Sunday, November 25, 2007

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels

I had heard about Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels from Trader Joe's for a while now, and the thought really intrigued me. So yesterday afternoon, I cruised down I-95 to Columbia and went to the newly-opened Trader Joe's. From where I live, it's soooo much easier to go to anyplace in Columbia than anyplace in Towson, and they have a lot of the same stores (Nordstroms, Borders, Old Navy, TJs). The new store is in a complex with the relocated Best Buy, Costco, Lowes and some golf store. The layout of the complex is strange, but at least there's tons of easy parking, unlike at the Towson TJs.

It took a bit of looking to fund the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels but there they were, perched along with the rest of the candy above the frozen foods. The photo looked great and the sea salt is from the Dead Sea... When I tried them, the first taste was overwhelmingly chocolatey, which was not what I expected. The caramel is a soft center and not very forward tasting, sort of an afterthought. The salt crystals pop up in surprising bursts, which brings another depth of flavour. But it was the chocolate that was the major flavour, and not one that I really wanted. I am not a huge choccy fan, much to the horror of my siblings.
I think that what I should have gotten, and was probably looking for was Fleur de Sel Caramels, without chocolate. Maybe next time!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Zella's Pizza @ Hollins Market

The evening before Thanksgiving, Cat, Dog & I ventured over to Hollins market from our abodes in Pigtown. Despite some bad directions from Mapquest, we eventually made it over there. The Hollins Market area used to have some great restaurants like the Cultured Pearl, Tell Tale Hearth and Gypsy Cafe, but they're all gone now, and the site of GC has some odd bear sculpture on it. I had heard of a few new eateries opening in locations of old favourites, including the site of the former Tell-Tale Hearth. We decided to try Zella's Pizza, since we didn't want to have a heavy meal the night before the big pigout!

Zella's was nearly empty when we got there but filled later on with two groups and some guys from the local firehouse. We ordered some draft beers and Ensalata Caprice for starters. While this salad is better in summer when the tomatoes are real, it wasn't bad and the presentation was nice. You may remember that Cat & Dog are both chefs, so it's always interesting to hear their professional opinion (and it's also why I don't cook for them).

After a lot of discussion, we ordered 14" and a 10" pizzas. One had feta, spinach and onions on it and the other was a chicken pesto pizza. The pizzas were very good, hot from the oven and flavourful. In the professional opinion of my companions, the dough could be improved slightly by throwing a little sea salt onto the crust before the toppings were added.
During dinner, a group with a small boy came into the restaurant. A firetruck with its crew pulled up to get some dinner, and you could see the little boy was sooo excited. One of the firemen went over and asked the parents if the boy would like to see the engine. He carried the boy outside, put him in the driver's seat and turned on the flashing lights. Everyone was enchanted with this small, simple kindness that made a child very happy. During dinner, we also saw one of our local drug dealers, Tony the Pony, galloping by on his trusty little brown pony, Cash. (I inadvertently hired Tony to "entertain" at my Preakness Party before I found out he was a dealer!)

We got some desserts, a tiramisu and a cannoli, and coffees. I ordered decaf and Dog ordered regular. They brought his, but not mine, and upon questioning, the server said they don't really serve a lot of coffee and they serve no decaf. Dog's coffee had very clearly been sitting for a while, and was barely warm. The desserts are not house-made and you can tell.
All in all, we liked Zella's a lot and will order from them for carry-out as well as eat-in. The total for three, with beers included was $62.00, which is very reasonable! As we left, and I turned to take a photo, Zella's looked like an Edward Hopper painting, glowing in the dark.

PS... We went back on Saturday for lunch. They were having "issues" with the bathroom and it smelled SOOO bad, we had to move tables. There was also some wretched screaming child, and with the wood floors, brick and glass walls and tin ceiling, the noise just bounced around and was quite jarring.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Christmas Quiz

This is from Baltimore Snacker by way of Chris at Take the quiz and pass it on.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Egg nog is just too thick. So, it's hot chocolate with big marshmallows...and a shot!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
He wraps them in coordinated paper for different people

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
White, non-flashing, non-moving.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
No. I am not tall enough

5. When do you put your decorations up?
About the second week of December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Cranberry and orange relish. Spiced pecans.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
Being old enough to go to the big caroling party downtown with my parents and their friends.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
What truth?

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
We didn't used to, but we do some now.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Minimally. All one-colour balls which I buy by the box at thrift stores and then donate back.

11. Snow: love it or hate it?
Have to agree with Snack on this: Love it, as long as it doesn’t make things difficult on the road. Ice, though, is evil.

12. Can you ice skate?
Yep. I used to ice skate after work at the Rash Field Rink.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
A trip to the Costwolds for the entire family. It took two years of planning, but all 15 of us went for from two to six weeks.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?
The planning. Writing cards to friends scattered across the globe. Seeing family and friends at parties. The cheer and good will. This year, it's also making sure all of the kids at our residential centers have presents.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Mince pie with a sharp cheddar cheese.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
It used to be caroling downtown with the family, but now it's the Monument Lighting on First Thursday. Kitchenography said it better than I could ever... read it here. I also never miss the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge that is played on Christmas Eve. I hope one day to attend in person

17. What tops your tree?
It varies.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
Giving... I love finding the perfect present. Last year, I gave my niece private knitting lessons at a shop in Fells Point. I wrapped clues in a ball of yarn and we had the best time watching her unravel it. One year I gave my parents, who have everything they could want, a website.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
Some of the old English/Latin carols like Personent Hodie or Gaudete.

20. Candy canes:
Only red and white peppermint ones.

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
Don't have one, although I love watching the Nutcracker ballet.

22. What do you leave for Santa?
The dog usually snags it first!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kitchen Nightmares

That's what my Halloween costume was... chef's jacket with roaches crawling out of the pockets, and ants and rats running around the hem and placket. But here's what really is a kitchen nightmare: the list of restaurant closings in Baltimore City, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun. The listings are from the city health department, and each of the counties surrounding Baltimore has a list. The listings are on a convenient Google Map, so take a look before you head out to eat. FYI, the listings run about a month behind, but you can spot trends.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Meet Up

I missed the Baltimore Bloggers meet & feed at Holy Frijoles last night, but I did have a mini-meet up with fellow Baltimore Blogger, and Style Magazine shout out, Kitchenography. Although she doesn't know this, because I forgot to tell her, she's partly responsible for my blogging career, such as it is.

Around this time last year, I was looking for a recipe for Cranberry Upside Down Cake, and Julie's blog was one of the links that came up on Google. I read her blog with great interest, figuring out pretty quickly that she was from Baltimore. Further reading narrowed down the neighbourhood, which I knew well. If you click on the photo below, you can find Julie's recipe for the cake, which is fabulous. As you read through her blog, you will notice that she's got a talent for taking lush pictures of food.
Since that time, we've e-mailed back and forth, commented on each other's pages and established a distant rapport. Today, we finally met up, united not by our love of food, but of flea marketing. We were both headed to the monthly Load o'Fun market, where I have gotten some goodies in the past.
Today, Julie was the one who scored, with a first edition of Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and some other vintage cookbooks, and two beautiful vintage cotton sheets with beautiful detailing on them, for the grand sum of $2.00 each. I only got some old CD's, including one by the late, great Robert Palmer.