Lazy Sunday morning chicken stock

Several years ago, I realized that I could make a lovely chicken stock without ever having to bother with raw chicken. I can control the sodium, seasonings, quantity and always have fresh stock in my refrigerator. The miracle of the grocery store roasted chicken; You are going to eat the chicken anyway, why not use the bones.

Despite the charm of Julia Child and my heritage of cooking vast quantities of food for a single event, I have an aversion to touching raw chicken. In general, I’m not a fan of touching raw meat. That said, most sushi is lovely and I will also happily suffer through preparing bacon on a Sunday morning. My weaknesses have weaknesses.

Making stock is not complicated. It does require patience and a day at home. You spend 25 minutes or so doing the prep, and then you add water, boil, reduce to a simmer and disappear for a few hours while the brew does it’s magic. If you have a Sunday when you can let the stock do it’s thing while you watch a game, read a book or practice extreme couponing, give it a try.

The key to this stock is to cook the vegetables slowly in olive oil for about 10 to 15 minutes, then add the bones from a roasted chicken and whatever herbs you are going to use and continue cooking until the vegetables begin to just caramelize. The richness of the stock depends on everything you do BEFORE you add the water. And quantities aren’t as important as balance. Remember, you can always continue to simmer the stock until it’s reduced and the flavors intensify.

Buying a roasted chicken is only slightly more expensive than buying a chicken to roast at home. If you are comfortable roasting a chicken in advance, more power to you. Take the time to remove the cooked meat from the breasts and the thighs and store it in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Large stock pot
Strainer (preferably one that will fit into your storage containers)
Storage containers (Freezer friendly are best. Ball 32 oz Freezer jars are my favorite.)

1+ Tbsp Olive oil (Tip: fill a clean and unused spray bottle with olive oil. As you are cooking, if you find you need more, rather than pouring from the olive oil bottle, just use a few sprays from your spray bottle. It’s easier to control and you only use what you need.)
1-2 large onions
2-3 large carrots
2-3 stalks of celery
pinch of salt (helps the onions cook more evenly)
bones from a roasted chicken
Herbs: sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, savory (any mixture of these, but the basics should include the first three.)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 gallons of water (more or less to fill the pot)

The instructions above are fairly straight-forward. After adding the bones and the vegetables just caramelize, add the bay leaf and the water, bring to a boil and let simmer for 3-4 hours.

Turn off the heat and let sit for about half an hour. The stock will still be very hot, but you will be able to transfer into the containers at this point. Position your storage containers close to your stock pot, and your strainer over each container as you fill them. Ladle the hot broth into the containers, leaving at least an inch from the top to allow for expansion, if you choose to freeze your stock.

Don’t rush to put your containers in the freezer, or to seal the lids. Continue to let them sit out for an additional half hour to an hour before putting them in the refrigerator and let them chill in there overnight. I wait before sealing the lids completely until Monday morning, but make sure to leave yourself a note or you will have a lovely river on your floor when you pick up the first container. (The things you learn when you’ve had too much wine!)

At this point, are you asking, why bother? Here is a simple reason to at least try. Stock is one of those lovely ingredients that enlivens dishes. But if you don’t know what’s going into it, you also don’t know how to gauge ingredients for other recipes. Too much salt can kill a dish. Also, stock is can be very expensive. $4.00 for 25 ounces is a luxury these days. For about $10.00, the stock recipe will yield about 128 ounces (4 32 ounce containers worth). Directly compared, you would need just over 5 containers of store bought stock. You’ve just saved over $12 and you have the chicken to make other recipes.

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Review: Finally! A Gluten-free pasta worthy of my kitchen

Thanks to Gluten-free Girl’s blog and her new sponsor Jovial, I bit the bullet and ordered a box of their gluten-free fusilli and vanilla cookies as a sort of starter kit. While the cookies left a bit to be desired, I’ve learned not to judge a line based on one product. And frankly, the only thing I really wanted was a pre-made pasta to try out my homemade farmer’s market pasta sauce.

Here I must pause. I make a LOT of mistakes in the kitchen. Pumpkin and pineapple soup was a disaster. My apologies to my brother. It was MANY years ago and I was very young. (This may spark a new blog: Sins of my culinary youth.) However, the kitchen is my lab where trials and errors are documented and adjusted until I’m satisfied that my concoctions will elicit a “yummy sound” from Marty Feldman.

I’ve tried many gluten-free pastas with little success. In their place, KAME rice noodles have crept into the void, but never really filled the hole left by comfort foods no longer allowed: Macaroni and cheese, or tomato-, cream- or meat-based pastas. Spaghetti squash, too, had a place in my repertoire, but obviously tastes like squash.

Like most who grew up in the states, a warm bowl of pasta could sustain me through a rainy afternoon and a good book. Those afternoons will return with gusto! I skeptically took the first mouthful of warm tomatoes, bright peppers, meaty bison and brown rice fusilli pasta. This is pasta! The sauce I made was subtle. I don’t like garlicky or poorly balanced, overly spiced taste bud killers. I want to taste the fresh vegetables, the rich meat from a local bison farm and the brightness of the herbs. (Since there was some in the refrigerator, goat cheese made it in too!) For that kind of sauce, you need a canvas that doesn’t overpower. The brown rice pasta delivers.

I cooked it longer than the package directions. 9 minutes isn’t enough. 10 and a half is about right since it will continue cooking in the sauce while they are warming through. There is plenty left over for lunch for a couple of days. The boxes are smaller than the normal pound of pasta, about 12 ounces. You are definitely paying a bit more for a bit less in terms of quantity. The quality is definitely worth it.

I read books about cooking like many people read novels. There is a distinction between recipe books and books about cooking. There are lessons to learn from books written by Julia Child and Alton Brown. Recipe books don’t inspire an event or an experience. More often they are 180 ways to prepare chicken. If I need inspiration, these days I often look to my fellow bloggers or the Cooking channel’s site. And it’s critical to pay it forward.

Hopefully, this will help my fellow gluten-free folks on their culinary travels.

Posted in Gluten-free products | 2 Comments

Mushroom and Chicken Risotto

In addition to exploring my neighborhood, cooking some of the delights from the Baltimore farmer’s markets and plucking herbs from my backyard still qualifies for Devouring Federal Hill. I have indulged in an orgy of cooking, primarily soups and stews which are easy to store and make into other dishes. This is one I’ve been perfecting.

If you try it, tell me your experience with it. Comments are always encouraged.

32 oz of chicken stock (homemade is best but low-sodium stock or broth is great too. ALWAYS CHECK LABELS!)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
pinch of salt
2 cups of assorted mushrooms, sauteed (see below)
1 cup of Arborio rice
1 cup of white wine
4 cups of chicken stock
1-2 cups of chicken
1/4 cup of parsley
Handful of Parmesan

In a saucepan, heat chicken stock and keep warm.

In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion with a pinch of salt for about 5-7 minutes. Add previously sauteed mushrooms and warm through for about 2 minutes. Remove half and reserve for later.

Add rice and cook in the oil until opaque. Add white wine. Cook until absorbed. Add one ladle-full of heated stock and cook slowly until absorbed and repeat until the rice is cooked through.

Add in the chicken, parsley and remaining sauteed onions and mushrooms. Cook through for about 2 minutes to warm the chicken. Remove from heat. Add salt, pepper and Parmesan.

Note: For this recipe, I used homemade chicken stock. Knowing exactly what is in your ingredients is a staple for maintaining healthy levels of salt, fat and avoiding allergens.

Sauteed Mushrooms
While you can add the mushrooms in to the recipe cold, taking the time to prep them in advance will concentrate their flavor and save you time when you are making risotto for dinner and only have half an hour. They store well refrigerated for up to two weeks.

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups of wild assorted mushrooms
1/4 to 1/2 cup of chicken stock

Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. After the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and chicken stock and cover for about 3-4 minutes.  (Can cook longer, but not necessary.) Remove lid and cook until the liquid evaporates, about 15 minutes, and the mushrooms begin to caramelize.

Use immediately or cool and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Useful tip for busy cooks: Invest in good storage containers and make time on the weekend (or during the week if you work through the weekend) to prep vegetables, make stock, portion out proteins and experiment with new recipes. Enjoy your time in the kitchen. 

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To the Point: Miguel’s in Silo Point

Dinner at Miguel’s was one of the most disappointing meals I’ve had in Baltimore. Recent reviews in Chowhound and Yelp have raved over the food, so I was looking forward to seeing something new in Mexican food. I don’t believe that bland and lackluster are aspirations for Mexican cuisine.

I would caution that this was the middle of the week and we may have had the unfortunate luck of a back-up chef. I will be going back on a weekend to see if the food improves.

Silo Point is an industrial building that was converted into luxury condominiums. Miguel’s, adorned in El Día de los Muertos decor, has the look and feel of a funky Mexican cantina, and come November 2, I hope they can pull together an amazing celebration. It would be nice to experience a little bit of Mexico overlooking the harbor. They have an amazing location and it’s at the end of Baltimore’s Earth, so there is little else around. But they have a lot of work to do.

On to the food.

Chile en Nogadas
Traditional chile stuffed with ham, beef, raisins, queso Chihuahua and nuts. Served with a walnut cream sauce and garnished with Pomegranate seeds. $10 (There are limited quantities).

Look closely. The shards of red are NOT pomegranate seeds.

The failure of the dish was accentuated by the description in the menu. Perhaps with a clearer warning I would have gone down a different path. “There are limited ingredients.”

What arrived was a poorly fried, barely fired chile (impossible to cut)  filled with a single square inch of sliced ham, a tablespoon of some unidentifiable cheese, all resting in a walnut bath sprinkled with red tortilla chips because they couldn’t find pomegranate seeds. If there were raisins, nuts and beef in this chili, they were invisible and tasteless. The batter was too thick and the oil wasn’t hot enough. The result was a heavy, greasy undercooked pepper that was so mild as to be dismissed from the flavor profile entirely.

Dishes need complexity to succeed. This was a one note disaster.

Opposite me, my companion ordered:

Birria Guadalajara
Chunks of braised lamb in a rich chile sauce, featuring Ancho, Pasilla and Cascabel chiles. Topped with queso fresco, served with warm flour tortillas. $12

Sadly, this dish wasn’t much better. The lamb was tender and it’s distinct flavor was easily detectable. Beyond that, the appearance and gaminess detracted from what could have been a triumph. The sauce had a bit of depth. Again, there wasn’t a high note to lift the dish from mediocrity. In the dog food category, it would have achieved high marks.

The one bright dish of the evening was the starter.

Shrimp Corn Cakes:
Griddled spicy chipotle shrimp on buttermilk corn cakes with whipped chipotle butter. Topped with salsa fresca. $10

Delicate corn buttermilk pancakes that were fought over.

The lovely corn cakes were delicate and cooked well. The shrimp was dusted with a chili rub and not entirely overcooked.

There is room to improve and there is definitely reason to attract a crowd given the location and the amount of space in the restaurant. But for the sake of consistency and appealing to gourmands looking for an authentic Mexican culinary experience, the kitchen needs to take a step back and make sure that the ingredients are in stock and that the dishes are prepared as described. Attention to detail on the small things, especially when multiple things aren’t done well can ruin an otherwise well contrived  establishment.

On a positive note, the chips and salsa were some of the best I’ve had. Two contrasting salsas, one with bright acidic flavors against a smokey chipotle sauce and freshly cut and fried tortilla chips that are thick enough to puff when they are cooked. On a warm summer day, if you want a Margarita and some chips…go for it!

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To the Point: Barracudas

The walk to Barracudas in Locust Point was worth it, despite a bitterly cold drop in temperature over the weekend. Unassuming in decor, you’d think this was a run-of-the-mill neighborhood restaurant with a clash of identities: sports bar meets bistro. The menu appears to be designed with a level of bar food comfort: Nachos, wings, pizza.  The run-of-the-mill stops there.

First and foremost the menu starts with surf and turf nachos. These are topped with steak, shrimp and crab. (On this adventure they were not ordered, only due to anticipation of the main course. I will return for these and these alone. It may be too scandalous to write about.)

The Key West wings looked intriguing. On future outings, others are going to be required to get their own. Some people like the sloppiness of Buffalo Wings. I’m prissy. These arrived dressed in a citrus rub. I sucked the meat from the bone. Farewell prissy. These were slightly tart and aromatic with only a hint of sweetness.

Eating with others increases your sampling options. Important for adventuring into a new place whether it’s new to you or new to the neighborhood. It’s very hard to judge a place on one dish. However, in three dishes, the chef made a bold impression on all of us.

The Porketta was the only thing on the printed menu that we ordered. This was the first time in my limited history of eating a pulled pork sandwich that I sat up and took notice. I can’t stand barbecue, and rarely if ever eat pulled pork. This was nothing like the vinegar-soaked or barbecue sauce-soaked disasters one sees on the Food Network. This was a thyme-scented masterpiece that stood on it’s own. The description on the menu: Slow roasted pork, imported provolone, arugula and garlic aioli on a grilled hoagie roll. (Should include: To be consumed by no fewer than 3 people.)

The other dishes of the evening were specials, which if I had my druthers would be staples. Salmon in an orange saffron cream sauce was divine. The saffron, should have been sieved out, but occasionally, I got a gorgeous breath of the distinct flavor. I would order the salmon more rare, but for being medium, it was very moist.  (Note, the fish special was a whole rockfish, head to tail and it is brought out in it’s own baking dish. That will be for another outing. But after the nachos.)

And here is my only criticism on the food. I adore infusions and subtle sauces that accentuate the star of the plate. I detest food swimming in sauce. The only change on the salmon dish would have been to spoon less than half of the sauce over the salmon or make smaller pools that I can add at my discretion. Not that I wouldn’t have done shots of the sauce with the chef at the bar, it was that good. But visually, not nearly as appealing as it could have been.

The mussels were also a featured item for the night. I’m not sure how he did it, but the infusion of fresh thyme and red onion in the broth for the mussels hearkened back to the days when my grandmother would make homemade pizza. I was perplexed and hooked. The mussels were tender, plump and plentiful, but the broth was something I wanted to take home in a thermos.

Last point: The staff. The night was very busy and they had a hard time keeping up with the crowd. Both the owner and the chef pitched in to pick up the slack. They are still getting up and running, so be prepared for a few rough patches. That aside, they are all very friendly, the owner has a welcoming demeanor and the chef obviously loves what he is doing.

Barracuda’s at 1230 East Fort Avenue. Their kitchen is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. but the bar is always open until 2 a.m.  410-685-2832.

Posted in Food, Food specials, Restaurant experience, Reviews | Leave a comment

February Adventures: Technically Still In Federal Hill-The Wine Market

On the edge of Locust Point (at least according to the map I found online) is one of the first places I visited in Federal Hill. The Wine Market (921 East Fort Avenue) opened in 2004, and after each visit, I wonder why I don’t go back more often.

The wine shop attached to the restaurant has a wonderful selection of approximately 900 hand-picked wines, and occasionally, I’ll find a container of quince paste in the refrigerated section to accompany my cheese board at home.

Continuing Terri’s farewell tour (did I mention she’s only gone for a week and a half), we started the evening with a gauzy thin sea bass carpaccio with black radish, toasted almonds and a husky vinaigrette. The sea bass melted on the tongue with the bright vinaigrette. The pungent radish with the crunch of the almonds was well balanced. This is exactly the right dish to wake the palate.

We skipped dinner and went straight for the cheese plate which was replete with a grain mustard-rich cheddar, a smoked Manchego-like hard cheese and a creamy Camembert alongside cardamom roasted almonds and small bites of quince.

In my enthusiasm for recent dessert-first meals, I had scanned the after-dinner menu early and was convinced by several folks to try the Chocolate Pretzel Pave. I probably should have skipped it. The chocolate was fine, but uninspiring. The pretzel base where the chocolate bar rested felt slightly stale and there wasn’t enough of the caramel to have an impact. There was a salty sweet balance, but the overall composition wasn’t there. The most interesting part was the sugar cone wafer that decorated the dessert. High marks for flakiness and the rich brown sugar scent.

I didn’t ask questions, never got the actual name of anything and didn’t take a single picture. While this may seem like a lack of interest, it was just the opposite. I was too focused on the food and the company to remember that I was going to blog about it later.  And a good restaurant should do exactly this. Block out the rest of the world so you can enjoy the moment.

From their Web site:

Happy Hour Monday thru Thursday from 5p.m. until 7p.m.
Happy Hour at the Wine Bar is every Monday through Thursday from 5:00pm until 7:00pm. We offer $3 off a selection of our craft cocktails, small plates, and large plates. In addition, we have $3 Dollars OFF select* hand crafted cocktails 

Small Plates $3 / Large Plates $3 Dollars OFF

Wines- $4, Bud, Miller Lite, Yuengling- $2, Sangria- $3



Neighborhood Night Every Monday Night
We would like to thank all of our local regulars in Baltimore. Every Monday night we feature 20% off on all entrees and a Monday night wine list with eighteen bottles of wine for just eighteen dollars per bottle! Guests are welcome to make reservations or just walk in!
Posted in Food, Restaurant experience, Wine, Wine lists of note | Leave a comment

February Adventures: Within Stumbling Distance, Regi’s

In the time it takes to button my coat, I’m face to face with Regi’s red door. Behind this door is a delight to behold: Brie, applewood bacon and tater tots. Low brow met high brow and made a love child.

The rest of the menu is a dynamic fugue of the same. I’ve watched and drooled as another patron ate the Grilled Oink and Mooo Meatloaf. Wrapped in bacon, placed atop a small mountain of in-house, hand-smashed, mashed potatoes, this dish is a weekend commitment. Order it on Friday evening and don’t plan on eating anything else until Monday.

In my Federal Hill wanderings, Regi’s has become my “go to” for entertaining visitors to the city. Since my first week here, I’ve introduced at least 10 people, most of whom I’ve insisted eat at least one bite of the heart attack tots. You only live once.  Go out on a high note.

At the other end of the spectrum, (and to justify indulging in a gratin dish of the food equivalent of an iPod train wreck where Pavarotti is followed by Springsteen) is the Cape Cod salad: Field greens, cranberries, spiced walnuts served with a miniature pitcher of their in-house balsamic vinaigrette.

One comment from a nearby bar passenger was that the menu hasn’t changed in a long time and needs refreshing. Despite daily specials and some of the freshest vegetables in the city, grown in Regi’s rooftop garden, I had to agree that the menu needed a little boost. However, come spring and summer time, I am looking forward to more of the just picked tomatoes.

The visual diary of a proclaimed gin hater. Hendrick's is an exception.

This is a place for cocktails and wine with a well stocked bar. This is one of the few places that carries Hendrick’s Gin. The beer selection was a bit thin, however, Guinness lovers will be rewarded.

Brunch is another matter entirely. This is a place of worship on Sunday morning into mid-day. I’ve never been able to get a table when I’ve wanted it because the place is constantly packed. It may be that getting up at the crack of noon just isn’t early enough to beat the crowd. It’s Sunday and I hate mornings. Why ruin a perfectly warm bed?

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An “Evil” virgin no more

Sounds like the title to a zombie flick.

In the wilds of Hanover Street, Mum’s is an unassuming hole in the wall with a no frills bar and a singular attraction. A Lithuanian liqueur known affectionately to the locals as “Evil.”

From 600Block Tom P. (Didn't think I would be blogging about this place, so I have no personal photos... Yet.

This spicy nectar lures in the unsuspecting novice as a flesh-eating plant pumps out pheromones. Described to me as tasting like pumpkin pie, the batch I tried was far more honeyed than, as I was told, previous batches.

This is a sippin’ drink. Which no one but me sipped.

I can’t do this place justice as the Yelpers can.

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February Adventures: The Abbey Burger Bistro or Voyeurism on the Hill

In some instances, you don’t need to eat the food to enjoy it. It stands to reason that if someone else is enjoying the experience, you can live vicariously through them. For example, folks with food allergies can marvel at others consumption of forbidden foods with a simple glance or whiff. (I’m completely lying. We hate you and your normal stomachs.) And sometimes, we can delight in sending others to do our dirty work when an offering is just not appetizing. (This part is completely true.)

I can’t say that I’ve ever turned down a cheeseburger. Especially when the entire restaurant is based on customizing their fare in a way that would make most gourmet restaurateurs cringe: Any way you want it.

My favorite part of The Abbey Burger Bistro is the menu. It’s like a multiple choice test. I picture an old SAT test scanner in the back that processes your order.

As the waitress asked us if we'd been here before, she said the meat of the month is elk. Lisa and I immediately set forth to create a calendar of their offerings. Perhaps a sexy elk on a bear skin rug...slightly ironic.

The menu is also my least favorite part. I am indecisive. After placing my order, inevitably, I see something else on I want on my gently cooked animal. Last night, I left the ordering to Lisa and then pornographically photographed her while she ate. We were not the most attention grabbing patrons by far.

The Abbey is home to many fans of soccer. Futbol known around the world for it’s robust and rambunctious fans. Several were there, displaying their Arsenal scarves as manly badges. Then the men came in.

I digress…on to the food porn.

The Abbey's version of a simple cheeseburger with grilled onions, lettuce and mayo.

Note the olive on the top of the bun. This was an unwelcome intruder. Tell them to lose it. Other than that, Lisa would like to personally share her experience.

Devouring her prey: Nom nom nom

Give her a moment.

Right, she’s very busy. Needless to say, she was sated. Just don’t put a hand near her mouth right now.

This is not a place for a romantic date. This is a place for serious burger inhaling. Dealing with a brutal hangover? Any place that includes peanut butter and fried eggs as toppings for your burger, is prepared for the grungy, haven’t shaved in a week types. They also have white truffle oil and crab as toppings, so for those of you in the mood to mock the rest of your closest Foursquare buddies, you are also well sorted.

Lisa lent a certain air to the evening. Charming, adventurous and playful, she was a lovely date.

Bottom's up, pinky's up. That's how it's done.

The Abbey is on a Marshall Street, a side street off of Cross Street (North of Cross Street Market) in Federal Hill. It’s worth a midday excursion. Especially if for you, it happens to be breakfast time.

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Writing what I know

Welcome to Devouring Federal Hill. The local restaurants and pubs offer much more than a neighborhood retreat. From American to Thai and everything in between, you’ll get to see photos of the food from a foodie’s perspective, not just an online menu. You’ll get to know the chefs, and as the seasons change, experience what local farmers have to offer through the culinary minds of Baltimore’s finest.

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