn’t actually read because I refused to sign up and make an account just to read about hot dogs. (Clearly my research strategies are rather lazy on this topic). I can provide, however, the link to the reviews, the format of which I used to be very fond of back before I consigned myself to the endless grind of student-dom and signed away any possibility of having the time or money to do anything fun or actually travel somewhere more than 25 miles away.

I heard it can get nutso in there so I went to check them out on a quiet Wednesday night. The sign outside declares they’ve been there for over 62 years. It’s a small place, very intimate, and I had to step right up to the counter without preamble. There were people waiting for their food all quiet as could be. I was not prepared. I got flustered.

This is how confident Ann’s Dari-Creme is: there are only three mains on the menu – six, if you count ordering something with or without cheese as a separate choice – no descriptions, no elaborations. I ordered the Famous Foot-Long and when she asked me what I wanted on it, I blanked.

“Everything?” she prodded.

Ummmm. I looked at the sign. No clues. Onions? Relish? Ketchup? What’s “Everything”?

I didn’t ask.

Seconds ticked by as I imagined how you could put ketchup on a dog and then fry it. I pictured them dressing the dog and then putting the whole thing in the fryer, like a deep fried Twinkie. Impossible. I couldn’t make it add up, and she was waiting. I blurted out “relish and mustard” which is weird since I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a hot dog without ketchup before, and then I wondered if I was sweating. And why was it so infernally quiet in there? I also ordered, for market research purposes, a half a cheesesteak — another oddity since I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve deigned to order a cheesesteak outside of the Philadelphia area. There must’ve been a funny moon out that night.

I sat at the counter waiting for my order and listened to everyone else who came in. They all knew what was up. They sounded like they had been ordering the same thing for 30 years. I quickly realized I had made a mistake — I should’ve gotten “Everything” since “Everything” meant chili. Rats! Now I was just getting a stupid old dog. Without ketchup, no less. Lame.

My dog came and it looked mighty lonely wrapped up in that big bun without any chili on it. A foot-long sounds big, right? They’re actually not very big. They are about the diameter of my index finger, max, not like the hot dogs you get at a ballgame or picnic. And I have a thing about excess bun on things, so I cropped all the excess bun off my dog and thought about how to get my order right next time. My new plan: The Double Dog, Half Order. Yes. Think about that for a second. But, a half a double dog is like just getting a single dog, right? Right. Same amount of dog, half the bun. It’s genius! Now, on to the cheesesteak.

I can be real snotty about my cheesesteaks, but I have to tell you something about this one hit me the right way. The bread wasn’t Amoroso’s, of course, but they used thin minute steaks, so that worked for me. You know how some places try to jazz it up by using thinly sliced ribeye or some such nonsense? Nope, give me that shaved beef, preferably pressed into an unnatural sheet of meat so that when you throw it on the flattop you have to chop it up again with your grill spatula. Then give me those fried onions that still have some bite to them and shove it in a soft hoagie roll…That’s the business. It was tasty.

After I got home I revisited the reviews on TripAdvisor and realized everything I had needed to know had been there all along: order an “Everything” or an “Everything, no onions” or everyone will know you are a loser. Sigh. Next time.

Fast forward to: Next Time

This time I’m sure I’ll get it right. It’s daytime, so I can see they have a sign outside — a newbie cheatsheet- that breaks it down for you about how to order (so that’s how those TripAdvisor reviewers had it together so fast!). I discover you can request your hot dog onions grilled, so I do this, but it appears I used too many words for that request because the counter gal looked at me very tiredly and shorthanded it back to me. I was so consumed with getting the fried onion lingo down that I forgot my clever trick of ordering the Half Double. Sigh. Oh well. Next time. Practice makes perfect.

Foot-Long with Everything, Fried. Next time I’ll get the Half Double with Everything, Fried, which will put the whole hot dog in just half the bun. Perfect!

Ann’s was crowded this time and I sat at the counter waiting for my dog watching the ladies sling hot dogs. These gals are serious. Nobody writes anything down. The one taking the orders, Lady A, tells the one working the grill, Lady B, as she puts out the right numbers of rolls for her. Everything (that I saw ordered each time I was there, anyway) goes on the same roll, a sub roll, so that certainly doesn’t help them keep it straight. At one point the lady at the grill, Lady B, had fifteen — yes, I counted them — identical rolls laid out in front of her and she just kept on keeping on. Over the next five minutes she filled every one of those rolls without saying a word. Then Lady A takes them back, bags them up — I have no idea how she knows which thing goes with which order since they are all wrapped in the same white paper — calls them out, the people pay and everyone is happy. It was fascinating to watch.

I learned a lot sitting there. For instance, I learned that you can get a gigantic soft serve cone with rainbow sprinkles (“jimmies”) for $2.45. I learned that people in Glen Burnie love their Double Dogs with Everything. And I learned I would never be able to work there since I can’t remember any order for more than 5 seconds. Those ladies must have photographic memories. Like I said, practice makes perfect.

Just so you know, Ann’s also serves french fries in a cup (“boardwalk”-style), shakes and those soft-serve cones I mentioned. They also have soft-serve sundaes and one of the toppings is wet walnut, which you don’t see much these days. That might be a trip all its own.

Would I trek to Ann’s from afar? No. Would I go back if I was cruising by and got a bee in my bonnet for a hot dog or (kinda) cheesesteak? Totally. And next time I’ll slide in and out like a Dari Creme pro.

Cash only. Or, you can use the ATM inside.

What a happy dog!

Wye Mill? Wye Not!

Flour bags

Every now and then I feel the need to go see a historic mill in action. You know I have a thing for colonial things. Doesn’t everyone? Fortunately, I live just about an hour away from historic Wye Mill. Wye Grist Mill, located in Wye, Maryland, borders Talbot and Queen Anne’s counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s the oldest working mill in Maryland (1682) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The mill is open from April to November and they mill flour about two weekends a month. I had tried going to Wye Mill once before many years ago but, of course, I arrived on a non-grinding day. Now my baking class was scheduled to go on a field trip in a few weeks to see the milling but I had a prior commitment. So, I resolved to check it out on my own. Wye Mill visit, Take II.

I had heard great things about fresh flour. I wanted some freshly milled flour ground before my very own eyes. The excitement! The very earthiness of it all! I would buy buckwheat and corn and wheat and make wholesome grainy treats. It would be my own personal Little House on the Prairie tableau. Like the food nerd I am, I was actually looking forward to this. So, naturally, something went wrong.

It was a fine Indian Summer kind of day, perfect for motoring around looking at historic sites (and stopping at the outlet malls, but that’s an aside). Blue skies, puffy clouds, the air redolent with rusticity and rural-ness — imagine birds chirping on gentle breezes and you’ve got your vibe. I roll into the mill on this cloud of contentment and anticipation to claim my grains. And sitting before me is one grand but silent grinder. No water wheel turning. No grinding stones a’grindin’…roto. Broken. It seems the mill broke down pretty much as I walked in. I believe I saw the last motes of flour dust settling into place as somewhere the mill gods laughed — foiled again!

Goodbye buckwheat pancakes and hush puppies! Never mind that I can make these anytime I want since I live in America, the land of year-round food opportunity. I did buy some flour milled on the previous grinding day — two weeks old, bah! — still probably the freshest flour I’ve ever had, but that’s not the point.

It seems that whatever stopped the grinder has laid it low for the rest of the season. There will be no more milling at Wye Mill this year. I guess I’ll have to give it a go next April.

(Click on photos for slideshow.)

Flatbreads: Griddle Me This

Brushing the naan with garlic butter

There must be something in the air about flatbreads because right after I mentioned them in “ A Month of Bread Making” a blog post byThe Way The Cookie Crumbles titled “Flatbreads With Honey, Sea Salt and Thyme” fell into my inbox. The photos are lovely and the flatbread looks very delicious.

Flatbreads are some of the oldest types of bread in the world. They can be made from almost any type of grain, tubers, or even pulses like lentils and chickpeas. They can be leavened or unleavened, griddled, baked, fried — you name it. Flatbreads are very accommodating. And very easy! Naan, tortillas, crepes, paratha, lavash, pita, matzoh, injera — all flatbreads.

Here’s how we did it — with an order of bagels thrown in for kicks (click for slideshow).

Every Baby Is A Cute Baby

This isn’t mine. Swearsies.

If you’ve been following, you know that I’m busy shaping and scoring bread. Bread dough is an ornery thing, and shaping it without deflating it entirely (bad) or overworking it so that it gets cranky, resists your every effort and needs to be put down for a nap (time delay) is most complex. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

At this stage in the game we pretty much all suck, but the pastry students like to look at the culinary students and laugh at the way they shape bread because while nobody really knows yet who has The Touch, it’s pretty darn clear Who Doesn’t — and they’re generally Culinary. I only know this because they’re usually grumbling about how they hate baking while they run their blades through the dough in the same spot over and over (a no-no. If you don’t get the score right the first time, walk away; it’s dead to you. It makes it ten times worse to try to saw the blade through again).

So this lovely loaf in the photo, above, turned up at the table next to mine. We were all ogling it for the train wreck it was, but were trying not to be gauche about it.

I happened to have my phone out snapping pictures of my own loaves and I couldn’t resist trying to cop a feel on this beauty.

I sidled over all nonchalant and went in for a shot but the owner turned around right as I framed up and said, “Are you taking a picture of my loaf??”

And I said, “Nope, I’m texting” and pretended I was texting. When I obviously wasn’t texting.

So busted. And since my table partner couldn’t stop laughing, I sighed and said, “Yes.” And then took the shot.

Think I might say something smooth after that? Something consoling and appropriately optimistic?

I shrugged and said, “Every baby is a cute baby.” And then I beat it out of there.

Every baby is a cute baby.


Sorry, I’m still kinda laughing, actually.

Maybe you had to be there.

Let this be a cautionary tale to you.  If you’re going to laugh at other people’s messed up loaves — which you should, because it’s funny — have the decency to do it from your own lab table using the zoom lens.

A Month of Bread Making

The little darlins coming out.

You might wonder what I’ve been up to since the whole “preferments and degas” tomfoolery. Well, more pre-ferments and de-gassing. We in HRM-201 Intermediate Breads have spent our first month of Wednesday labs making biga, then pate fermentee, then biga, then pate fermentee…then biga… well, you catch my drift. This might lead you to think making biga and pate fermentee are hard. Au contraire; they’re not so hard. It’s everything that comes after that’s the trick: the shaping, the scoring, the steam injection.

Well, the steam injection is no big deal. It’s really the shaping and the scoring. That’s hard. So we did that a few times and while you think that would make me better at it, it didn’t. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

We ended with a look-see at baguette just to make us feel even lamer about our shaping skills. But, as the French say, c’est la vie!

Here’s my first month of bread making in review.

Week one: Meet my new friends biga and pate fermentee. Weeks Two and Three had nothing much of note, except a little shout-out to the Kitchen Aid we killed (RIP, mon frere), and some fancy shaping. But Week Four! The shaping! The flouring! The bannetons! The mess!

And, for the finale, le baguette. Just click on a photo if you want le slide show.

Next week, Soakers and Flatbreads!

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Adding the hot grilled peach to the freshly minted soft serve blew the aesthetic, but since I like to slurp my ice cream anyway, I didn’t mind.

In my post “The Ice Cream Man Might Drive Me Crazy” I told you how much I’d love to make ice cream but just can’t cotton to having many quarts of ice cream in my freezer into perpetuity. Not only do I not have the freezer space (I still have cookies and rolls from last semester’s baking class and this semester’s baking class just started), it’s not good for you.

So full of excuses! Rationalizations! A true ice cream maker would buy a second freezer and churn away into the night like a mad creamery scientist, right? Well.

Enter Fortune. I killed my oddly expensive Little Green carpet cleaner by letting my oh-so-natural vinegar-and-water solution (so superior to commercially scented products! so chemical free! so groovy!) sit in the tank. I had been vaguely wondering why my closet smelled like vinegar every time I went in there for something…it was because the vinegar — surprise! — had eaten away at all the rubber seals and gaskets and the bottom had basically fallen out of the contraption without my noticing. Don’t be surprised — this kind of thing is actually a routine occurrence for me. But, I’m trying to explain why I happened to alter my regular routine and found myself in a Super Goodwill looking for somebody else’s  discarded handheld carpet spot cleaner — the whole other-people’s-trash-is-my-treasure sort of thing. Naturally, I didn’t find one, but I did find a bitchin’ piece of vintage Tupperware (no, not the deviled egg keeper — La Fortune’s not THAT sweet) and this: the Hamilton Beach 1/2 pint ice cream maker. $3. Yippee! Imagine my delight. It’s on.

This one isn’t mine — mine is blue, is missing one bowl and the manual — but this is the Half Pint Ice Cream Maker in its Platonic form.

And, can I tell you that right after that, no less than four ice cream recipes came my way via other food blogs? Coupled with the other half dozen ice cream recipes roosting in my inbox right now, I figured it was time. Just in time for autumn, when people tend to want ice cream the most, yes.

First, I decided to make vanilla. Start at the beginning, right? Keep it simple?  But then I decided to grill some peaches to go with it…and doesn’t honey go well with peaches? And don’t I just happen to have a recipe for Honey Ice Cream culled from the food blog The Way The Cookie Crumbles? Well, yes. So it was Honey Ice Cream — with some vanilla bean paste thrown in for good measure because I CAN’T JUST LEAVE IT ALONE —  scaled down from y= 1 quart to y= 6 oz.

Prepping the little guy: cold ice cream base, frozen bowl. See how tiny he is?!

My Lil’ Mini is  ready to go.

Next, I decided on Lemon Buttermilk Sorbet. I came across this recipe in the comments section of a website when I was searching for advice on my new Lil’ Mini. Since I was sans instruction manual, I was boning up on soft-serve strategies using the glorious inter-web. If you find yourself in possession of a Hamilton Beach Half Pint Soft Serve Ice Cream Maker and want some advice, click here.  The recipe for Lemon Buttermilk Sorbet turns out to be from (68 reviewers gave it an average of 4 forks). I had lemons and buttermilk on hand (doesn’t everyone?), so this recipe proved to be a snap. Plus, I felt very virtuous since there wasn’t any cream in it. And, I love lemons.

Buttermilk Sorbet

When I was feeling less virtuous, I decided to try Cooking Light’s version, which is, ironically, not as “light” as the recipe from since it combines buttermilk with whole milk and half-and-half. Cream sure does make for the delicious, doesn’t it?

Buttermilk Sorbet, but with cream and milk. Does that mean it’s not sorbet?

For my next trick, I chose something a little more exotic: Coconut Red Bean Ice Cream. I found this recipe on a blog called Butter is Beautiful. If you read my post “Cuckoo For Coconut!”  you’ll remember I’m in a coconut phase, so you can see how coconut ice cream would intrigue me. This recipe also happens to be vegan, but shhhhh! or nobody will try it.

The making of the Coconut Red bean Ice Cream. I made the red bean paste, on the right, a day or two ahead. It’s no sweat.

This recipe involves coconut milk mixed together with red bean paste, which you can buy at an Asian market. Or, if you are already making red beans and rice since you have to use up the smoked pork you still have from your ham-buying frenzy earlier in the summer (see “The Aisle of Ham“), you can just set a portion of red beans aside after soaking and cook it off separately from the savory dish. Red bean paste is very easy to make.  You can see its appearance in the photo above.  Try it, except don’t put the red bean paste in the saucepan — that was a mistake — it actually gets stirred in after the concoction comes off the heat. It smelled extremely good in the making.

Coconut Red Bean Ice Cream. It was exceptionally creamy and delightful.

This ice cream may have been my favorite of the three only because it is a bit exotic. The coconut milk gives it a unique creaminess, and the red bean paste, while sweet, has an almost savory aspect to it. It’s a nice contrast. Plus, I liked the texture.

Overall, I’m very pleased with my newest uni-tasker. I believe the Goodwill did me right. It’s nice to be able to run up some ice cream in a jiff, and since I actually prefer soft-serve to hardened ice cream, I’m happy as a clam. Its half pint status suits my lifestyle and I can see myself using it enough to cover its $3 price tag. I’ll wager I will use it a lot more often than the mini pie maker I bought in a moment of holiday shopping weakness last December…although there’s still time to redeem myself on that one since pie season is a’comin’…But, before that, there are ice cream recipes galore to explore. Why, not three days ago another tasty recipe dropped into my inbox. It’s Ezra Pound Cake’s Maple Gelato, and goodness knows I enjoy a maple ice cream…

What’s So Great About Ben’s Chili Bowl?

Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington, D.C. staple.

There are certain places you grow up with that become frozen in time and space as favorites — even if they no longer deserve it.  I found this out the hard way when my aunts came to visit me a few years ago in California. They arrived after dinner time and were hungry, but not in the mood for a meal. I knew just the place to take them.

Ask anyone who grew up in Berkeley the abbreviated question, “Blondie’s or Fat Slice?” and they should, if they’re legit, answer you immediately.  For me, it was always Blondie’s so I drove my aunts to Telegraph Avenue – and met the cliche, “My how the mighty have fallen.” Telegraph at 9:30 p.m. on a weeknight was empty and forbidding. When did it become so ratty? There was an active disagreement in progress between Berkeley Police and a homeless man on the sidewalk outside of Blondie’s, but we went in anyway and ordered our slices. I saw everything through the eyes of a visitor, one who hadn’t grown up here, hadn’t taken the bus here with high school friends on a Saturday night when being out of the house was exciting and the collective energy was pumped up. I’m sure my aunts were wondering why on earth I would bring them to this place as their entree to California’s sparkling reputation as all things vibrant and cool.  It was a grim experience.

Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., consistently makes the list of must-eats for D.C. but I have never gone. Travel all the way to D.C. for a hot dog stand? I love hot dogs, but I don’t consider them a main event. Hot dogs are the kind of things you eat when you’ve been at a barbecue all day and are peckish but not hungry enough for another hamburger. I wondered if Ben’s was to D.C. what Blondie’s was to the East Bay — just a nostalgic memory suspended in time. But, they DO keep making the Must-Eat lists, so…let’s give it a whirl.

Ben’s Chili Bowl Menu.

I trekked out the the NW (D.C. addresses are divided into quadrants) on a beautiful September day to experience this hot dog mecca. And it was good. I had the Original Chili Half-Smoke, Bill Cosby’s favorite, and an order of the Chili-Cheese Fries (I swear I wouldn’t normally order these both in one sitting, but I wasn’t driving all the way back out there just for chili fries so I took one for the (blog) team and thought about the long, heart-healthy treadmill session I’d be doing to make up for it).

There was a long line (which boded well) but the good thing about that is that I had plenty of time to stare at the the hot dog griddle, which was lovely.

Griddle me this, Batman.

My half-smoke was quite tasty, as were the chili-cheese fries, and if I were in the area I would definitely go back for some good grub. Plus, I have to say the employees were SUPER nice. I think that might have impressed me most of all, actually — they were so polite and professional even though the place is very casual and was crazy crowded. The manager even came by our table to see how things were going! Nicely done, Ben’s.

Original Chili Half-Smoke

Chili-Cheese Fries

I can see why Ben’s holds onto its place in the hearts of D.C. locals. There’s nothing like a hot dog to make you feel young again. I still think of them as street snack food, like when you grab one from a street cart in Manhattan, but when a chili dog is done right it really hits the spot. Makes me want to check out this local place I’ve driven by for years but never gone to…here I come, Ann’s Dari-Creme… I hear they do a mean fried hot dog.

Year Two Begins: Of Preferments and Degas.

School started two weeks ago. I’m taking three classes and teaching two. Of the classes that I need and am taking right now for my Culinary Arts Entrepreneurship Certificate, two are business related (Small Business Accounting, and Legal Issues for Small Businesses), and one is culinary: Intermediate Breads. One of the textbooks we are using for this breads class is Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and, so far, it is fantastic. In preparation of the first day of class, I downloaded and printed all the syllabus material so I could read through it and set up my binder with all the necessary tabs and sections. Yes, I am that kind of student.

People close to me have often wondered aloud how I make it through life in one piece. It’s true I’m kind of clumsy, but that’s not what I mean. Bizarre stuff happens to me constantly, some of it random, some of it self-induced through — well, I don’t know through what — absentmindedness? Friendly recklessness? Who knows, but it happens. It’s widely understood by my nearest and dearest that I have the dumbest luck possible. My aunts won’t let me touch their lottery tickets — they don’t want the juju on them. And I totally agree with them. I have a whole list of stories I could tell — funny, ones, too! — but I won’t because they make me look like an idiot. But I will tell you this one since it has to do with school:

So, I’m making my HRM -124 Intermediate Breads binder and as I skim around the assignments and such I keep seeing this word “preferment” as in, “add your preferment.”  The first time I saw it, I noted it as curious – a preferment. Hmm. Then I saw it again: “preferment” and again I wondered about it in my mind, “Hmmm,that’s interesting. A preferment. Something which you prefer. I wonder what that means — nuts? poppy seeds? baker’s choice? Hmm. ” I like words and I think about words a lot — I am an English teacher, after all —  so let’s just say I gave it some idle thought as I got my materials ready. Preferment.

Day One arrives. We start going over the syllabus. Chef begins talking about yeast, and the fermenting process. Reading this, you’ve probably already figured it out, but not me, not yet. It took several more minutes of class lecture for it to finally — finally — dawn on me: it wasn’t “preferment,” it was “pre-ferment” – something you use to improve the fermenting process. Ugh. I actually started laughing in class and told my neighbors, who looked at me strangely (already marking me as weirdo, I’m sure. Sigh). To be fair, the word as written in the materials lacked hyphenation, and its un-hyphenated form  is a word in its own right, so I kept reading it literally and thinking it must be some kind of baking lingo.

The funky spelling of this threw me off the scent for years.

It was years — years, and I’m not kidding — before I realized the Chick-Fila, the fast food chicken restaurant — was pronounced “Chick Fillet.” Every time I saw the sign I read it just as written, which sounds, to me, like “Chick Feel-a.” And I never understood why they would name it Chick Feel-a. No kidding. But I don’t feel bad about this because I think intentionally misspelling words for effect is dumb — you, too, Krispy Kreme, no matter how good your donuts are.

Would it have killed you to spell it correctly, Krispy Kreme?

Fast forward to Week Two.  Of course I’ve read over all the recipes before class noticing that in one of the recipes (or, “formulas” if you want to be cool) you are meant to “degas it as little as possible.” Hmm. Degas. What style is that? Some French technique we haven’t learned yet, I guess, but I don’t take the time to look it up in the glossary since I am in a hurry.

I’m totally serious.

To “degas” is not what you think it is…
(Edgar Degas, Dance Class at the Opera)

It wasn’t until I was IN LAB ACTUALLY MAKING THE DOUGH that I put it together. Like an actual lightbulb going on overhead. I told my lab partner, who was a cool enough chick to think it was funny, too, and we had a good laugh. Ah, baking lab. What a kick.

For those of you other super-literalists out there like me, if there are any, to “degas” is to de-gas. Not French at all.

When Life Gives You A CSA Box, Make Hash.

Plated Potato and Sweet Potato Hash with Fried Egg Over Easy

A CSA box dropped into my lap yesterday. I’ve never had one before, so I got busy thinking about how I’m going to hustle through my surprise bounty of green beans, cherry tomatoes, baby beets, new potatoes, watermelons (2!) and a handful of little banana peppers. I already had some beets and baby sweet potatoes from my visit to the produce stand en route to the shore last week (see “Of Shore Food, Which is Good Fun, And Hermit Crabs”), so a green bean/roasted beet/cherry tomato salad with sun-dried tomatoes, feta and pine nuts was a given, but what to do with some of the other goodness? Someone suggested Sweet Potato Hash. This sounded suspect to me, so I looked it up on the internet (wait, I get my legitimacy from the internet?) and, indeed, there it was: scads of recipes for sweet potato hash. When I saw the second ingredient was bacon, I jumped in.

I happen to love hash of all sorts and got busy with some Red Flannel Hash when I was in a beet phase last Spring (remember Beet Carpaccio? From Easter?). What I didn’t know until today is that it is common for Red Flannel Hash to include sweet potatoes. Ahhh. Full circle.  Let’s do them all!

First, the bacon, then the onions, then some yellow peppers that have been waiting to make themselves useful. It was lacking some green color, so I threw in a jalapeno. Next, the sweet potatoes and the new potatoes, and 1/4 red onion I found in the fridge.

Cooked bacon, and onions cooking in bacon fat

Add the white potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, etc.

You could stop there and plate it up for a regular hash, but…

Potato and sweet potato hash with bacon, jalapeno, crushed thyme and chives.

Then I added some of the beets I roasted last night. Oh, and a few yellow squash currently lacking a purpose. You could stop there, but…

Add the beets for a Red Flannel Hash

Then the piece de resistance, the jewel, the kapow: yes, of course I mean a fried egg! And some chives since it’s still lacking some color but I suppose people who cook kitchen-sink style can’t be too picky.

Plated Red Flannel Hash, sans egg

Red Flannel Hash with Fried Egg Sunny Side Up

Needless to say, it was grub.

In looking all this up afterwards, I found a recipe for Red Flannel Hash on which happens to be from Rick and Ann’s, in Berkeley, CA, which is my home stomping grounds. It’s tucked up alongside the dowager of resorts, The Claremont Hotel, so if you are staying there, pop in for breakfast at this little joint. Actually, if you are staying at the Claremont, you probably have your breakfast delivered to you and your cat, Mr. Whiskers, in bed on silver platters, so congratulations on that.

Now I need to get creative with some watermelon.

Of Shore Food, Which Is Great Fun, And Hermit Crabs

I went to the shore again. Last time, in my post “Of The Shore, Which Is A Weird Place” I found some strange and tantalizing road-trip goodies, like the funny-but-possibly-ominous chicken farm sign (click here if you’d like to revisit that trip), but I never got to salt water taffy or hermit crabs, so let’s start there.  Or, rather, let’s start on the way there.

There are two main ways to get to Rehoboth Beach, DE from Maryland. Last time I went one way. This time, I went the other.  The way I went this time is actually the way I am used to going (the way I went last time was kind of an accident. Any who know me will not be surprised) and I was looking forward to stopping by my “favorite” farm stand. I’ve only been there twice so I guess the criteria for “favorite” isn’t very high but the two times I went there they had a most prodigious collection of local honeys so I wanted to see what was going on with all that.

So I’m driving along, minding my business, if you will, and I begin to see the  “chicken bbq” signs I was telling you about last time and I thought to myself, “Oh, here we go again” and then a sign that said “pit beef” which, if you read my post on Maryland Pit Beef where I started out cautious but ended up in fandom, you’ll know that kind of sign would catch my eye. Then I see the pit beef cart, all locked up (bummer!) and in the next breath I see a storefront (sweet!) so I pull over rather dangerously and careen into the parking lot which was, fortunately for all involved, rather empty. And there, in all it’s glory, is Hot Off The Coals. They don’t have a website (although, it looks like one is in the works), but they do have a Facebook page, which you can see here.

Hot Off The Coals, MD Rt. 404 & Rt. 309, Queen Anne, MD

You’ve got to love a place where the pit is in the front parking lot and it’s guarded by a kicking bull with flaming red eyes. Better still, this pit beef shack is annexed to a gas station — win win!

Guess you don’t want to mess with the bull!

The pitmaster happened to be tending the pit at the very moment I approached and he very obligingly opened the pit for me to photograph. Sadly, the flames were kind of off the hook and he had to close it again rather quickly, but the smell was phenomenal.

What good timing! Thank you, Pitmaster.

I only had a second before the lid had to come down again…

I had a good feeling about this place. And I was right. The pit beef was delicious. Signage states they use apple and hickory wood, and it was a smoky delight. Done up with some sauce, horseradish and onions sliced so thin they were actually dainty, the sandwich had me humming. Or maybe that was partly the ringing in my ears from the horseradish, with which I was a little too enthusiastic (you can see it in the photo, below). For a few seconds I was actually crying a little, which seemed to faze my neighbor a bit. He was from Pennsylvania and wasn’t real sure what to expect.

Horseradish sure can surprise you…Stacked Pit Beef on a Kaiser roll

I liked this place so much that they got me coming, and then when it came time to drive home 9 hours later, they got me going, as well. That time I got the Stacked “Slaughterhouse” Beef Brisket on a Kaiser roll, and it was actually amazing. I highly recommend it.

Brisket on a Kaiser roll. Fantastic!

So, that was Hot Off the Coals. What a lucky find. Check ’em out. Now, on to the produce stand! While they seem to have scaled back their local honey collection (only 1 kind to be found), they had some very lovely produce and a basket I could buy to put it in to make me feel very Nantucket. And an elixir I wasn’t quite brave enough to try.


Tiniest little sweet potatoes! Aren’t they adorable?

Like Little Red Riding Hood!

Some of my finds. I bought some clearance basil plants — did you know there is a bush basil, too? — to try to plant them and get one more flush out of them before the weather cools.

You are probably wondering if I am ever going to get to Rehoboth and if you are, then you and I are on the same wavelength. But, as I like to remind myself, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” right? Right. So now that I am all kitted up, I can roll into town and catch a few rays. I came prepared this time with my backpack lounge chair and a fresh new roll of quarters.

And the beach was delightful and the water was cold. You should try it. And when it comes time to stock up on souvenirs, here’s what should be on your shortlist: salt water taffy, Fisher’s popcorn, and hermit crabs (although some may not appreciate the last one as much as the first two).

Dolle’s rules the roost on salt water taffy in the DelMarVa area.

Nostalgia decrees one eats certain foods while in certain places. At the carnival, it’s cotton candy. At the fair, it’s funnel cake. And at the beach, it’s salt water taffy. In Rehoboth, Dolle’s rules the roost in salt water taffy, but I grew up going to the Jersey shore, so for me it’s Fralingers. Fralingers and Atlantic City go hand in hand. Sometimes I’d ride along with my grandmother, Nona, on chartered bus trips to Atlantic City where you’d buy your bus ticket and they’d give you a voucher for  X amount of “casino quarters” back to cash in at the Taj Mahal, or Harrah’s, or whatever casino was booked for that day. Nona and I would play our $10 in quarters, then walk through the casino to get to the boardwalk and spend the day making our way up and then back down the boardwalk poking around in all the bizarre, cheesy knick-knack stores which constitute boardwalk shopping. We always came back with a box or two of taffy from Fralingers. You had to, really.

Fralingers Salt Water Taffy, Atlantic City, NJ

There were two salt water taffy shops on the Atlantic City boardwalk: James, and Fralingers.  When I was reading up on Fralingers, I learned that one family bought and now owns Fralingers, James, and a boardwalk chocolate shop called Bayards. There is actually an interesting video on the history of the three stores on You can also find it here, on YouTube. Fralingers also has a Wikipedia entry. If you’ve never had salt water taffy, try to imagine a candy with the chewy texture of caramels but with the fake fruity flavors of jelly beans. Kids love it, of course, and if you go on vacation a box of salt water taffy better show up in the office break room when you get back. It’s that kind of thing.

Rehoboth also boasts a rather tasty caramel corn from Fishers Popcorn. It’s made fresh on site and dumped hot into the front window case of the stores. Hot sugar is an interesting thing to me, so I always pay special attention when they are scooping it up to order. When it’s hot, it’s very malleable — think Rice Krispy Treats before they harden — but it firms up in no time flat so by the time they pack it and seal it the container, it’s on its way to a solid mass. Anyone who has made popcorn balls at Christmas knows what I am talking about. But, before that happens, there are those few glorious minutes where it’s soft and chewy at the same time. If you like buttery caramel, that 5-7 minute window is definitely worth trying for.

Two Delaware Beach favorites, side by side.

My affection for soft-serve was probably pretty evident in my first shore post, but here’s one shot just to show you how pretty it is:

It was plenty hot that day, so this didn’t stay upright for long.

Some say a trip to the shore wouldn’t be complete without boardwalk fries. Again, boardwalk fries, like caramel corn, wasn’t something I was particularly dialed into until I met Delaware beaches. But, people love them! And I can see why. Malt vinegar shaken down into the cup cuts the salty goodness.

Boardwalk Fries

Thrasher’s take the cake for boardwalk fries at the DE and MD beaches. There’s usually a line. For french fries.

If, at long last, you’ve sunned yourself and eaten your fill, consider a final parting gift: the hermit crab. Hermit crabs are a beach staple, and whether you think they are a good idea or not, hermit crabs happen. They practically fly off the shelves. Half these hermit crabs probably don’t even survive the car ride home, which is a shame because they are very interesting little creatures.

Hermit crabs are crustaceans with soft bodies that need to be protected by shells which they do by inhabiting the discarded shells of other creatures! Sea snails, for example. That’s right, they don’t come into this world with shells of their own and yet they need shells to protect themselves. Isn’t that odd? And, when hermit crabs outgrow their current shell, they step into the next size up so they’re always on what I like to call the shell hustle.  Also, since they effectively scavenge their shells from other creatures, if there are not many creatures available to “donate” their shells…well, you can imagine what happens if push comes to shove.

Hermit crab. Hello, buddy!

Hermit crab accessories, Rehoboth Beach, DE

Wikipedia describes what happens when a bunch of crabs living together decide it’s time to change shells: “Several hermit crab species, both terrestrial and marine, use “vacancy chains” to find new shells: when a new, bigger shell becomes available, hermit crabs gather around it and form a kind of queue from largest to smallest. When the largest crab moves into the new shell, the second biggest crab moves into the newly vacated shell, thereby making its previous shell available to the third crab, and so on.”

A “vacancy chain”?? How cool is that? Just picture all the crabs lined up in descending order by size waiting to step into their new shells while their current shell gets handed down to the little guy.  Like the Jeffersons, they’re moving on up. This image makes me laugh.

The social hermit crab. At the height of the season, these cage walls would literally be covered with hermit crabs waiting to go home with you.

Hermit crabs are social and it’s really cool to see them all bunched up together happy as…well, clams, I guess. While these “beach vacation” hermit crabs probably don’t live too long — they do require more effort to keep alive than the average 8 year old would probably be interested in providing — some species of hermit crabs can live in the ballpark of 23 years! Plus, hermit crabs are just cool. It’s fun to watch them scrabble around in their cages, and in your hand if you can handle it. You have to watch them a bit since they will latch on to you with their big claw, which can surprise you, and nip you enough that you could drop them if you’re not expecting it.

Most of these shells have hermit crabs living in them.

Hermit crab getting ready to change his shell.

Seeing a hermit crab change his shell is like waiting for paint to dry — good luck. This little fella kept doing the shell-change fake-out — he’d lift himself out, then slide back in.  You can see the new shell is much bigger than he needs — a real hermit crab McMansion — so maybe that is the reason he never quite made the jump. Or, maybe he is just a ham — he had several of us dancing on a string waiting for him to change. He was really working us. I had to give up after a while.

Yes, the shore is indeed a weird place. Then again, what place isn’t weird? But, any day where you can find pit beef, baby sweet potatoes, sand, sun, and salt water taffy is a good day in my book.

The Ice Cream Man Might Drive Me Crazy

There is an ice cream man who drives his truck around my area every afternoon around the same time. He plays all the standards — “Happy Birthday”, “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” —  but he adds in some some new stuff, like “Guantanamera” for ethnic flair. I thought this was charming the first few times, like the folks who play the Peruvian pan flutes to Simon and Garfunkel songs in the subway station. Now I just want those kids to get their ice cream and move along.

Because of this, apart from distracting me from Very Important Things, like checking Facebook, I find I think about ice cream much more often than before. I like ice cream, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And, I have dabbled in making ice cream in the past, but I’ve never thought it prudent to consume a high enough volume of ice cream that I could justify making it more than once every other month or so and by the time that time rolls around I’ve usually impulse bought some Ben and Jerry’s or Haagen Daz on sale and the space in my freezer reserved for ice cream is full up.

But ice cream has been on my mind again since Maryland rolled out an official Ice Cream Trail map a month or two ago. As reported in an article by NPR’s food blog, The Salt, it seems there are a handful of local creameries who have turned to small batch ice cream making. Yum. This is the kind of trail I can get behind.

Also on my radar is something new Mount Vernon is trying out. Mount Vernon, for those who don’t fancy the historic homes of the Founding Fathers like I do, is George Washington’s estate. It’s located outside of Alexandria, VA, and is just a hop, skip and a jump (and about an hour via the D.C. beltway) from where I live in Maryland. I like to go there, and I insist that every out-of-towner who falls into my grip go there, too.  I’ve been a few times. But, I hadn’t been to Mount Vernon since I returned East-side last summer, so when I saw they were doing a Colonial Ice Cream Making demonstration, I knew it was time. So, I bought my annual pass (oh, yes I did!) and off I went.

One of the cool things about Mount Vernon is that it receives no state or federal funds. According to Wikipedia, Mount Vernon  “is owned and maintained in trust by The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.”  The name alone kills me — The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association — what spunk! I could go on and on about Mount Vernon, but for now I’ll just stick to ice cream…

So, from August 4th-September 1, 2012 from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon visitors can watch as costumed staff members recreate the 18th century ice cream making process on reproduction pieces. I arrived at 11:30 (naturally!) and they were on their last go-’round. They seemed vaguely surprised at the turnout. They had a table set up with a brazier for roasting cocoa beans, a metate for grinding the shelled nibs into a paste, various spices, etc., for flavoring, and the ice cream making device — a bucket tucked into another bucket — itself. You can click on the photos below to see them larger, and in slideshow format.

It was a pleasant, short (about 20 minutes) demonstration that made me marvel at the amount of muscle power cooking and baking — and everything, really — took back then. It made the sheer volume of entertaining the Washingtons did that much more impressive, especially after seeing the kitchen, which is relatively small. It definitely made me want to go back and take the Dinner for the Washingtons Walking Tour, a special tour of the estate from a culinary angle which includes a trip to the basement (NOT part of the regular mansion tour!) and concludes with a tasting in the greenhouse. I was so busy with the regular mansion tour, and the gift shops, and having lunch at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant, that by the end of the afternoon I hadn’t finished touring to my satisfaction and will need to return. Thank goodness I got that Annual Pass!

They also have an exhibit running through August 2013 called “Hoecakes and Hospitality: Cooking with Martha Washington” which walks you through some of the recipes, instruments, tableware, etc. that the Washingtons used for entertaining. Also available are a handful of recipe cards of favorite dishes and drinks of which I have a mind to recreate at some point in the near future (I’m still pondering whether or not to tackle sturgeon). For now, I’ll keep my eye on the ice cream prize: touring it via creamery, making it, eating it and, if it’s any good, sharing it, so stay tuned.

Cuckoo For Coconut! And Quick Pickled Cucumbers. And Thai Melon Salad.

Here’s what happened: global warming. It has been hot hot hot all over the nation and Maryland is right smack dab in the middle of it. (The heat, not the nation. Unclear pronoun reference. Deduct 5 points.) It has been so hot here (“HOW HOT IS IT??”  — I don’t have a punchline for this) but more oppressive than the heat is the humidity. I walked to the car at 10 AM last week and as long as it took me to get my keys ready my hands were moist like I was about to go on stage. Humid. Your-lungs-feel-wet humid. Mercy.

Anyway, it’s not really cooking weather except for some quick grilling, so I pulled out a recipe I found awhile back for Sichuan (Szechuan) Cucumber Pickles and now I can’t stop nomming on them. Pair this dish with a Thai Melon Salad from my cooking school textbook and a recipe for rice cooker coconut rice I am seriously bananas for right now, and you’ve got some goodness happening. Throw some lightly marinated chicken breast tenders on the grill the last 5 minutes of prep and you are set. Nutritious, cooling, and a crazy amount of texture. Pan-Asian delight.

Both of these salads should be made a few hours before serving leaving you plenty of time to put your feet up and drink some sweet tea before dinner.

First up, Sichuan (or Szechuan) Pickled Cucumbers.

Sichuan Pickled Cucumbers
The Gourmet Cookbook

Sichuan (Szechuan) Pickled Cucumbers

2 lbs.  small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers or 1-2 seedless English cucumbers
4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1/3 c. Asian sesame oil
1 (1-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, finely grated
8 (1-inch-long) dried hot chiles, seeded if desired
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

First of all, I love sesame oil and its distinctive flavor makes this dish, so I can’t imagine subbing it out for any other oil, so don’t you try it, either. Well, I mean, you can if you want to, but… Next, a neat trick for “peeling” fresh ginger is to actually scrape the peel off with a spoon. Works like a charm and is not nearly so wasteful as peeling it with a knife or traditional peeler. While we’re on the subject, a spoon is just the ticket for scraping the seeds out of the cucumber wedges, too. And while the Szechuan peppercorns are optional, I’ve tried it with and without and although I love the tongue-numbing taste of Szechuan peppercorns, I would grind them first since they are a bit distracting if left whole.

Halved, quartered, seeds removed, and diced.

Halve each cucumber lengthwise, then halve again to end up with long quarters.  Scrape the seeds out, then chop. The recipe calls for 2-inch pieces, but I dice to medium. Toss cucumbers with salt in a bowl and let stand 20 minutes.

Stir-frying the ginger and chiles in sesame oil.

While the cucumbers are salting, heat sesame oil in a wok or small deep skillet over moderately high heat until just smoking. Stir-fry the chiles and peppercorns for about 30 seconds or so, until the peppers turn dark. Add the ginger and stir-fry, being careful not to burn the ginger – it can happen quickly. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Cucumbers salted, rinsed, and patted dry.

Rinse cucumbers well, drain in a colander, and pat dry. Stir together the rice vinegar and sugar in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Add cucumbers, tossing to coat. Pour spiced oil over cucumbers and toss well. Marinate at room temperature for 3 hours before serving. The cucumbers can marinate, covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days; stir occasionally. The longer the cucumbers marinate, the spicier they will be. Note: Leaving the seeds in the chile peppers will make a considerable difference in their heat level. Adjust accordingly.  Makes about 6 cups.

Next up, Thai Melon Salad (my textbook calls it a salsa, but I prefer to use it as a salad).

Thai Melon Salad
On Cooking, 5th ed.

Thai Melon Salad picture snaked from my textbook. Super low-tech photo, but you do get to see my advanced recipe ranking system.

 2 assorted melons (honeydew, cantaloupe. Crenshaw, etc.), peeled & diced
1 tsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tbsp. minced Serrano chile
2 fl ounce lime juice
4 tbsp. unsalted peanuts, roasted, chopped fine
4 tbsp. chopped mint

Cut the melons into small dice, or shape into small balls using a parisienne scoop. Combine the remaining ingredients and toss with melon pieces. Chill thoroughly. Garnish with more mint before serving, if desired. Serve with fish, shellfish, or chicken. Yields 1 quart.

And then there’s the rice.

Rice Cooker Coconut Rice
(this was scribbled on an index card, so not sure to whom to give credit but I modified it a bit so that makes it mine, right?)

Don’t let the exceedingly dark photo fool you — this stuff smells so amazing cooking that you’ll want to clap your hands.

Rice Cookers…I know, I know. I used to be against rice cookers — uni-taskers, and all, blah blah– but now I’m converted since it babysits its own self and leaves all my stove burners free — can’t argue with that!

I have unintentionally left out the salt on two occasions and the rice tastes just dandy to me, so you may want to try it, too.

2 c. jasmine rice
1 c. coconut milk (not light)
2 c. water
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. shredded coconut , plus more for garnish, see note

Combine all ingredients in the rice cooker. Stir to combine. Activate the rice cooker and let it do its thing. Allow to sit 10 minutes after it finishes cooking. Fluff with a fork before garnishing (see below) and serving. Serves 4.

Note: I highly recommend taking another 3-4 tbsp. shredded coconut and toasting it lightly in a pan over med.-high heat until the coconut begins to release its oils and browns. This can be done while the rice is bubbling away in its cozy coconut milk bath. Crumble toasted coconut over rice before serving.

And the chicken? Well, y’all know how to cook chicken, so I won’t bother with that. But, I will say that I came late to the party when it comes to chicken breast tenders. And now I’ve fallen hard. Sauteing or grilling them literally take about 3-4 minutes per side (if that).  There’s not even time to walk away so it’s easy to avoid overcooking them and drying them out. Just remember to cut out that tendon at the tip, because it’s super annoying to chew on that. Really harshes the chicken tender mellow. I chucked mine in a quick marinade of soy sauce, mirin, ginger and oil as I put the rice on, and 25 minutes in the bag was just about right to keep them juicy on the grill without overpowering their mild meat.

And that’s it. That’s the hot weather dinner du jour. So grab some sweet tea and enjoy!

“Like” Us on Facebook!

Sweet Bean Mini PiesBean Pie And Baking now has its own Facebook page separate from Happy Owl Baking and all of my blog posts will publicize there, so  “Like” us on Facebook or sign up to have this blog delivered via email if you want to stay abreast of East Coast Food Finds, Good Eats, and year two of cooking school.

Thanks, y’all!

The Aisle of Ham, not The Isle of Ham, even though that does actually sound like my kind of destination vacation

Those of you with me since Easter will remember the fresh ham caper. This investigation led me on a merry chase from store to store to Amish Market and ended with moderate disenchantment when I realized that a fresh ham is just a big pork roast. The culinary balm to this bother was the discovery of the thing called “Maryland Stuffed Ham” which I fully intend to get down with next Easter.

But pork is a year-round preoccupation and right now I’m all about barbecue. Since my aunt programmed my t.v. guide to show only the five or so channels I actually get with basic cable I’ve discovered this show called “BBQ Pitmasters.” It seems to run on a virtual loop but it’s really only 16 episodes so far and I can’t wait to watch every one of them. Each episode involves three contestants trying to outdo each other’s bbq for a shot at the Kingsford Cup. The show is 46 minutes of pork porn. You just sit back and watch meat being injected, rubbed, and then basted til it is shiny plate of heaven. These contestants have dead serious conversations about things like “the money muscle.” Plus, It’s pretty funny to listen to them talk smack about racks and smokers and rubs and whatnot. I know it is not fashionable to say this but as a Northerner, I find their accents adorable!

It was BBQ Pitmasters that turned me on to a local festival called Pork in the Park right here in Maryland on the Eastern Shore. It’s a Kansas City Style competition held in April and I’ve already got it on my calendar. You’ve got to love a festival whose website counts down the days, hours, and minutes until its next festival. The website claims it is the “second largest Kansas City Barbeque Society Competition in the nation.” No word on who is first.

Obviously these people know how to party.

Who wouldn’t love a show with judges named Tuffy Stone and Myron Mixon? How could you resist the tagline, “Bring the Heat or You’re Dead Meat”? These kids aren’t foolin’.

As mesmerized as I am by watching bbq being made on t.v., I don’t really make it myself. I don’t have a smoker and my grill skills are remedial. As such, I like to avail myself of other pork products and, as such, I was at the market noodling around the meats when ham hocks caught my eye. And ham hocks led to salt pork. And salt pork led to smoked pork jowls and then I realized I was standing in front of a wall of ham. These are the jewels of the South. This is the perk to living just this side of Virginia: ham.

Aren’t they pretty? I resolved to familiarize myself with as many of these glorious products as possible. That is a tall order, so I better get crackin’. To begin, I picked smoked pork jowls and smoked pork chops.

Pork Jowl Bacon

The jowls I figure I will use like hocks and make some beans and hot boiled rice.  The smoked pork chops I picked because while I was standing there dilly-dallying and artfully arranging hams for my camera phone photos like a weirdo a lady came along and helped herself directly to several packs of the chops. She just grabbed them casually like she gets them all the time and all the while explaining to her husband how she’s going to throw them on the grill but she only has one pack at home so they need some more, etc., etc…

This is kind of my modus operandi in the meat aisle. Any time I’m attracted to some strange cut of meat that I don’t know what to do with, I stand around loitering, essentially, until some lady comes along and picks up the meat I’m interested in. Then I pounce on her and ask her what she’s going to do with it and I get her to explain it as much as possible before she edges away from me. I’m sure it’s an unsettling experience for those ladies involved and for that I apologize, ladies. Fortunately, because of her running chatter with her husband, I got the information I needed today by simply eavesdropping — a moderately less invasive procedure for which everyone involved was grateful, I’m sure.

After she moved away, I saw the package claims these chops are ready in two minutes. I’m fascinated by this, so I’m in. I decide to make them with sweet corn and grilled peaches. We’ll see. It could be the start of something good.

Fluffernutters, or as some call them, “Liberty Sandwiches”

I found myself making the strangest care package the other day, and decided it was time to chronicle The Fluffernutter.  I’ve never heard anyone call them Liberty Sandwiches, but Wikipedia lists it as an alternative name, so it must be true.

Quite simply, a fluffernutter is a peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich on white bread. I used to eat them all the time growing up in Pennsylvania. I haven’t had one in ages, but I found myself hankering for one after trying to explain to someone what they are. I guess they didn’t have them in Berkeley circa 1980, which makes sense since they are, by nature, almost completely artificial and the parts that aren’t unnaturally contrived are highly processed. But still! Give it a whirl!

These basic components travel well. Sorta.

Here’s the thing about fluffernutters: you have to make them on white bread if you want historical accuracy. You need that soft, squishy texture that only gen-u-ine white bread can provide. This is one of the two times that this sort of white bread is my preferred starch. The other is summer tomato sandwiches — the kind of love affair between sweet, heavy, homegrown beefsteak tomatoes right off the vine, mayonnaise, and white bread. If you have ever had one of these, you are nodding in agreement right now. If you haven’t had the pleasure then put that on your white bread bucket list, too.

Here is a visual aid, in case you find the assemblage at all confusing.

Yup, pretty simple. Lay it on, though, don’t skimp!

And the finished product…hello, childhood…

And the twist I wish I had known about a long time ago:

Now that’s taking it to the next level.

Marshmallow creme was invented in the early 1900’s in New England and a recipe for Liberty Sandwiches, using marshmallow, peanut butter, and oat or barley bread, was published during World War I. Other Liberty Sandwich recipe variations walk on the savory side by pairing marshmallow creme with things like sliced olives or chopped nuts, but it’s the peanut butter combo that really seemed to stick.  The sandwich wasn’t called The Fluffernutter until 1960 as part of a new ad campaign by Durkee-Mower, the company which sells the product Marshmallow Fluff and trademarked the name Fluffernutter.

Lest you think this is all, ahem, fluff, it’s worth noting that Fluffernutter has some political intrigue. Durkee-Mower has sued Williams-Sonoma for trademark infringement (I love it when the big boys fight!), and in 2006 a Massachusetts senator went nuts when he thought that the public school cafeterias made fluffernutters available to school children, including his son, every day. A Massachusetts State Representative fought back by swearing to fight for Fluff  “to the death,” and tried to make fluffernutters the state sandwich. Twice.

If you need to know more about Fluff, consider a trek to Massachusetts for the annual “What the Fluff?” festival in September. You can see highlights from last year’s festival (no joke!) here on the festival’s official website. I haven’t been to Massachusetts lately. Anyone??


Last winter I happened upon this sweet old-school Tupperware jello mold. How could I pass this up? I walked by TWO Tupperware devilled egg carriers to claim it. I just knew I had a jello mold somewhere in my future.

It has been hot as blazes here in Maryland, which got me to thinking about Creamello. Or maybe it’s Cream-ello. I’m not sure since it’s not a real word.

My grandmother, Nona, used to make creamello in the summers, particularly on the 4th of July, which also happened to be my grandfather’s (Bob) birthday, which means we would have creamello, chocolate cake (Bob’s favorite), and then probably a pie or non-chocolate cake for the rest of the crowd. Multiple desserts. That’s how the Hodgkinsons roll. It ain’t your birthday unless there are at least two cakes. We like variety.

So, creamello. I’ve never made it before and Nona has been gone for over 10 years now, so there’s no asking her, but how hard could it be? Doesn’t the name say it all? It’s Jello and some kind of cream, right? So, it’s either whipped cream or ice cream. A quick internet search showed me a “recipe” (can something with two ingredients, one of them from a box, really be called a recipe?) using one large box of Jello, 2 cups of boiling water, and a quart of vanilla ice cream. Here it is:

Strawberry jello with 2 cups boiling water

With a quart of vanilla ice cream mixed in, and molded

Now it’s in to the fridge overnight…

Dipped in hot water and ready to unmold

And viola!

Pretty, right? But, with all the mold seams, I wasn’t sure if this was the presentation side, so, I flipped it over.

I don’t claim to know molded jello but common sense tells me that can’t be the presentation side. So, back to the other side, and done.

Naturally, I tried a piece. It wasn’t bad. A little bland — not the Creamello I remember, so there’s work to be done there. I do vaguely remember Nona beating something into the partially set jello (the guesswork on the timing of which is what sometimes produced lumpy creamello), so I think I’ve narrowed down the process to the whipped cream version. I think this will produce a lighter, creamier, fluffier product which will suit my tastes better, anyway, so that will be my next try.

I’d like to tell you that I am going to try making my own jello, and I may, but in case you get tired of waiting for me, here are some links on how to do that. It looks pretty easy and I am sure it’s worth it if you like jello that much. This link describes the process as similar to getting fruit ready for jam or jelly. This link has a YouTube video showing you how to make regular jello (seriously? it’s boiling water and jello mix), but then it goes on with a recipe for your own fruit juice jello (crazy easy), and a recipe for vegetarian jello (also easy — just use agar agar flakes).

I don’t recall ever making jello (jello shots don’t count), let alone using a mold, but now I’m all about it. I am both attracted and repelled by the idea of adding things to my next jello mold — not the Creamello, of course, I’m not messing with that memory — but, friends, expect jello molds to start turning up at your parties. And don’t worry, I’ll try both sweet and savory so I’m sure there will be a jello mold for every occasion.

Maryland Pit Beef

I’ve known about pit beef since the last time I lived in Maryland, and I had eaten it a couple of times back then. My response? Meh. It wasn’t smokey, like barbecue, or saucy, like barbecue. I confess, I didn’t get it. The few times I had pit beef it seemed like a dry pile of shaved meat on way too much of a bland roll. But, when someone I was talking to in California knew more about a pit beef place in Baltimore than me, someone currently living just outside of Baltimore, I decided to take the bull by the horns. So, I went to Chaps Charcoal Restaurant to find out what all the fuss was about.

Chaps Charcoal Restaurant  sits in the parking lot of a, um, nite club called The Gentleman’s Gold Club. This is just a discreet way of saying strip club. The story, as told by Chaps, is that the owner of the strip club gave the pit beef shack to his daughter when she married because her new husband liked to cook so much. And pit beef gold was born. Both of these businesses have quite a bit of confidence in their abilities: Chaps alleges they have the “best pit beef, turkey and pork” in Maryland, and The Gentleman’s Gold Club claims to be Baltimore’s only “Upscale Gentlemans club” [sic]. The Gentleman’s Club goes on to note on their website that they are perfect for birthday, bachelor, and divorce parties.

As for Chaps, it has been featured on the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” and also on the Travel Channel’s “Amazing Eats.” While I personally found the Travel Channel segment more interesting, Chaps seems more connected to their visit from Guy Fieri. Here is what you see when you walk in:

What a great time Guy seems to be having!

I was warned by my dining companion that Chaps meant serious business and that I better have myself together before I got to the counter. This included keeping my order simple, and to the point, so no When-Harry-Met-Sally-salad-dressing-on-the-side nonsense, you dig? Naturally, I poo-poohed this advice, but signage did decree “No split checks between 11:00-3:00,” which I couldn’t make sense of and since I had plenty of time while waiting in the long line, I puzzled through this, out loud, making friends all along the way, I am sure. The puzzle went something like this: why would they have a sign like that?  Split checks are for people at tables who want to pay individually, not collectively, and yes, split checks can be annoying when a server is busy. But, since at Chaps you order at a counter, why would you split a check? You order and pay for what you want, and then the next person goes. That’s the point of a counter.  How could Chaps have a big enough problem with split checks to necessitate a sign against it? I never did figure it out and since it was literally 100 degrees outside while we were waiting in line I figured I better let it go since that kind of heat produces a general fretfulness and fraying of tempers.

After I ordered — very quickly and clearly, mind you, I noticed another sign by the pick-up counter which said, “No Sniveling” which annoyed me because I don’t like it when pit beef shacks try to tell me how to behave. I think Chaps could try a little positive reinforcement instead, but I suppose they don’t need any advice from me when they have Guy Fieri on their side.

Pit Beef Combo: pit beef with Italian sausage on a Kaiser roll.

Here’s the thing: the food was good. I ordered a Pit Beef Combo, medium rare. The combo part is that they throw some Italian sausage on top. It’s served on a Kaiser roll, which was not too bready, much to my relief. I dressed it with some sliced raw onion and some tiger sauce, which is horseradish sauce mixed with mayonnaise. And it was very delicious.

One of the specials that day was called the Richman which I assume is a reference to Adam Richman from the Travel Channel. This sandwich was beef, turkey, sausage, and corned beef on a sub roll. Here it is, along with their fries:

The Richman: pit beef, turkey, sausage, corned beef

A quick look on Wikipedia (I know, I know) confirms that Baltimore pit beef is indeed different from barbecue because even though it is grilled over charcoal, it uses no rubs, marinades or sauces. Pit beef uses top round shaved very thinly and served on a Kaiser roll with the sliced raw white onion and tiger sauce mentioned before.

Well, Chaps, I have to say that even though I was predisposed to dislike pit beef because of my prior experiences, and predisposed to dislike you because you like Guy Fieri so much, I did thoroughly enjoy my pit beef combo. I would definitely do it again, which means I am on the hunt for more Maryland pit beef places to explore. Readers?? Please chime in!

Of The Shore, Which Is A Weird Place

As you know if you have ever talked to me for more than five minutes, I am almost fanatically in love with Northern California. I love Berkeley like other people love their sports teams, but without the numbered jerseys. Even so,  there are many things I genuinely like about the East Coast. One of the things I have always admired is the annual pilgrimage to the beach. Or, what they call going “down the shore.” Going to the shore IS the summer vacation. You rent a house for a week and decamp to Jersey, or Delaware, or Maryland, or even as far north as Rhode Island (hey, Little Compton!). It’s fascinating.

It’s an intimidating process: the people, the traffic, the cost, the hassle. Everybody from all points west is trying to get to the main shore points, due east, on the same few handful of roads at about the same time of day on a Friday afternoon. But, once you make it, I have to admit it’s pretty awesome. You put on your suit, stuff your big canvas bag with towels and magazines and cold water that will quickly become warm and gritty with sand, and head out for the day. You roast in the sun, go brave the water, then roast in the sun, then go in the water, then go “walk the boards,” get a slice of pizza or some soft-serve, and go back to your towel which is now covered in kicked up sand from other people tromping by, and lay back down for another turn. That’s a day at the beach. A night at the beach is a whole other ball of wax which I actually don’t know much about. As a voyeur, I’m generally almost always a day-tripper.

City of Rehoboth Beach plaque with boardwalk, then ocean in background.

Fortunately, I went down mid-week in late June — the calm before the storm. The gloves come off right around the Fourth of July, so I made sure I squeezed in a quick visit before the real mayhem of summer. Rehoboth Beach is about 100 miles from where I live in Maryland, so it’s a bit of a haul for a day-trip, but I happen to enjoy that drive. I usually find some odd, interesting scenery, even if it’s just to marvel that in a road lined with signs broadcasting roadside BBQ chicken,  they have always, mysteriously, either happened just before I rolled through, or are about to happen right AFTER I roll back out. Hmmm. The ever-elusive BBQ chicken stand.

This time, since it’s been three years since I made the drive, I went (unintentionally but predictably) off the beaten path and found this truism:

Then I found this lovely little bit:

And then this funny little bit:

Which I thought was either a tongue-in-cheek or an ironic/sardonic comment on the state of farming today, until I saw read the rest of the sign:

…which I then just found confusing and a bit ominous. The Eastern Shore has a long history of chicken farming, and Perdue Chicken plays a huge part in that history, for better or worse. And it’s mostly worse, from what I hear anecdotally. I’d like to look into this more in a later post, perhaps on another day-trip.

The tractor store I passed a few miles later was a very busy place which shows how big a part farming still plays in the economy of the Eastern Shore.

I only wish I could have taken a photograph of what I saw in my rear view mirror driving behind me as I passed this store — it was some sort of tractor, but up high off the ground with enough space underneath it through which a small car could pass! It looked like I was being pursued by some kind of tractor spider. This machine probably has a real name of which I, being urban — or, if not urban, at least not rural — know nothing about. That’s part of what I like about going to the shore: it’s weird to me. There’s always some funky store or funny road sign or strange man with a metal detector and head gear on to stimulate the imagination. You just never know what you’ll come across on these day trips.

Once you wander your way through these scenic photographic tangents and broach the Coastal Highway itself, you just need to find a good parking spot, so bring a roll of quarters — YES, QUARTERS, I kid you not, no credit card slots — for the parking meters — the TWO-HOUR parking meters, by the way, so don’t stray too far from your parking spot searching for the perfect quadrant of sandy heaven since you will be feeding the meter every 120 minutes.

For the uninitiated, the learning curve on the beach itself can be steep. The Atlantic waters are actually warm enough in summer that you can swim in them so, naturally, I thought the ocean was my friend. This is not necessarily so. I’ve gotten sucked underwater hard enough to lose my sunglasses on two separate occasions in water not much deeper than my knees (and that was 0 for 2, by the way: I did it the first time, then did the exact same thing the very next time). Lesson: don’t wear sunglasses into the ocean. Also, “undertow” is a real thing. Hmm.

But, if you can manage to keep yourself in one piece, you get rewarded by the sun beating down on you and the sound of the waves crashing into the sand, and the gentle call of shore birds circling above (or, un-gently,  very, very close if some yahoo near you decides to feed them a piece of bread and suddenly you are surrounded by, no joke, three dozen gulls ready to peck your eyes out for a soggy piece of hoagie roll. DON’T FEED THE GULLS. You’ll start a bird war and they are really not as cute when they are all up in your face.).

And, sometimes you get lucky. You see things like a school of dolphins arcing by. Or, around happy hour, you’ll see extremely fit people lap-swimming — yes, lap-swimming! – freestyle through the ocean four times further out than anyone you were bobbing around blowing bubbles and doing dead-man’s floats with. Watching their smooth, efficient, horizontal strokes slice through one of the most powerful bodies of water on earth is really amazing, along with the respectful realization that it’s people like that who save people like me when we do foolish things like swim out too far or some other such nonsense.

Rehoboth Beach, DE

That is the recompense for your drive: a sunny day, gulls wheeling overhead, and the fun, happy feeling that comes from people relaxing. And soft serve. You could argue for salt water taffy, pizza slices, caramel corn, fudge –there are lots of things that come to mind when you think of beach boardwalk food, but for me, it’s soft serve. And in Rehoboth, it’s Kohr Brothers.

Kohr Bros., Rehoboth Beach, DE.

It was a rather (understatement) hot day, so my strawberry rainbow sprinkle cone incarnated quickly from this:

Pre-rainbow sprinkle bath

…to this…

Not even out of the hands of the soft-serve server and it’s beginning to slide…

…to this!

This cone/cup hybrid is a concession to the midday heat…

Ooh la la! Now, that’s hot. No matter, it was dee-licious.

In any case, more on food later (see my upcoming post “Of Shore Food, Which Is Great Fun”).

So, if you live within a few hours of the shore and you need to get away and clear your head, consider Rehoboth Beach for charm, or Ocean City if you want to get real about walking the boards, with all the rides and arcade bells and whistles that go along with that. You’ll meld into the crowds and watch generations of cultural legacy unfold around you as you become part of the undulating wave of another summer day at the beach.

And, if you do it, do it right: get a low-slung beach chair that you can wear as a backpack, bring a boatload of quarters for the parking meters, leave your sunglasses on your beach towel, and enjoy.

Sunset along Rt. 404 home from Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Summer Interlude:Take I

This gallery contains 23 photos.

Bean Pie’s trip to Cali (see previous post  “Bean Pie Goes Traveling: Repository of Good Eats”) was inspiring, instructive, reinvigorating and reaffirming, but it’s behind me now. Well, almost. I wanted to catch y’all up on some photos. In three short weeks I managed to front load a boatload of yum. The San Francisco Bay … Continue reading

Bean Pie Goes Traveling: Repository of Good Eats

Barney’s Gourmet Burgers on Solano Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Left Coast, Best Coast, ‘Frisco, Bezerkely — whatever you call it, I’m a NorCal girl at heart. I’ve dropped the cats in the Philly ‘burbs for their summer vacay with The Fam (don’t feel bad for them, they’re living the high life complete with enclosed back yard and two bemused humans on door duty — thanks P and K!) and flown due west to chill Cali-style for a few weeks. Not surprisingly, I just may have time for a few good eats. You’ve missed out on the first week of good grub because I didn’t have my photog hat on properly, but I will try to catch you up.

Here’s what you missed. If you are in the area, check out the links and see for yourself:

Veggie Cheeseburger at Kwik-Way by Lake Merritt in Oakland. Doesn’t sound good, but it is. My favorite veggie burger, in fact, and I am not inclined to veggie burgers. Sort of a cross between a black bean burger and a falafel, it’s a mess of creamy, crunchy, cheesy goodness. Comes with bacon upon request! I hanker for hamburgers and it’s a blue moon that persuades me to deviate from beef; turkey, occasionally, chicken almost never, but this veggie burger came with a  referral, and I am mighty glad it did so I am referring it on to you. You’re welcome.

Carnitas Burrito at Gordo’s Taqueria on Solano Avenue, Albany. Carnitas is really all you need to know. I’ve been coming here since middle school just about and could count on one hand the number of times there HASN’T been a line out the door. People say it’s not the same since the new crew came on (“new” being relative since it’s been almost 10 years, prolly), but it’s still one of the first places I go when I hit town.

Midwestern Burger at Barney’s Gourmet Burgers on Solano Avenue (photo above). Cheese,Thousand Island sauce, and a flying saucer sized onion ring. ‘Nuff said. Well, that and a milkshake. I don’t believe this was part of their regular menu, but I bet you could sweet talk your way into special-ordering one if you had to.

Black and Gold Sundae with a side of coffee, San Francisco Creamery, Walnut Creek, CA

New try: Black and Gold Sundae with a cup of coffee on the side at San Francisco Creamery in Walnut Creek. It’s not Fentons, which actually has its own Wikipedia entry detailing its illustrious history, including an arson fire and its mention in the Pixar film, Up, but I had to give it a whirl.  Ever since Ortman’s Ice Cream Parlor closed (I, along with generations of other Albany High School students, did my time behind the counter there hawking sundaes and grilled sandwiches), Fentons has been the go-to for a seriously old-fashioned, genuine ice cream experience and it still delivers every time.

By the way, nobody calls it ‘Frisco so don’t be trying that noise if you visit. And, bring a decently heavy jacket. It’s Northern California, not Miami! Trust me.

For the Curious and the Stout-Hearted: Year One Reflections

Ever wondered what it’s like to put your life on hold and go back to school? Well, here you go. Here’s what I learned about myself and others:

It’s a huge sacrifice.  Going back to school sucks, and this is from someone who loves school. Putting aside the actual expense for now (see below) let’s just look at the psychic cost to you and your family: you are working all the time. All. The. Time. Think of everything you like to do, big and small, and put that in a mental basket, along with the friends you haven’t called in months and the family members who are sick of hearing your constant whine about homework, and call it Collateral Damage. This is where all the people who used to think you were fun to hang out with reside.

It’s expensive. There’s the tuition, fees, books, uniforms, knives — all calculable. But most (well, at least many — not mine, fortunately) culinary arts programs are designed for full-time students. You move through in core blocks, no substitutions. You may be able to work part-time (good luck with that), which means you will reduce your current income by at least half, but try not to think about that or you will never feel like you can actually afford to do it. Suffice it to say there is lots more money going out, lots less money coming in. So take all the things you used to like — like going out for coffee, or lunch — chuck them into the Collateral Damage basket, and get used to feeling like a broke loser when your friends’ birthdays roll around. This is serious business for career changers/re-entry students who may have any or all of the following: kids, mortgages (or serious rents not involving three other roommates), cars made after 2005, and previous student loans.   And while we are on the subject of students….

The Other Students. If you’re anything like me, you might think Other People are a huge pain to deal with, so try going back to school  with them. I’m going to sort students into two basic categories here: 18-22 year-olds, and Re-Entry students. Based on my six years of teaching English Composition at the community college where I am now a student, and five years working in Residential Life at the college where I earned my Masters degree, college freshman are a marvel. I really like them. I really do, and I’m not just saying that. They are like bright, shiny pennies with the world at their feet and even though they might not realize it, they’ve got that precious commodity that you don’t realize you’ve lost until you see it in them: idealism. They are also, by turns, confused, excitable, strident, and brash, with a bored affectation that is laughably, and falsely, world-weary. Top it off with a dose of know-it-all zest that borders on mouthy, put them in a room with twenty other students, and call it Freshman Comp. Or Cooking 121. Or any other survey class where nobody knows nothing from nothing yet. Then ask them to do a boatload of work, and watch one-third to one-half of them self-destruct.

Except that I don’t want to self-destruct. I’m a Re-Entry student, and I mean business. So get outta my way. Re-entry students are their own glorious category. They are back for a reason. They’re not just taking classes to stay on their parents’ health insurance. The stakes are generally pretty high for this group — clearly, something is not working out right in their current career and they want a change badly enough to sacrifice for it, big time (see above). As a career-changer, I’m in this group. We’re focused, and driven. We want to know exactly what, when, where, and how. If you want to be around some serious students, take a night class. Those people really want it. A lady in one of my classes this semester has triplet infants at home. TRIPLETS. She knows how to work hard. I’d take her on my team any day.

Career changers don’t mess around, and this can be very off-putting to the other kidlets. But, sorry Charlie: I can’t afford to take three hours to do something that should take one hour. I spent two entire 75 minute class periods this semester making a poster — a POSTER – as a group effort. A POSTER. Which, by the way, ended up having not one, but two hand-lettered (who hand-letters a poster past sixth grade, for heaven’s sake? It’s not a garage sale) spelling errors on it by the end of class, so I had to take it and re-do it after class, anyway, which cost me another 45 minutes. Which reminds me…

Group Work. I hate it. Which brings me to…

What I learned about myself. “Overachievers” are not good team players. We’re precise. We’re prepared. We’ve read all the readings. We’ve done our production sequences. We think everyone should be taking this assignment/project/class as seriously as we do, and when they don’t, it bugs us because its our grade on the line, and that ain’t cool. I’ve gotten the definite impression that other students think we are a drag.

I’ve been called an overachiever at least a dozen times this year, which is funny since I don’t recall being called that before — not in undergrad, not in grad. Control freak? Yes. Micro-manager? Uh huh. Type A? Ok, although I don’t actually agree with that one. But “over achiever”? That  didn’t come up until I hit community college…and something about it rubs me the wrong way. I take issue with the desire to do one’ s best being cast as a social or character flaw.  Wanting an “A” isn’t overachieving. It’s just achieving, and I think it’s a pretty worthy goal. I admire people who take themselves seriously as learners and push themselves to do as well as they can in whatever it is they undertake.  I respect that. So, big ups to overachievers!

I’m saying “overachiever” but I really don’t care for that term. It doesn’t sound nice, does it? Put “over” in front of anything and dollars to donuts it’s pejorative: over-dressed, over-done, over-the-hill, over-achiever. Its use implies there is something wrong with achievement and I think there’s something wrong with thinking there’ s something wrong with achievement.  But that’s probably just me being over-analytical.

Summary: It has been a heck of a year. I would try to cash in on the ol’  “I laughed, I cried..” bit, but I don’t remember laughing much. What I do remember are hours and hours and hours of difficult, confusing, unfamiliar work forcing me to bend my brain around subjects about which I knew very little. It has been a year of pure, hardcore skill acquisition.  Being out of my element, being back at the bottom, is extremely uncomfortable. Being wrong over and over again sucks — until the time you get it right; then you exhale and think to yourself, “Damn. Finally.” And that’s why you’re here, right? To do something new, and to get it right?

So, it’s worth it. If you are thinking about going back to school, think about all the things I’ve said. It’s quite a tally. Then, think about everything you would stand to gain. What will be your measure of success?  The long term success of this endeavor remains to be seen, but to measure my short-term success, I table all the hassle and heartache of those sixteen week blocks and think solely of the academic experience itself: the adrenaline, the satisfaction, the flush of pride from succeeding in something difficult. Definitely worth it.

Stay tuned for Year Two.

Happy Owl is Extra Happy Today!

Today marks the official debut of Happy Owl’s Sweet Bean Pie, and it went swimmingly! Hosted by Victoria’s Fancy Foods in Severna Park, Happy Owl set up a sampling table amongst the salsas and rubs. Like at the Faux Trade Show, customer response was overwhelmingly positive. I do believe I made a few converts today. We had mini pies (pie-ettes? pie-inis?) for sale to stick our toes in the water, but 9″ pies are already on the books.

Here they are going into the convection oven. Aren’t they cute?

Sweet Bean Mini PiesAnd here is our sampling space; bean pies hobnobbing with spices and jams:

Serendipitously, I received a mystery package in the mail today. Waiting for me when I got home was something fabulous: this handmade home-crafted Happy Owl homage wall-hanging, courtesy of a friend and fan. Perfect timing!

Victoria’s will have a limited supply of bean pies on hand. Or, they may be special-ordered through Victoria’s Fancy Foods, or by contacting me directly here at Bean Pie and Baking.

Finals: The Glamorous Life

It’s Finals Week and just in case you are wondering what a cooking school Final Exam is like: it’s hard. It’s like every other 5.5 hour lab class — make a million things all at once with a partner who may or may not know what is going on — but you do it by yourself (hallelujah!) and there’s a lot more riding on it. And you take a written part, too. Between the two parts — written and practical — you’ve got 300 points out of a 1,000 point class on the line. So get ready.

Example of brunoise dice cut (not my photo). In fact, these carrots are rather uneven. Good thing they are not being graded!

While I spent an inordinate amount of my allotted time dicing brunoise (why are they so TINY? It’s like trying to pick up glitter.) the exam went rather smoothly. We had to take a whole chicken, truss it, then fabricate it into its various bits and pieces.

Looks pretty, right?

Trussed bird

Fabricated parts

Next, we took a whole fish, and filleted that. This task is actually quite empowering. There is something really cool about taking a fish off the bone. In order to practice this over the weekend, I had to call around to find a place that carries whole fish. I wanted several, so they had to be cheap since each one is several pounds and I don’t have a lot of cash right now. I was already on the hook for the seven whole chickens I had bought for practice over the last two weeks. Obviously, Whole Foods was out, and Safeway and Giant don’t carry whole fish. Fortunately, this is Maryland, so there are seafood stores around. Would you believe I have never been into one?

I’m not sure how to explain these Eastern Seaboard seafood stores. They are a world unto themselves. I’ve never been in anything like it in California. They can be intimidating to outsiders, like me, who don’t know how to order anything. Like crabs. I didn’t grow up cracking crabs so when it comes to ordering crabs I clearly don’t know what’s up. I’ve lived in Maryland for 9 years off-and-on and I still don’t know how to order crabs — male, female, medium, large, extra large, jumbo, swamp dogs, dozen, bushel…goodness gracious. I just tag along with people who do know what to do and watch them eat crabs while I sit there holding my mallet with Old Bay all over my cold, wet, cut-up hands and fantasize about ordering food that doesn’t involve so much hard work.


My practice fish from the seafood store.

But anyway, this seafood store I went to was packed with people waiting for crabs. They all had deli numbers and were mulling around waiting for their bushel of swamp dogs, or whatever. It was crazy in there. It was like being at an auction.  But as busy as it was, I got an appreciative glance when I told the fishmonger I wanted the fish whole.

Here’s how it went:

Me: “I would like three of those trout, please.”

Him: “Filleted?”

Me: “No.”

Him: “Gutted?”

Me: “Yes.”

Him: Heads on or off?”

Me: “On, please.”

Him (appreciatively): “Good for you.”

Me (like a dork): “Thanks! I’m practicing!”

So now that you know how the conversation goes, you can walk into a seafood store and order some whole, gutted, heads-on trout with confidence.

Here’s my little lovely, before and after.

Fish for the Practical — Before

I was so happy with my fillets that I patted them a few times before turning them in for inspection.

Fish for Practical — After

Finally, we subjected all these various cuts of chicken and fish to separate cooking methods. Here are the results:

Chicken and fish on the presenting grid.

Glamorous it ain’t, but it was interesting and satisfying to produce. I’m ready to fillet up a storm. And with my freezer stuffed full of various baked goods from my baking class, I’ve got a boatload of chicken to eat in the next week.

Happy Owl Baking’s Sweet Bean Pie makes its official debut!

I am happy to announce that Happy Owl Baking will make its official debut on Saturday, May 12, 2012 as part of Victoria’s Fancy Foods Saturday Tastings Series.

Victoria’s Fancy Foods is a cool little shop that sells meats, cheeses, and lots of gourmet products that you’ve probably been wondering where on earth you could find without driving to…well, honestly, who knows where else you could find this kind of stuff around here. We’re in the ‘burbs, baby, so it’s a good thing Victoria’s has done all the legwork for you. She, Victoria herself, has also hand-picked a very accessible selection of domestic and international wines.  She’s a Certified Wine Specialist, so trust her. And if you’re a suspicious son of a gun and don’t want to trust her, then come to the free wine tastings. She has them, and a whole bunch of other stuff, on her calendar —  including my bean pie on Saturday, May 12, so check out her website for more info.

What I dig about this shop is her emphasis on  “clean food” — food that has been “produced, grown or raised completely naturally.” Click here to see her discussion of clean food on her blog  She does a lot of local sourcing and she also happens to be the pick-up point for several CSA’s — makes it all super easy.

So come out and say hi on Saturday, May 12 from 1:00-4:00. Victoria’s is tucked into a shopping center on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, MD, so if you haven’t been there before, keep your eyes peeled! It’s in the same shopping strip that has Poor Boy’s Steakhouse.

The deets: Victoria’s Fancy Foods, 350 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park, MD (410) 384-9463

Wascally Wabbits!

Pear Frangipane Tart

HRM 124 Practical Final Exam: Pear Frangipane Tart

I believe the last thing I thought as I headed out the door to my HRM 124 Practical Final Exam was, ” I hope it doesn’t involve piping…” The exam was supposed to be three hours long and could be on anything we had made this semester. In fact, someone specifically asked Chef if it would be a recipe we had already worked in class. Answer: yes. Reality: no.

This kind of final exam was new to me. It was a tiered Final, meaning that we would have three choices of production: one worth 100 points (hardest), one worth 90 points (intermediate), and one worth 80 points (easiest, obviously). Here’s the kicker: the final is worth 100 points regardless of which level you choose, so if you choose the 80 point production and ace it you’re still only going to get 80% — a low B. Um, what’s that now?? Who would choose this, you ask? Many people, it turns out. Maybe this kind of exam is common in culinary, but I found it quite odd for several different reasons which I won’t go into because it would be boringly pedagogical. Let’s suffice it to say that I was aiming for the regular ol’ 100 point choice. I mean, I’d have to screw up a decent amount to drop myself to an 80 so let’s hedge those bets and start higher, right? Hence, my desire as I left the house for the Final to NOT involve piping.

I was pretty sure chocolate souffle would find its way onto the hard list — pastry cream, chocolate, and meringue in one dish? That screams Final Exam. But, there isn’t anything in the lab manual I couldn’t produce in three hours. There are, however, plenty of things in the lab manual that I wouldn’t want to produce in 90 minutes, which is what The Powers That Be decided to give us — “More of a challenge,” they giggled. Add a Creme Anglaise side to that Chocolate Souffle and you are looking at a girl who swiftly recalculated the eggs in her basket and decided to point her arrow firmly at the middle. So, it was Pear Frangipane Tart for 90 pts. –and, as it turns out, 90 minutes —  thank you very much. Here’s the fun(ny) part: we’d never done a Pear Frangipane Tart in class. Hmmmm. A recipe we hadn’t seen before? Dee-lightful. And typical. And I was off to the races.

The tart actually turned out fine. Since everyone else in my time slot chose the 80-pointer (biscuits and lemon tea bread? Seriously? Come on, people) and were done rather quickly, I had the convection oven all to myself and I got to see the convection oven actually act like a convection oven for the first time all semester and bake something faster than a conventional oven. I would rather have had the deck oven since I really prefer the way it bakes, but it was tied up doing biscuits.  So, even though your bottom crust was a little pale while your top crust flirted with burning, Pear Frangipane Tart, you and I rubbed along alright tonight.

And the good news? No piping.

Pear Frangipane Tart

HRM 124 Practical Final Exam: Pear Frangipane Tart

Pate a Choux? Shooo’… (or, the post that was almost called “Piping: Not My Bag, Baby”)

Eclairs and Cream Puffs

On the presenting grid. My team is the back, middle square.

It’s close to the end of the semester, so it was time to tackle Pate a Choux (aka Eclair Paste, Choux Paste, or Cream Puff Paste, as was heavily stressed by Chef D., so I am guessing this bit of name trivia will be on the Final Exam. I can also think of several different names for creme anglaise, so just ask if you’re very curious). Not being a particular fan of the eclair or the cream puff, I was indifferent coming into this exercise. It also involved piping, of which I am particularly clumsy. This is, of course, quite vexing to me as I prefer to be smooth, precise and fluid in all my tasks. Well. Anyway, I was going to do a post just on the trials of piping, and call it “Piping: Not My Bag, Baby”  complete with photos of various mangled piping bags and wobbly, uneven eclairs, but quickly realized that would be super dorky, and I just don’t know y’all well enough for that yet. Yeah, I know, I tried this one earlier in my creme brulee post, but it hadn’t found its feet yet. I’ll keep at it.

So, instead of pastry bag detritus, I present to you the eclairs. And, I have to say, while they didn’t win me all the way over — I still don’t very much like the textures of pate a choux or pastry cream — they are indeed much nicer when they are freshly made and not cold from the refrigerator case. Plus, you get to dip them into chocolate glaze and watch the chocolate smooth out, shiny and perfect and calm like an untroubled brow. That is a peaceful proposition.

Pate a Choux, nude

Eclair and Cream Puff, pre-pastry cream injection and chocolate bath

Class Grid: Finished product

Momma Needs A Blowtorch

Creme BruleeIt was Custards night in Baking 124: pastry cream, crème anglais, crème brulee, and chocolate soufflé. I have always been a fan of pudding – I looked for a ginger cat specifically so I could name him Puddin’  — and I have fantasized many times about bringing puddings back big time, but flan has never found favor with me, and pastry cream just isn’t my bag, either. (Bag! Ha!).  So, I was prepared to be indifferent to custards. HOWEVER, that was before I torched my own crackly sugar crust on a freshly chilled crème brulee. The photo isn’t mine – I was too enamored with torching the tray of ramekin soldiers to get a good shot before the rest of the class descended upon them – -but it’s pretty much the same idea. The chocolate soufflé pictures are mine, though, as is probably obvious by the obnoxious glare from the camera through the oven window.

Chocolate Souffle in oven

Chocolate Souffle in oven

Chocolate Souffle, finished

Chocolate Souffle, finished

I’ve come to the preliminary conclusion that when leavening goods with egg whites (merengues) there is not enough juice to the squeeze. And by that I mean they are a hassle. Merengues are very temperamental and I think they’re just a little too big for their britches. I could just as easily – more easily, actually – have made a warm chocolate cake tonight and I wouldn’t have had to fold a thing. But, that’s neither here nor there. Back to the blowtorch: for all my family and friends who thought that I have everything necessary for the kitchen, I’m here to tell you I don’t have a blowtorch and I think it has just become an imperative. Or, at least a fun new toy. And all of you who know me I’m sure would agree that my having a blowtorch is an excellent idea! So, look for the post where I tell you I burned down my kitchen. It wouldn’t be the first time, but that wasn’t technically my fault. Well, maybe technically it was.

When Opportunity Knocks…

I went to, and walked away from, the Baltimore Food Truck Rally tonight. There were two cupcake trucks there, but that’s not why I left.  I left because the lines were hecka long. There was a South Carolina BBQ truck there that I had wanted to check out. I heartily wanted a pulled pork sammie. So, I did actually get in line, but then I had some time on my hands and it got me to thinking about how when I was parking the car I had seen a place I hadn’t known existed: a place called HarborQue. And it just happened to be Carolina style BBQ. Some might call that Coincidence. I call it Opportunity. So I waved goodbye to the trucks and off I went.

The place was crowded with other food truck refugees. We are an impatient people. Of course Harbor BBQ had the pulled pork sammie, but after watching three people walk past me with the Loaded Carolina Fries, I changed my ordering tune. Pulled pork with bbq baked beans, cheese and jalapenos over french fries? Whaaaat? Is this how they roll in South Carolina, or is this a Balto. hybrid? Either way, they had me. And the pulled pork was delicious; tender and smokey, which I love. I sat out on their deck while other food truck people poured in. I listened in on their tales of long lines and sold out food while I made a somewhat respectable dent in this DelMarVa delicacy. I’m glad I found this place they call the “best  barbeque on the Chesapeake.” I will definitely go back and I might do the Loaded Fries again, but next time, hold the cheese.

P.S. Did I mention that the last four numbers of their phone number spell PORK? I’m charmed. And, to make it even better,  it is a BYOB — an East Coast concept that really grows on a person…

More to love about HarborQue: Hickory smoked pit beef, pit ham, brisket, chicken-and-ribs and a bbq sundae of which I’m not sure how I feel yet. Here’s their menu (click). They do tailgating and catering, too.

Survey says…

The trades show was crowded, a veritable crush at its zenith. As such, I consider it a success. The Happy Owl table had a good turnout and I had the chance to really talk about how my bakery concept and the products I was sampling that day were connected. I believe I used the phrase “heart health” at least 100 times.

Here’s the interesting part: People like bean pie.

Well, duh. I knew they would.

Of the people surveyed, 100% were trying bean pie for the first time, and 100% reported they liked it. And to hear how surprised they were when they said it — they seemed mildly startled, actually — was funny to watch, and also very satisfying to me because I have believed in bean pie from the start.

So without further ado, here are the Trade Show pictures for which you have been clamoring: