Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Guest Writer - Superintendent's Corner Blog

This week, I had a great honor I wanted to share with you. 

Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose of the Howard County Public School System, invited me to be a guest writer on her blog, the Superintendent's Corner. She read my recent 2 Dudes blog post about  Petit Louis (the restaurant hosted 200 students from my high school's French classes for a culinary adventure -read it here) and asked me to write about it on her blog. 

Here's a sneak peak below but you can check out the entire blog post here

Big shout out and thank you to my French teacher Madame Doff for taking us students on the Petit Louis field trip and Superintendent Foose for inviting me to be a guest writer. 

- Thomas 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Insomnia Cookies - Johns Hopkins University Baltimore

             Insomnia Cookies is a cool store that offers warm cookies and desserts - eat-in or delivered - until 3 a.m. Their locatation right outside the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore makes it a very popular place with students.

In fact, the company was founded in 2003 by University of Pennsylvania student Seth Berkowitz. When baking cookies out of his dorm room and delivering them to students late at night turned into a very successful endeavor, he knew that he was onto something.

In 2004, Seth took the cookie delivery idea and opened his first Insomnia Cookies retail store in Syracuse, New York. Fast forward to today and the cookie store has expanded to 80 stores nationwide with big expansion plans. The Baltimore manager told me that more IC locations will be coming soon to Fells Point and Towson. 

The Insomnia Cookie selection varies from traditional favorites such as Chocolate Chunk, Sugar, Double Chocolate Mint, M & M, Oatmeal Raisin, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut, to deluxe flavors like Triple Chocolate Chunk and S'mores and limited addition cookies. 

I was invited to try their limited time only red velvet cookies just in time for Valentine's Day. This newest addition to the Insomnia Cookies lineup offers the flavors of traditional red velvet cake with bits of soft cream cheese.

Soft and warm on the inside with a little crunch on the exterior, it was a beautiful thing. The cookie really did taste like a red velvet cake with cream cheese  frosting. I washed it down with a cold container of Cloverland Farms Dairy milk complete with its very own insomnia cookies cold sleeve protector. Yum. 

Insomnia also offers Cookie Cakes that can be personalized with messages such as Congrats and Happy Birthday and eight ice cream scoop flavors available in cups or larger to-go containers.

Two things I really liked about this cookie shop:
 whether it's only 1 cookie or a dozen cookies (which was on special for $12 when I visited) - you can get it delivered for only $2. 

Baltimore supervisor Chanelle, me and long-time delivery man Terry
Second, every time an email or delivery request comes in through the computer, the store's speaker system blares Cookie Monster's voice over the speakers saying "Coooookie, num, num, num [...]".

Cookie Monster is right, who doesn't love a warm buttery and sugary delight - especially late at night? And it seems he's not the only one screaming for cookies. I think insomnia cookies will continue to be popular with both the college crowd and late nighters.

If you go to the Baltimore location, tell Chanelle and Terry I sent you. They were both very nice.

- Thomas

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

E.A.T - New York City, NY

E.A.T is a quaint eatery on Madison Avenue, only a few steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and several blocks from the Guggenheim in New York City's Upper East Side.

E.A.T is owned by Eli Zabar Incorporated. If that name sounds familiar to you, it should. Eli Zabar is the brother of Saul Zabar, the current president of Zabar's. Zabar's is a famous speciality food store in Manhattan, frequently referenced in the media on shows like Seinfeld, The Nanny, Friends, etc...  If E.A.T is anything like Zabar's, it has a lot of potential.

Right as you walk into E.A.T, you enter the "eat-to-go" section (take out). After you stroll past all the various succulent take out items, you arrive at the back of the restaurant. This is where you can sit down and dine in (pictured on the left and right).

All orders come with Eli's complementary bread. The bread basket was phenomenal, a huge slab of butter with a diverse group of bread to choose from.

Our orders came out in what seemed like a "New York minute".

E.A.T. has its own logo on napkins!

Charles selected the chicken vegetable soup. The flavor wasn't as potent as he would have liked it to be, leaning more to the dull side. Charles also said that the soup consisted mostly of broth and commented how there weren't as many vegetables as he would have liked. He would have enjoyed the dish if it was more hearty.

My father ordered the vegetable chili. As well as having a spicy kick, the soup was very substantial and filled to the brim with flavor. The small amount of sour cream on the top was a nice touch to this incredible dish. He would definitely choose this entree again.

 My mother decided to have the vegetable frittata with fresh salad greens. My mom thought the dish was a tremendous blend of asparagus, eggplant, and an assortment of other vegetables. In addition, the skinny layer of gruyere cheese that rests on top of the thin crispy crust really tied the delicious meal together. While the frittata defied my mother's expectations, the fresh salad greens was a different story. When the meal arrived, the fresh salad greens came without dressing. So, we had to ask for it. When the waiter came with the salad dressing, we were served a mustard vinaigrette that was heavy on the mustard.

I selected the turkey club with cole slaw. This sandwich consisted of bread, lettuce, tomato, turkey, prosciutto, gruyere cheese, and mayo. I will say that lettuce took up about half of this sandwich, but I love lettuce so I'm not complaining. I would have liked to have a bit more mayo with my sandwich because I thought the turkey was somewhat dry. However, the sweet and delicate prosciutto makes up for it.

 Although we didn't try any desserts, they do look like they had a nice arrangement.
How cool is this?

We talked to the waiter and he stated that the grilled cheese on sourdough and the tuscan peasant soup are a popular choice among customers (Food Network even gave this combination a great review).

Since my family and I only touched upon the tip of the iceberg of food here, I would definitely come back for another meal.

One last note - the restaurant is located in an upscale Upper East Side neighborhood and the restaurants in this area cater to this crowd. Even though this is a cool little eatery, the food prices are more expensive than the normal elevated NYC prices.

- Thomas Regnante

E.A.T. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Holiday Cookies for the Homeless 2015

Members of CHS Italian Club in front of the donation box

From December 17th-18th, I ran and  participated in Italian Club's 4th annual Holiday Cookies for the Homeless Drive.

The Holiday Cookies for the Homeless program was started by Howard County resident Lisa Jablonover as a way to give back to those less fortunate by baking homemade holiday cookies and distributing them to the Day Resource Center - a Grassroots program that provides meals, showers, limited laundry and social services to homeless individuals and families in Howard County, Maryland.

Italian Club members sorting out the cookies
This year, the Day Resource Center received an astounding 1,700 cookies thanks to everyone's collective effort- almost half of this amount came from the Italian Club. We were able to increase our donation count from last year and support more people during the holidays.  A shout-out goes to several other Centennial High School clubs for donating cookies - Red Cross, Salvation Army, Culinary Club, Model Congress, Model United Nations and Guitar Club.  Huge thanks you to my grandmother for making this event possible by introducing me to Ms. Jablonover in the first place and donating cookies.
Using the cookie press

 Charles and I first participated in the program back in 2011(click here) when our Grandma Alberta introduced us to the program's founder Lisa Jablonover.

From 2012-2014, we got our high school Italian Club involved in the the program (see here for 2012) and challenged other school clubs to a bake-off competition.  The winner receives a pizza party courtesy of the Italian Club (see more here for 2013 and here for 2014).

The final step: delivering the cookies

I decided to bake festive cream-cheese cookies this year. The ingredients are as follows, for about 3 dozens cookies: 3 ounces of cream cheese, 1 cup of salted butter, 1 cup of sugar, 1 egg yolk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 2.5 cups of flour.

Remember, just because the 2015 holiday season is over, doesn't mean that Grassroots doesn't need our help. Contact Grassroots here to find out more ways you can help out.


Last-minute reservations in Howard County for New Year's Eve

Get read to boogy down, drink champagne and indulge in fabulous food. It's New Year's Eve 2015! Here are some places that are still taking reservations in Hoco if you're a last-minute larry:

Make reservations here

 Click  here to find out more about the event and the fixed price menu

To make reservations and check out their fixed price new year's eve menu click here

To make reservations and check out their fixed price new year's eve menu click here

To make reservations click here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Petit Louis (Bistro)- Columbia, Maryland lakefront

Bonjour Petit Louis, it has been awhile. 

Arranged by my high school French teacher Madame Doff, Petit Louis welcomed my French class for a 3-course lunch to introduce us to French cuisine. 
During the course of two days, Petit Louis served lunch to over 200 French students from Centennial High School. This is actually my first time eating at the bistro section of Petit Louis (click here to view our Petit Louis comptoir post).

Me with my friends  at an enormous table

Me meeting CEO Tony Foreman (r) the special event coordinator (L)

My first impression of Petit Louis -  it made me feel as though I had been transported halfway around the globe to an authentic parisian bistro. The dark wood paneling, bistro chairs and tables and the intimate lighting all create a cozy and sophisticated atmosphere that screams French. 

Once our student group was seated, we were warmly greeted by CEO Tony Foreman who spoke to us about the restaurant and our lunch ….and ready for this -  IN FRENCH. That's right, Mr. Foreman, the noted celebrity restauranteur - who along with acclaimed chef Cindy Wolf has several other award winning establishments including Charleston, Pazo, Chinghiale, and Johnny' -  took the time to help high school students improve their French. That's really cool. 

Immediately following Mr. Foreman's speech, a parade of servers with family style-food trays rushed out of the kitchen. It was reminiscent of the "Be Our Guest" movie scene from Beauty and the Beast. The waiters were so happy to serve us and explain each dish. We were off to a great start.

The hors d'oeuvres included gourgères, canapé de bettrave, and gravlax canapés. What's a good french bistro without remarkable pastries, right? Petite Louis did not disappoint. Even though this was my first time trying gourgères, this certainly won't be my last. This savory and puffy choux (light pastry dough) pastry filled with gruyere cheese was perfection - warm and buttery, melt-in-your mouth goodness. 
Canapé de bettrave and gravlax canapés

The canapé de bettrave (red beets, chèvre, walnut vinaigrette, and belgian endives) was also terrific. I'm now totally enamored with endives. It tastes like a less bitter and thinner version of celery. When paired with beets and chèvre cheese it was a great mix of sweet, salty and crunchy.  The gravlax canapés were a hit for me too and had the same feel (sweet, salty and crunchy) but in a different way. The combination of the house-cured salmon with salty gravlax capers and sweet crème fraîche sitting atop crunchy, thin toast slices is mighty good.
Pomme frites

The second course arrived with pomme frites, quiche aux legumes, salad verte and croque monsieur.

The pomme frites were quickly eaten up at my table, but I can't blame them. Long and thin fresh cut potatoes, lightly crispy with a hint of salt.  It was hard not to eat the entire bowl.

Quiche aux légumes
Each slice of the quiche aux légumes (butternut squash and chèvre) had a deliciously light pastry crust filled with generous amount of sweet butternut squash topped with fluffy cream, eggs and cheese filling.  PL quiche is tall and thick, just the way I like it. Some students got full on the other entrees before they ate their slice, which just meant more for me. Yep, I had 2 slices.
Salade verte

French food emphasize fresh, simple ingredients. This salade verte is a prime example of an authentic french salad- mesclun greens, reggiano, and red wine vinaigrette. Simply delicious.

Croque monsieur

The Croque Monsieur was probably the biggest hit at my table. Again, the emphasizes was on fresh, homemade ingredients. Each individual ingredient was perfect in and of it self. Put together and grilled it was  a masterpiece. The students at my table commented that they could eat this "ham and cheese" sandwich everyday for lunch.

For dessert, we received an "assortment de patisseries" (housemade cookies and French pastries). Unfortunately, I couldn't take a picture because it was eaten up so quickly but trust me when I say it was all good too.

After trying Petit Louis' bistro section, I have a newfound appreciation for all the effort that's put into making the meals. There's a lot of love going on in that kitchen. I really respect that a well noted restaurant would take the time to help 200 local high school French students in their educational endeavors. I hope they invite us back next year.

Merci beaucoup Petit Louis et Tony Foreman.

- Thomas Regnante