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