Sunday, December 30, 2012

Aldo's Ristorante Italiano - Baltimore's Little Italy

St. Leo The Great church (est. 1881) 

After a beautiful Christmas Eve mass at St. Leo The Great Catholic church in Baltimore's Little Italy, my family and I walked a block and a half to Aldo's Ristorante Italiano for dinner.

Parking can sometimes be a challenge in Little Italy, so my parents like that we can   park the car once and be able to attend church then walk to dinner. 

Award winning, Italian-born chef Aldo Vitale, owns and operates this very popular fine dining restaurant that often attracts celebrities (check out the wall photos with Aldo and celebrities in the entrance near the bar).
There are several different seating areas, most of which are cozy rooms with about five to six large tables.
Enjoying warm bread w/olive oil 

Shortly after we were seated, a basket of warm Italian bread with an olive oil dipping sauce arrived. While we munched on our toasty bread, we checked out the menu.  For Christmas Eve, Aldo's offers both the regular Italian dinner items and the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner. Click here to read more about the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner by famous chef Mario Batali. 

We all opted to order from the regular menu and the specials of the day. 

Bronzini fish with crab topping and lobster mashed potatoes
My mom and my grandpa both ordered the fish special - a boneless, filet of bronzini (also called the Mediterranean Sea Bass) topped with crabmeat stuffing and accompanied by lobster mashed potatoes and a vegetable. My grandpa and mom remarked how fresh and tender the bronzing was.  My grandpa thought the crabmeat topping overpowered the taste of the fish a bit. Conversely, my mom loved the abundance of crab meat. Both agreed the lobster mashed potatoes was a nice accompaniment. 

Amish chicken tenderloins 

My dad and brother ordered the Amish chicken tenderloins and artichoke hearts sautéed in garlic butter. The chicken was juicy, tender and well seasoned. The vegetables were caramelized, sweet and fork tender.  This dish really packed a punch of flavors.

My mom ordered a side of broccoli rabe.
It is a common vegetable 
in the cuisines of southern Italy. Its 
flavor has been described 
as nutty and bitter. It's often sautéed inolive oil and garlic.
My aunt ordered a side of mashed potatoes with her main entree. According to my aunt, it was a creamy garlic perfection. The presentation with weaves in the mashed potatoes was terrific.

My grandma and I ordered the jumbo shrimp scampi seafood risotto in garlic sherry butter.
This dish was amazing. The garlic sherry butter gave the entire dish a little kick. The creamy, soft, butter moistened rice was a fantastic compliment to the warm,firm texture of the shrimp. The dish presentation was nice - shrimp neatly placed on the outskirts of the plate surround the risotto. 

A salad with fresh sweet red and yellow beets, mixed greens, crumbled gorgonzola
toasted walnuts, and champagne vinaigrette. The ingredients were very fresh and light. The combination of the beats and walnuts with the champagne vinaigrette was very complimentary. 

We were too full to order dessert this evening, but we've had it in the past and it is ALWAYS delicious.

According to the restaurant website, in the early 1990's, Chef Aldo owned a wholesale bakery that "prepared and distributed delectable baked desserts to .... (places) such as Nordstrom cafes and Dean & DeLuca." This is probably why Aldo's desserts are consistently great.

The website also mentions that Chef Aldo gives cooking lessons to aspiring chefs and at special events.  We plan to inquire whether Chef Aldo has special events for aspiring student home cooks.  If the answer is yes, stay tuned for more of Aldo's.


- Charles 

Aldo's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holiday Cookies for the Homeless

Holiday Cookies for the Homeless 

 Can you imagine someone who is homeless, sleeping in the cold, not knowing when their next meal is? Every day there are people, including kids, that are experiencing this in our community. 

Last year, we learned about a program called Holiday Cookies for the Homeless from a friend of our grandmother, Lisa Jablonover, who was collecting cookies for the Day Resource Center. The program gives people, who don't have ovens to bake in, an opportunity to enjoy home baked holiday specialities

According to Lisa, "Howard County has at least 230 homeless people living in shelters, cars or in the woods".  We baked a few dozen cookies to contribute to the effort. It was fun and really easy to help. 

We even made a "how to bake holiday cookies" video last year to share with other students and show how easy it is to make a few dozen cookies. 

Here's our blog post about the program.

This year, we decided to participate in the cookie program again - but with a twist. Instead of just us 2 Dudes baking, we decided to enlist the help of more students. 

Charles is the founder and president of the Italian Club at his high school.  So, we decided to get the Italian club members involved as a community service project.  They were so excited about it that we decided to go one step further - challenging all the other student clubs and organizations to a "Bake Off".  It worked like this - school club/organization that donated the most amount of cookies would win a pizza party - served and paid for by the Italian club members. 

The Italian Club members plastered the high school with flyers about the Holiday Cookies for the Homeless program.  The club even had the front office make morning public announcements on the loud speaker about the contest.  And Charles called a number of club presidents to personally make a plea to be part of the contest.  

Meanwhile, we got ready at home. We chose a cookie recipe from Food Network star Giada De Laurentiss, her Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze.  Then we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. 

Ingredients for Lemon Ricotta cookies!

First step: combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Flour, baking soda, and salt all in one
bowl. Step one completed.

Step two: "In a large bowl combine the butter and the sugar."

Then, beat the butter and sugar until "light and fluffy." We later added the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest into the bowl to be beaten as well.
making the lemon juice.
Zesting the lemons.

Once you have beaten those ingredients, now add the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and salt) and stir until combined with wet ingredients ( the butter, sugar, lemon ricotta, lemon juice, and lemon zest).
Before the cookies can go in the oven, you have to scoop them out of the bowl and place them down on the tray lined with parchment paper. We found that using a ice cream scooper worked the best because you can control the amount cookie dough, making each one the same size. Remember, always give each cookie a decent amount of space for it to grow in the oven.
Now the cookies are ready to be put in the oven.
                                                Out of the oven and ready for the final step, frosting. 
After drizzling the cookies with lemon icing and adding a lite sprinkle of red sugar, our finished product yielded 8 1/2 dozen Lemon Ricotta cookies for the homeless.

Overall, with the help of many generous students, we were able to donate over 768 cookies.  The Italian Club baked 51 dozen, while other clubs like the Horizon Foundation, Best Buddies and the Muslim Student Association contributed 13 dozen more.  In total, we were able to donate a whooping  64 dozen homemade treats. 
Here's one of the boxes full of cookies we loaded into a car to bring to Lisa Jablonover's home. There, she collected more cookies and delivered them - over 2000 in total - to the Day Resource Center.Lisa wrote in an email to us that there were so many homemade treats donated this year "that they were able to share them with residents at Grassroots and people sleeping at the Cold Weather Shelter" as well as the Day Resource Center.

We hope you consider doing something special for those in need this holiday season.  Sharing our blessings, no matter how small, is the true meaning of the holiday season.

Here's Giada's recipe for Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze listed on the website. Btw, they are REALLY good!

- Charles and Thomas

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lee Lynn's Dining Room and Lounge - Ellicott City

Lee Lynn's is a neighborhood place located in the Dorsey Search Village Center.  It's kinda hard to find as it sits behind a liquor store but it's worth it when you do.

 Lee Lynn's serves lunch and dinner. With only about 12 tables in the main dinning room and maybe another 12 tables in the lounge, the restaurant is on the small side.  But in the warm months, they open a big outdoor seating section. Check out the giant screen TV in the lounge, it's perfect for big sporting events. 

 For appetizers, we've had the hummus platter and buffalo wings.  The hummus is infused with herbs. I think its parsley and it makes it very tasty.  The wings are a small portion but the hummus is big enough to share.

Chipotle ranch dip

The mother of all appetizers is the Lee Lynn basket of warm home-made chips with herbs and salt seasoning that come with a chipotle ranch dip. Take a look at the photo of the empty basket on the right...this is what happens when we order these chips.  They are crunchy pieces of heaven perfectly seasoned.  We recommend you order more than one side of chipotle ranch dip.  We order at least two. It's that good.

One of our favorite menu items is the Lee Lynn burger.  It's different than any other burger we've eaten.  It comes with garlic mayo, swiss cheese, smoked bacon, crispy onion straws laced with cayenne paper and A1 sauce.  We've taken friends and family here and they agree it's one of the best burgers.  The combinations of all the toppings plus a good tasting hamburger made this an extraordinary burger. The dish comes with home made chips or for an extra fee you can order vegetables or waffle fries. 

Hint - Tuesday night is burger night  - $7.50 burgers

The famous Lee Lynn crab cake sandwich is a 7 ounce all jumbo lump crab cake that is too die for. Loaded with lumps of crab, soft  hints of Old Bay seasoning and minimal fillers this crab cake  just melts in your mouth.  My grandfather is a crab cake connoisseur.  Really.  He has eaten a lot of crab cakes in many different states. He thinks this is one of the best he's eaten.  That says a lot. 

Crab cake night is on Mondays - $11 sandwich and $13 dinner. 

Lee Lynn's is also known for its salads, cream of crab soup, small plates and entrees.  We've tried and liked the turkey club, summer salad, salmon entree and steak. 

Summer salad and Lee Lynn burger with sweet potato fries 

We highly recommend a trip to Lee Lynn's. 

- Charles

Lee Lynn's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Mobbies 2012

Tomorrow night the winners of the fourth annual Mobbies (Maryland's Outstanding Blogs) will be announced. Some of our favorite Howard County blogs could be among the winners such as HowChow, HoCo Rising, Strobist, The SoffrittoThe Tale of Two Cities, La Casa De Sweets and Village Green/ Town Squared

Good luck to all our fellow Howard County bloggers.  And a special good luck to another young food blogger, Eli of The Adventures of a Koodie. 

- Charles and Thomas 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Plumes, Monterey CA

During our trip to California, we spent the night in Monterey.  It was a half way point on our drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  Looking for breakfast, we stumbled upon this terrific American-style cafe, Plumes. 

Although Plumes is a small coffeehouse with just a few tables and chairs, it makes up for its size with the many Americana wall decorations and its AWESOME food. 

Plumes has a large choice of breakfast selections including pastries, bagels, hot beverages, etc..  I couldn't resist ordering a pastry too. The cheese danish looked too good not to try. 

Plume's cheese danish was hands-down the best cheese danish I have ever tasted. The cheese danish had the right balance of cheese, with flaky, tender dough and a slightly glazed exterior. 

My mom also got hypnotized by the pastry case and ordered this blueberry tart. She said it was packed with an abundance of sweet, fresh blueberries. She was also impressed with the presentation of the dish-  berry syrup drizzled on the dish and whip cream topped with strawberries as the finishing piece.

 Charles and I ordered their egg, bacon, and cheese on a sesame bagel. With generous amounts of egg, bacon and cheese, the bagel's soft texture and warmth brought great joy to my taste buds. 

You know your meal is well-prepared when you see it smiling right back at you. This parfait included blueberries, granola, raisins, and strawberries all mixed together with yogurt.

Finding Plumes was a highlight of our trip to Monterey.

Plumes is located at 400 Alvarado Street  Monterey, CA 93940 -  (831) 373-4526
-  Thomas 

Plumes Coffee House on Urbanspoon