Sunday, January 4, 2015

Holiday Cookies for the Homeless 2014

Before 2015 ended, Charles and I participated in a favorite holiday program -  our 3rd annual holiday Cookies for the Homeless Drive.

Fellow Italian Club members next to the cookie collection box

The Holiday Cookies for the Homeless program is deigned to bring holiday cheer, in the form of homemade holiday cookies, to residents of the Day Resource Center - Grassroots program that provides meals, showers, limited laundry and social services to homeless individuals and families in Howard County, Maryland.

This year we donated 1,300 holiday cookies to individuals and families in our town. With the help of several student clubs - Red Cross, Salvation Army, It's Academic, National Honor Society, Model United Nations and Indian Dance - we were able to increase our donation count from last year and support more people during the holidays. 
Cookies for the Homeless drop off box

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.

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

This year, Charles and I decided to bake almond snowball cookies and used this recipe here.
Holiday Cookies for the Homeless is a great program. A big shout out to founder Lisa Jablonover - who created a way for our community to do something special for families in need during the holiday. And to our Grandma Alberta for introducing us to Mrs. Jablonover and for baking awesome cookie donations.
Cookie donations ready for delivery
If you or your school club would like to get involved with the 2015 holiday cookie program, let us know and we'll connect you with Mrs. Jablonover.  In the meantime, if you'd like to help Grassroots, contact them here.

- Thomas

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cafe Normandie - Downtown Annapolis, MD

My girlfriend Gracie suggested we eat at Cafe Normandie. Located in the historic area on Main Street, the restaurant is only blocks away from the Governor's mansion, State House and the Annapolis Waterfront. 

Maryland State House

holiday decorations
There was a glass-enclosed fireplace in the center of the restaurant. How cool is that?!

Gracie ordered the tomato mozzarella prosciutto sandwich on a baguette. It was a hit with Gracie.
The bread was incredibly soft and toasty. The prosciutto, tender, the mozzarella, thick and flavorful. The restaurant gave her a sizable (object may appear to be smaller in photo) lunch portion.
I ordered the Trout Almondine, trout garnished with sliced almonds and served with green beans and carrots. This was my first time trying an almondine fish dish and OHHH BOY was it delicious. The trout was buttered and seasoned to perfection. The moist and crispy trout combined with the delectable sliced almonds and fresh vegetables made for one knockout fish entree.  I'd recommend this dish to anyone who likes seafood or almondine dishes. 
For dessert, Gracie and I shared un crepe a la fraise. This crepe is filled with fresh-cut strawberries and whipped cream topped with strawberry sauce and MORE whipped cream! Everything tasted very fresh and wholesome. Gracie said this dish was "berry" GOOD. This dish really does taste as fantastic as it looks!
Gracie and I both ordered coffee 

Gracie is jubilant that she is getting a
refill of coffee


Our waiter Travis was awesome. He had a great sense of humor and offered several suggestions that turned out to be terrific.
The bathrooms were very stylish and I felt obliged to take a picture.


Cafe Normandie Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Johnny's Bistro on Main & Bean Hollow - Historic Ellicott City, MD

Located in the heart of Ellicott City's historic district, Johnny's Bistro on Main is a quaint eatery that serves traditional favorites with a creative twist.  

The restaurant, named after owner and managing partner Johnny Breidenbach, serves rustic sandwiches, paninis, tapas, innovative salads and gourmet pizza "with a creative touch."

I was joined by Gracie on this culinary adventure. We both decided to order a sandwich from "Between the Bread" selections listed on the menu that arrived with skinny fries and a pickle. 

The "It's a Wrap" caught my eye - a grilled Tuscan chicken, fresh mozzarella, sliced proscuitto, mescaline greens, roasted red peppers, herbs and garlic aioli ($9.99).  The saltiness of the proscuitto and seasoned, tender chicken combined with the fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers packed a nice a one-two punch of flavors in my mouth. The ingredients were extremely fresh. I would have preferred less garlic aioli but that's just my preference.  Next time I will ask for the spread on the side.
It's a Wrap 

California Dreaming
Gracie ordered the California Dreaming sandwich - roasted turkey with apple wood bacon, guacamole, lettuce and tomato served on rustic herbed ciabatta ($9.99). It was a hit with Gracie who decided to opt out of the bacon slices. I took a bite and agree. The bread was outrageously good. I could have eaten just the bread and been one happy Dude. 

Creme Brûlée 

For dessert, the "Freshly Made Creme Brûlée with Vanilla Bean" ($5.99) was calling our names from the "Sweet Temptations" menu. We gave it a shot.   Although it was a small portion and we were full from the sandwiches, it was so well made with fresh ingredients and so tasty that we didn't leave a morel.

We continued our evening in historic Ellicott City by walking around the downtown area admiring the antique stores and restaurants all dressed up in Christmas fashion. We stopped into a nearby coffee house (we both have a passion for coffee) called Bean Hollow Coffee and Connections - a cozy vegetarian and vegan coffeehouse/restaurant that serves a ridiculous variety of coffee all day long (up to 10 pm except on Sundays) along with a selection of food including desserts, sandwiches and salads (last order taken at 9:30 pm).

Gracie was filled with mucho happiness from her coffee 

Bean Hollow dressed in its holiday finery

Gracie ordered the Americano- a full-bodied espresso shot poured into a cup of hot water. This coffee keeps the integrity of the espresso taste without the strength of a regular, unadulterated espresso shot. I ordered the triple Americano (an americano with three espresso shots).

Bean Hollow was a terrific place to end our historic Ellicott City journey.

Before the night ended, we took a ride to the Christmas house in the near-by Beaverbrook neighborhood in Columbia, MD to visit the Christmas house at 5034 Durham Rd. 

It looked exactly how I remembered the house - just spectacular with what's reported to be over 200,000 lights.  I think Gracie was impressed too. 

Sadly, we learned from the people we met walking around the Christmas display that this is the LAST year the house will have a big show for the holiday. Read more about the house here  I highly recommend you visit this Christmas light display before it shines no more.

- Charles 

Johnny's Bistro on Main on Urbanspoon

Bean Hollow Roastery & Espresso on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Galway Bay Irish Pub & City Dock Cafe - Downtown Annapolis, MD

I traveled to Annapolis recently to meet my friend Gracie who recommended we eat at Galway Irish Pub. 
Located in the historic area on Maryland Avenue, the restaurant is only blocks away from the Governor's mansion, State House and the Annapolis waterfront.

Our waiter Shane was terrific. He offered several suggestions that turned out to be fantastic.

Gracie ordered a traditional Irish speciality, the Shepard's pie -  ground beef sirloin cooked in a casserole with onion, peas, and carrot, topped with mashed potatoes.

Here's what Gracie had to say about the dish, "mmmonmMMMMMmmmMMMmm tasty." The complexity of flavors from the fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes, tender beef, and fresh vegetables make one sinful pie. We both thought the presentation was awesome too.

Gracie is full of abundant joy from her pie
The antique bookshelf and brick
wall gave the restaurant
 a traditional and cozy feel 

I ordered the Grilled Chicken & Irish Bacon sandwich - a breast of chicken charbroiled, topped with a grilled strip of Irish Bacon and melted cheddar, served on a toasted Amoroso roll. This was my first time trying Irish Bacon and OHHHH BOY was it delicious.

The chicken breast was tender with just a tid bit of charcoal for flavor. Although this sandwich combination is not unique, somehow this Irish Pub found a way to make it standout. Maybe its the salty Irish bacon. Or the sharp cheddar cheese. But it was great.  The steak fries just made the entire dish sing with their hot, crisp outside and tender, soft inside.
After enjoying a great dinner, we continued the evening with a walk around downtown Annapolis admiring the stores and restaurants all dressed up for Christmas. We stopped into a nearby coffeehouse, City Dock Cafe, where one of Gracie's friend Haley was working.
City Dock Coffee dressed in its holiday finery 
City Dock Coffee is a quaint, cozy coffeehouse located near the bottom of Maryland Avenue.
The Powerhouse coffee

Since I had a long drive home at night, Haley recommended the Powerhouse coffee - coffee mixed with three espresso shots. It was slightly bitter but packed a powerful punch. Without a doubt, the drink did help me stay focused and alert my whole ride home.

Garcie ordered the Americano - a full-bodied espresso shot poured into a cup of hot water. This coffee keeps the integrity of the espresso taste without the strength of a regular, unadulterated espresso shot.

City Dock Cafe was the perfect spot to end a fun night. The staff was friendly and the coffees well mixed and tasty.

Thanks to Gracie for showing me around historic Annapolis.
The Americano 

Galway Bay Irish Restaurant on Urbanspoon

City Dock Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#futurechefs Twitter party TONIGHT at 8 p.m.

Tonight we are participating in a Twitter party at 8 p.m for the newly released book FutureChefs by author Ramin Ganeshram and would like to invite you to join us.

Why? A few months ago, veteran journalist and trained chef Ramin contacted us about this amazing book she was writing about young foodies and chefs and wanted to know if we'd like to be included in the book.

We were truly honored to be asked and humbled to be included among so many illustrious future chefs.

Printed by Rodale Inc., publisher of the "Eat This Not That" book series, "Mens Fitness", and "Runner's" magazines,  the FutureChefs book highlights 150 recipes from the kitchens of young cooks all over the world.

Our story appears on page 126 and our recipe on page 127. The recipe, Vegetable-Parmesan Crusted Flounder was inspired by a dish our Grandma Alberta makes. She got the idea for it on a trip to Sicily, Italy many years ago.

Not only does the book have awesome recipes but it features the stories of students from around the world who are making a name for themselves in the food business.

13-year old Mia Alessi of Parkton, Maryland developed her own line of cake mixes under the name "Bratty Crocker".

Haile Thomas of Tuscon Arizona who at 13 years old has been the guest of the First Lady at the State of the Union, a guest on the Food Network, and created a charity that helps kids be healthier through cooking classes.

Alessandra Peters from the United Kingdom is a 15 year old known as the Food Intolerant Teen for her Foodie Teen website that chronicles her vegan adventures.

And there's so many more FutureChef stories and recipes to talk about. The book is available at and Whole Foods stores.

So join us tonight for our FutureChef Twitter party using the hashtag #futurechefs.

Charles and I hope to see you at the #futurechefs Twitter party!