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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Normal Life & Alternative Pizza - Back in Pursuit

I haven’t written this blog in a while. I think there are a lot of reasons, but it’s probably due in most part to the fact that I have spent the majority of the last 12 months living and working in Guadalajara, Mexico. No, this is not the only reason for not writing, nor is my return some catalyst/impetus to begin again. I think I just have been involved in a rather consuming process of finding myself again, which may or may not have involved eating a LOT of tacos. Regardless, I am back in Baltimore, back in my city, back to running my favorite streets and trails, back with my friends and family, back in my home, and back to life.

I originally started this blog as a way to share my passion for food and cooking through a creative outlet like writing. A bridge to find balance between my highly qualitative (arguably soulless) 9 to 5 preoccupations and my culinary and lifestyle aspirations (read: proletariat flights of fancy). Well, turns out Mexico called, and the 9 to 5 got the best of me for a bit, and I was honestly lacking the inspiration and direction in my personal life (the modicum that existed outside my projects and time in transit), so this blog completely fell off the map. I thought about writing about my time in Mexico, and I promise I will, but it just didn’t feel right, I didn’t have a strong enough narrative to justify a return.  What was it then that made me want to write again?

Normal life, I am back to normal life. I came home (for the 5th time), the dust settled, I have an incredible boyfriend, social and family network, city and home, I fell back in love with my normal life and I am ready to start chasing umami again.

So, as one might imagine, Mexico was a calorie heavy experience. The inherent nature of the cuisine combined with my expense account empowered dining ability have led me to a place where I am forced to be carb conscious, at least until I can put on my size 29” without swearing in Spanish again. That said, I have a boyfriend to dote on, a boyfriend who has a well-documented obsession with pizza. So my carb conscious orientation is in direct conflict with my romantic intentions, pretty much all the time. The solution – “alternative” pizza crust. Unfortunately, this broad category of gummy root vegetable trendy grain based imposters is plagued by one fact, alternative pizza crusts suck.
So to make him happy, and keep myself from succumbing to caloric guilt, I needed to do this right. In a grand gesture (really I just knew I had a free evening) I decided I would attempt a cauliflower crust pizza. I had done a little research, determined it was the best among poor choices, and theorized I would just prepare enough vegetable toppings that even if the crust failed we could sustain ourselves on a plethora of eggplants, peppers etc….admittedly I have never been good at culinary contingency planning.

I got up early one Sunday, hopped out of bed eagerly ready to hit the Jones Falls Farmer’s market with all the vigor of a suburban housewife on her weekly urban forage.

The end of Summer, September into the beginning of October is the best time at the market. You can find fresh beans, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, squash, beets, and in later weeks Brussels sprouts and cauliflower all in one place. You can also people watch, as the county hoards flood the aisles with cumbersome baby strollers and contraband pets, eyeing up produce but clearly going to end up in the impossibly long lines for prepared items – it’s such a joke and believe me, I could go on... Anyway, this Sunday I managed a good haul, heirloom tomatoes at their peak, plump eggplants, brilliant bell peppers and a bag full of uncharacteristically spicy and beautifully deep green poblano peppers. Due to seasonal timing, I was forced to buy a head of cauliflower from the supermarket, this was a key ingredient for my potential love note of a pizza, so I had no choice.

Tuesday night rolled around and I was ready to give this long shot a chance. I broke out my previously unused food processor, a gift upon one of my returns from Mexico, and gave it a go. I had been reading several touchy feely and overly prescriptive “alternative crust” recipes for inspiration, and had decided to use grated parimigiano reggiano for flavor and as a binding agent. Further, as my stomach began to growl and my boyfriend affirmed of his lack of work day sustenance, I knew this crust had to work… if only to avoid the monster I become when hangry and avoid putting my relationship at risk. With the added pressure, I decided to abandon my hope of a grain free crust, and use some cooked quinoa for extra structure (and fiber), it was a carb based insurance policy.
Once I prepared the “dough” my hopes began to fade, despite my drying attempts on the cauliflower, the combination was very wet. I spread it on my pizza stone anyway, and threw it in the oven.  I thought I was witness the realization of my worst fears and it baked. Like a nervous parent, I watched it take on an eggy, almost spongy aspect, something many an aspiring health food recipe reviewer had warned about. It was too late to turn back, at this point I was well over 30 minutes in and aside from a last ditch tacos order (NO MORE TACOS) I had no other choice but to see this through to avoid mutual hypoglycemic meltdowns.
About 45 minutes into the baking process, I began to see the light as the crust began to harden. I had spent the entire meantime successfully prepping my toppings so I could now give the pizza base my full attention. Faced with a moderately hard but disturbingly quiche like crust, I decided to turn up the heat, hoping the last minute surge might help achieve the browning and crispness I needed to achieve the ultimate alternative pizza success – pick-up-ability. Apparently I still have good instincts, because 15 mins later I pulled out a browned, crispy, sufficiently rigid, and thankfully un-quiche-like pizza crust.

I topped the crust, first with the feta cheese so the moisture therein would flavor the base as it went back in for final cooking, then layered grilled eggplant, poblano, bell peppers all brushed with garlic-herb oil, then fresh heirloom tomatoes in various hues (because it has to look good for Instagram) and finally dusted it off with more parmigiano (because, well, cheese). Back in the oven for 15 minutes and then the final test – dinner with the pizza fanatic. How did it turn out you ask?

Well, we are still together, my gram had enough likes not to be taken down, and I didn’t feel like I broke any carbohydrate rules – win win win. In all reality, it was delicious, and totally pick-up-able. The crust was super time intensive, but if planned right, the baking time can easily be used for even more elaborate topping prep, like searing steak tips for a chimichurri pizza or even grilled shrimp for scampi iteration. There are a lot of possibilities that will come out of this crust, which bodes well for me in many ways. That said, I probably won’t blog about pizza again for a while, I am ready to get back in the kitchen and back in the pages of magazines looking for the next challenge or fantasy. I am happy to be once again Chasing Umami!


Harvest Pizza – Cauliflower-Quinoa Crust with Grilled Eggplant, Peppers & Heirloom Tomatoes

This recipe is the perfect way to savor the end of the summer produce and celebrate the beginning of fall favorites! Featuring juicy heirloom tomatoes, vibrant eggplant , crispy bell and spicy poblano peppers, and as well as the autumn hallmark cauliflower, this pizza is the perfect bridge meal to enjoy as the seasons change and the local market offerings reach their peak. The pizza crust is gluten free, and the toppings can be varied based on what you find in your local market. As the crust takes a while to bake, use this time, to prepare your ingredients, if the weather permits you can enjoy the outdoors by grilling these summer and fall staples.

  • 1 large head of cauliflower (rough chop into similarly sized florets)
  • 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa (cook ahead and chill)
  • 1 ½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes – sliced horizontally
  • 1 poblano pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1 red bell pepper, halved and seeded
  • Evoo
  • Dried oregano, basil, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • Preparation

The Crust:
Pre-heat oven to 400F, then in a food processor, pulse cauliflower until it is rice or breadcrumb sized. Boil in salted water for about 4 minutes, and strain in a fine mesh strainer or extra fine colander. Place in the center of a large clean kitchen towel. Gather the corners together securely, and twist over the sink to remove as much water as possible, you want the “cauliflower crumbs” to be as dry as possible. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup parmigiano reggiano, garlic powder, eggs, and “cauliflower crumbs” until evenly incorporated. Form a large ball and place in the center of your pizza stone or baking try on parchment paper. Using your hands, or placing another piece of parchment on top, form the ball into the desired circle or rectangle shape. Take care not to allow any very thin spots or holes in the crust to form. Pinch up the sides to form a crust edge. Bake for 45 mins at 40, then turn up to 450 for another 15 until browning, and using a spatula you confirm the crust is crisp and rigid enough to be picked up.

The Toppings

While the crust bakes…. Slice the eggplant into ½” thick rounds, score each side in a cross hatch pattern, lightly salt and allow to sit in the open air for 15 mins. This allows the excess moisture in the eggplant to come to the surface and evaporate, making cooking faster and flavor richer. After 15 mins, brush off salt and eggplant “sweat” over the sink to prepare for cooking. I prefer to use a grill with these ingredients, but you can easily prepare your toppings on a stove top, just be aware that sautéing eggplant can be an evoo heavy endeavor as they tend to absurd a lot of oil as they cook. Please note, you can follow similar steps adding sweet onions or zucchini cut on a bias if you have those items available.

Heat grill to medium and place eggplant and pepper halves on the grilling surface. Combine ½ cup evoo with your dried seasonings and carefully brush the top side of each vegetable. Flip the vegetables every 5 minutes, brushing the top side accordingly, until the peppers are soft and get a slight char, remove them from heat. Eggplant will require more time, and a few more flips/brushings. You may want to use tongs to press some of the additional water content out of the eggplant, the more tender and cooked the better the flavor. After 20-25 minutes remove from heat. Once peppers have cooled slightly, remove as much of the outer skin as possible by hand. Slice thin lengthwise. Once eggplant has cooled, cut each round in half.

Once crust is crispy, you can add your toppings.  First, place feta crumbles directly on the crust. The little bit of moisture they will release during cooking will flavor the crust and help retain a bit of tenderness. Then place the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes evenly on top. Use the remaining ½ cup of grated parmigiano to dust the entire pizza. Finish with spicy crushed red pepper and/or dried oregano to taste. Place in oven at 450 for 10-15 minutes until the feta has melted and the parmigiano begins to brown. Allow to cool just 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Over it…and on to Mac & Cheese

Once in a while I get home from work and it’s just been one of  those days when it is all I can do within my power not to rip open a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese and gorg myself on all that I feel is unholy about food – don’t even ask me why I have it in my home…

This happened this past Monday due to a combination of not enough sleep over the weekend, a call out at work, bad brow day, and general malaise about the 9 to 5 life, also known as “The Usual”.

After a series of “I’m over it…” and “I am so out of sh*ts to give already” text conversations with various friends, I had pushed my dietary neuroses aside and decided something gluteny, cheesy, and most likely artificially flavored was definitely on the dinner horizon.  My 8:45pm office departure time only exacerbated the issue so as I bolted through the office doors I had accepted my fate, and already moved onto the caloric denial phase that usually hits the next morning.

I’m not sure if it was the few lingering joggers I passed on the walk home, or a second wind of self-discipline that overcame me as I pranced along to Rihanna Pandora, but by the time I reached my front door I had decided to do battle against the Mac & Cheese urge. I am never really one to indulge emotional extremes (cough, cough).

I chose my weapons carefully; red wine (obviously) to clear the mind, cheese to feed the demon inside, cauliflower to fill the starchy void, and finally prosciutto…just because. In other words, I would recreate Mac & Cheese, less the guilt. I used a combination of parmigano for the piquancy and salt, mozzarella for the goo factor, and taleggio for the earthy, meaty flavor it imparts. Adding rosemary, just because of how well it plays with pork, added the level of sophistication and flavor balance that I just wasn’t willing to let go. The result, while not pretty, was indulgent, satisfying, and exactly what I needed to put this Monday to bed.

While this dish will never really replace Kraft Mac & Cheese, it can fill that emotional void and allows me to maintain my culinary pride and dietary compulsions despite trying circumstances. Cauliflower is one of my favorite late season vegetables with which to work and I have no doubt this dish will repeat throughout the fall and winter, at least as long as there are days like Monday.

Cauliflower & Prosciutto – “Mac & Cheese”


  • 1 large head of cauliflower – chopped into uniform 1-1 ½ in pieces
  • 3 oz taleggio – chopped into ½ in cubes
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 3 oz grated parmigiano
  • 3 oz prosciutto di parma "San Daniele" – chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • In a small baking dish combine cauliflower, mozzarella, prosciutto, olive oil and rosemary, using a large spoon mix so ingredients are even distributed, adding salt and pepper to taste.
    • Tip: If you want to reduce cooking time, cook the cauliflower for 7 mins in boiling salted water, drain, and then put in the oven, I do this in a time crunch but find it can compromise the flavor.
  • Bake for 20 mins, remove from oven and carefully drain excess moisture that may have drained from the mozzarella.
  • Add taleggio evenly across the top, and cover in parmigiano, bake for an additional 20 mins until cheese is browned and cauliflower is tender.
  • Serve in a colorful bowl!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Holiday Table - Baltimore Style

Baltimore Magazine recently featured this blog as a part of their 2013 Holiday Entertaining Guide.

I am both honored and humbled to have been a part of the feature, so a big thank you is in order for everyone at BMag!

To make a long story short, I was asked to put together a holiday inspired menu as well as entertaining ‘tips and tricks’ to be featured on a thematic tablescape designed by the magazine's stylists.


Needless to say I was instantly channeling my inner gay, teutonic, Giada DiLaurentiis and whipping myself into an Ina Garten style domestic frenzy, but I had to answer a few questions first… 

I’m including my responses here because I think it gives good insight into why I’m writing this blog and explains the persistent afterglow having cooked for this piece.

What is your background in?

    • I work in finance, however, I spent 10 years in various roles in the hospitality industry from marketing to floor management. It was during this time, under some inspiring talents, that I developed my interest in and appreciation for food and wine. I was also fortunate to do several stints studying abroad, during which I acquired my love for travel and the exploration of diverse locales and cultures. These experiences combined to give me an insatiable curiosity centered on the food, wine, and culinary traditions around the world, and it’s through my own cooking and travel that I get to satisfy those urges, this is my creative and sensory outlet in my 9 to 5 world.

What brings you to Baltimore?

    • I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, most of my childhood and adolescence spent as a figure skater. After my career as an athlete ended, I was drawn to Baltimore for college at Loyola University where I studied International Business. My father's family is quite large and has been in Baltimore for a many years and I had spent a good deal of time here growing up, so therefore, I felt at home right away. Through the years I forged a deeper connection with the city and the people in it, falling in love with so many things, and decided to stay after graduating. Here I am now, enjoying life in Upper Fells Point.

How would you describe your blog?

    • This blog is my way to share my experience; cooking, dining, living my day-to-day as a member of the 'Aspirational Proletariat' to which so many of us belong. It’s a personal account, a real-life version of the high-gloss images and scintillating tales of transcendent meals and cultural adventures that inspire me in print, television, and daily life, all experienced within the confines of my 9 to 5 reality.

How long have you been blogging?

    • I started blogging at the beginning of 2013, but I have to admit I’ve been writing amateur restaurant reviews and travel stories since I was 10, I hope no one ever reads those…

What do you love about holiday cooking?

    • I love that the holidays are a chance to go over the top with everything you do. Whether it’s décor, the variety of your spread, or even the richness of the dishes you prepare. No one will fault you for a little excess during the holidays. It is a perfect chance to try new things and really indulge your guests, family, friends, and ultimately yourself.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

    • Thanksgiving, hands down. For me, it’s the perfect holiday, family and friends gathering around food, what could be better.? I also happen to love cooking during this season, fall flavors and produce like sage, chestnuts, pumpkin, and cauliflower are some of my favorites with which to work. I guess it doesn’t hurt that my absolute favorite wines, Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso, are arguably some of the best to pair with turkey!

The Menu

My favorite culinary traditions are those of Italy and southern Germany, perhaps because of my travel experience and my personal heritage. Therefore, this is instantly where my mind goes when I think of a holiday menu. Glühwein, rich savory Casunsei (Ravioli), an abundance of seafood, decadent Pork roasts with root vegetables, and sweet delicate desserts like vanillekipferl or pfeffernuss are those items that make this type of cooking the highlight of the year.

For the purposes of the article I focused my menu on side dishes that capture iconic flavors and items I knew would be vibrant in photographs. 

My choices of the spiced wine, vibrant nutty salad, sweet and spicy carrots, simple grilled fish, and the savory and sweet custard are all nods to these traditions in some way but also come from my personal taste. Chilies from New Mexico, piquant blue cheese, and rich caramel are all some of my favorite flavors and things that I look forward to during the holidays and all year long. These recipes are simple and can easily be modified to fit any occasion.



·         Spiced Wine – Glühwein – I make mine with typical mulling spices of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, adding cardamom and black peppercorns for a deeper flavor and aromatics, finishing off with orange rind and brandy, then cooking on very low heat for an hour before serving. I serve in a large glass punch bowl and garnish each glass or mug with a cinnamon stick.


·         Finger Foods:

o    Fennel ‘Fries’

·         Sides:

o    Warm Radicchio, Cayenne-Candied Walnut, and Gorgonzola Piccante Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette

o    Roasted Red Chili Glazed Rainbow Carrots with Toasted Pine Nuts

o    Harissa Grilled Makerels on Grilled Bread

·         Dessert

o    Salted Carmel & Spiced Rum Custard with Fresh Whipped Cream

Recipes can be found online by clicking HERE

Holiday Entertaining Strategies

Entertaining on any scale, whether I host a friend for dinner or throw a neighborhood cocktail party, is my absolute favorite thing to do. Cooking and hosting have become my creative outlets and I live for the chance to welcome people into my home and share this part of my world. I take much of my inspiration from what I see in print and on TV, and I try to make it my own whether it be a recipe or a decorating idea. It’s my way of living those dreamlike images within the confines of my 9 to 5 life.

So as far as the entertaining ‘tips & tricks’ go, I consulted some close, like-minded friends, and really just reflected on the types of things I give myself as ‘to-dos’ whenever I entertain. Whether it's a small dinner party or an all day brunch, these are simple dishes or strategies I have found particularly successful.

·         Make a Savory Statement - Inspired by a designer friend known for her stunning plates, I've always liked to have a beautiful 'statement' charcuterie and cheese platter for guests to enjoy throughout any event. I try to use slightly unexpected items like autumn leaves, fresh flowers, crispy fennel, pickled okra, or even some candied bacon just to keep things visually interesting and to highlight the headlining meats and cheeses.

·         Add Some Flavor to Your Table Use colorful and unique ramekins for salt, pepper and other seasonings that you want on your table rather than the usual (and often mundane) shakers one might normally find. This adds visual interest to the tablescape in subtle and unexpected ways.

·         Mix & Match – Use vintage and mismatched glassware for pre-dinner cocktails and antique tea cups for dessert or coffee service. Each one can be a conversation starter while the meal begins and ends. I love collecting these pieces whenever I travel and it’s fun to tell friends about the process.

·         Spread the Spread - Placing food and beverage stations in various locations throughout the home or entertaining space rather than all in one central 'buffet & bar' location creates natural flow and allows guests to mingle more freely. This is especially important in smaller homes or compact urban environments (like my Baltimore row home) where one might even consider putting certain items outdoors to expand the entertaining space.

·         Local Color! – When possible, source all flower arrangements locally, the Fells Point Farmers Market or Ellen Frost at Local Color Flowers is my Go-Tos! By doing so, one can naturally lend an authentic seasonality to the table top or display.

·         Start from Scratch Make at least one item completely from scratch. Whether it is pasta, bread, pickles or even a cocktail infusion, creating something entirely your own puts your personal stamp on the entire event. 

·         Get that Feeling Choose your menu and decor carefully, giving it a cohesive, consistent, and thematic ‘Feeling’. Plan how you want your guests to think and feel when they enter the home or room, and develop that idea in everything you serve. I try to select a theme that is a nod to the season or a particular cultural culinary tradition, that way the décor and dishes relate naturally to each other and are all relevant to the whole of the experience, i.e  ‘Alpine Christmas’ dinner or ‘A Springtime in Italy’ Brunch.

·         Have Plan and Hire Help – Make sure you have thought through every stage or step of your event so as to avoid unexpected surprises during service. No one likes a harried host, so whether it’s hiring a professional or a begging a good friend, always designate someone to help with the minutia of execution and clean up.

Overall, this was an incredible experience and everyone should go pick up the magazine!

It made very clear to me what I love about food and entertaining, inspired my creativity, distilled my passion, and I am left feeling even more dedicated to building on this part of my life, my pursuit of umami.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Burger Love

This is just a simple post with two burger recipes ideas I tried recently.

Accompanied by a night with one of my best friends listening to The Band, Chicago, and Whitney (big surprise) for hours, these mini-burgers were the perfect way to to send off summer….finally!

I wanted to try a spin on the classic bacon cheeseburger and decided adding sweet and spice to the profile was the best approach. So like anyone would do, I candied the bacon in sugar and cayenne pepper. For the cheese, I used an incredible cheddar from 5 Spoke Creamery that I found at Fleet Street Market, a shop that is quickly becoming my daily cheese stop on the way home from work….this will eventually be a problem.

For the second burger I wanted to pursue umami (had to) and went for a Pan-Asian idea. I used curry on fried Vidalia onions, a tangy mustard teriyaki combo made on the fly, and kimchi to accomplish this flavor feat. Any opportunity I have to use kimchi, I seize it, I love the heat and tartness, it’s guilt free, and who doesn’t’ love fermented cabbage?!?  I have yet to find my favorite brand or local producer, but I am loving the process and I am VERY open to suggestions.

I  made both burgers using some grass fed ground beef I picked up from Whole Foods during one of their Friday sales, and made 3oz patties adding just salt and garlic pepper – I prefer to keep it simple when it comes to the meat and the small size meant minimal time on the grill.


Redmond Cheddar Burger w/ Cayenne Candied Bacon & Heirloom Tomatoes

Ingredients (for 2 burgers):

·         Heat a medium non-stick pan over medium heat, place bacon strips and cook for 2 mins until the fat begins to render. Then add cayenne and sugar and continue to cook and turn strips as sugar dissolves, cook until desired crisp and doneness is achieved, then set aside (do not use a paper towel, the sugar will stick to the fiber).
·         Stacking order: bun, bacon, beef, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, condiment of choice, bun

“The Pan Asian” 

Fried Egg, Kimchi, Curry Ketchup Fried Vidalia Onions & Teriyaki-Mustard Sauce

·         3 oz Spicy ‘red’ kimchi – I have yet to find my favorite brand….loving the process and VERY open to suggestions
·         2 Fried Eggs – I fried mine in evoo and used a circular form to make stacking easier
·         1 large Vidalia onion – halved then sliced into long strips, this is just my preference for fried onion format
·         2 tablespoons ketchup
·         ½ tablespoon curry powder
·         1 tablespoon evoo
·         1 tablespoon whole grain mustard (I use seeded mustard)
·         ½ table spoon GF soy sauce
·         ½ tablespoon teriyaki sauce
·         ½ tablespoon mango hot sauce (brand)

·         Combine mustard, teriyaki, soy sauce and hot sauce, whisking with a fork until smooth
·         Heat evoo in medium sauce pan, and onion and curry and fry until they begin to brown, then add ketchup and continue to cook until most of the moisture cooks off – set aside
·         Stacking order: bun onions, burger, kimchi, egg, mustard sauce, bun