Tag Archives: Beverages

Last Minute Budget Holiday Gift Ideas

20 Dec


It never fails: Five days until Christmas and one of two things always happened to me; I either ran out of money, time or both. I always forgot to give a gift to my dog walker, the neighbor who took in my mail if I forgot to, or to that customer that always remembered my birthday.  So, I  would always reach into my bag of tricks and produce a hand-made gift that always seemed to mean more to the recipient than anything I could buy. You can do the same thing without spending too much time, money or both!

1) Do you have a signature dish? Do you have a killer lasagna recipe? Do people salivate at the mere thought of your spinach dip?  Give a coupon that promises you will make the dish for them at a later time.

2) Another variation on this theme is to make your famous ( or infamous) BBQ sauce, Sugar cookies or other treats and creatively package them as gifts.

3) Instead of giving gift cards, give gift certificates toward your recipient’s favorite restaurant. Times are tough, and people are foregoing eating out in order to save money. They will appreciate the chance to get out of the house.

4) If your friend or family member loves  a good Bloody Mary, make your own mix. Package the mix in a mason jar and present it along with a small bottle of vodka for a homemade Bloody Mary kit. Here is a great recipe that I’ve had success with. I developed this recipe some 15 years ago when I worked at a funky little bistro in Federal Hill.

Bloody Mary Mix

1 32 oz. bottle of tomato juice

Juice of two limes

2 tsp celery salt

1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

2 tbl. prepared horseradish

1 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 tsp. sugar

1 1/2 tsp. Old Bay (optional)

Mix together and package in either 12 oz. or 16 oz. mason jars and decorate with ribbon. Makes just about 3 – 12 0z. jars or 2 –  16 oz.

Here’s an easy sweet treat you can make for friends and family and the kids can help with this. I have loved chocolate covered pretzels since I was a kid and are cheaper to make than to buy. The sweet and salty treats can be made ahead and dressed up with colorful ribbons

Chocolate covered pretzel rods

I box pretzel rods

1 1/2 lbs.  good quality semi-sweet chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream

2  to 3 cups of crushed candies such as peppermints, heath bars, mini peanut butter chips or  chopped nuts of your choice ( peanuts, pecans, walnuts).

Put together a double boiler by using a medium-sized pot and adding about 3 inches of water.  Using a metal mixing bowl; place the bowl inside the pot, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Set aside.

Chop up candies and/or nuts and place on separate plates. Take a sheet pan and cover  the bottom of the tray with either with parchment paper, foil or plastic wrap and set aside. Sort through the pretzel rods and remove the broken ones.

Chop up chocolate into uniform pieces and place in metal mixing bowl.  Add  the cream to the chocolate. place bowl back on the pot and turn on heat to medium and simmer. Stir chocolate mixture until chocolate and cream are melted .Turn heat to low.

Arrange an assembly line  as follows  pretzels, chocolate, candies or nuts and covered sheet pan.  Dip a pretzel into the warm chocolate and using a fork, coat completely. Remove coated pretzel with a fork and allow excess chocolate to drop off. When the dripping stops, roll pretzel in the candy or nuts and place on the covered sheet pan. Repeat until all of the pretzels are covered. Refrigerate until the coating sets.

Wrap 5 or 6 rods with  colorful plastic wrap and a decorative ribbon.

The point is to give from the heart, not from the wallet. Your homemade gifts will be greatly appreciated.

I will post more ideas tomorrow!

Restaurant Week tips

21 Jan

Baltimore is currently celebrating its version of Restaurant Week from January 22, 2010 to February 7, 2010. Many restaurants are offering specials on menu items or prix-fixe offerings at reduced prices. If you have the time and money, this is the perfect time to try a new place out. Here are a few tips to remember when going out.

1). Make a reservation and arrive early– Most of these places are busy and making a reservation and arriving at least 15 minutes prior will ensure a pleasant dining experience.

2). Try something new– Now is not the time to order chicken. If scallops are available and you’ve never had them, try them. Don’t forget that glass of wine; ask the server for suggestions and he may find you a gem.

3). Try lunch as an alternative to dinner-Lunch is a great time to try something new. Portions are usually smaller and are great for the health conscious.

4). Be kind to your server– These people work hard, often with no benefits or other compensation. Tip them accordingly ( 15% good service, 18% great service, 20% for exceptional service). Remember that the discounted meal you enjoy during Restaurant Week would normally cost at least twice that amount other times.

5). If you like a place, go back– Restaurants are a business, and use this time to promote their businesses. If you enjoy a place, show them by giving them your return business.  Your dollars pay the salaries of cooks, dishwasher, porters and many vendors who supply everything from forks to the olives in your martini. This helps our economy and save jobs.

6). Say Thank You– You have no idea what this  simple gesture does for your server, especially if they are busy.

Many participating restaurants are offering a three-course lunch from $20.10 and three-course dinners from $35.10 ( excluding tax and gratuity).

Mangia Mangia!!

Nectar of the Gods

12 Jan

Yes Indeed!

Coffee.  Black and strong, sweet and creamy, frothed or not, we all enjoy this brew. According to the website Just About Coffee, the drink was used as a medicine in ancient Muslim societies, coffee made its way to the New World by explorers looking to cultivate the popular drink.

Coffee drinkers drink an average of 3.1 cups of coffee a day in the U.S., the website coffeeresearch.org reports.  The beverage is a part of American culture and it is with this absolute adoration of the heady beverage that I write this brief homage to my favorite coffee company: Porto Rico Import Company.

Storefron of the best coffee EVER!

A dear friend sent me the store’s Cafe Blend coffee as a birthday gift seven years ago, and I’ve grown so fond of that I order it several times a year. I’ve given it as housewarming and birthday presents ever since.  You can keep your Starbucks;  I’ll take my coffee from these guys. They get a special ” Thumbs Up” from me because I ordered my coffee from them on a Thursday, and I got it the very next day. Sigh, now that’s customer service!

So, I’ve told you my favorite coffee. What’s yours?

Thanks to the following websites:

Coffee Research ( http://www.coffeeresearch.org)

Porto Rico Coffee Imports ( http://www.portorico.com)

Just About Coffee ( http://www.justaboutcoffee.com)

Coffee poster is courtesy of http://scienceblogs.com/retrospectacle

Hey, $25 gift card contest extended!!!!

6 May
Hey, win a gift card!

Hey, win a gift card!

Due to the ABSOLUTELY OVERWHELMING RESPONSE ( zero), I’m extending the contest dates to Midnight, May 24th. You have until then to tell me how you make your meals a gourmet experience in thee hard economic times. There will be two winners, each receiving a $25 Shop-Rite gift card.

Contest Rules:

1) No substitutions will be given in lieu of gift cards.

2) Shop-Rite gift cards can only be used at Shop-Rite stores.

3) Contest entries must be in by midnight, May 24.   The winners  will be announced on May 27, 2009.

4) All posts must be limited to 50 words or less.

5) All entries must have a valid e-mail address

6) Only one entry per valid e-mail address

7) Please refrain from using racist, sexist or pornographic comments. Entries which contain theses elements will be disqualified.

Have Fun!

2009 Shamrock Shake DC/MD Locations

17 Mar

According to the readers of Shamrock Shake.com (http://www.shamrockshake.com), Shamrock Shakes are being served in the following jurisdictions:
Gaithersburg, Frederick ( jefferson st. location), Bethesda, Laurel (route 1 near eastern motors), and in Reisterstown, MD.

As soon as someone posts further details, I’ll post them!

Where is the Shamrock Shake?

16 Mar

On the minds of tens of thousands of gourmet officianados, where can they find the ever-elusive Shamrock Shake?

Courtesy of http://www.nydailynews.com


This minty libation appeared in the 1970’s and for awhile became a traditional St. Patrick’s Day drink for kids my age at the time. I tried it, and did’nt like it for various reasons ( I was a rather persnikety kid when it came to weird-colored food, much less detesting  all things mint flavored other than chewing gum and iced tea).

Then the super-smart brainiacs at McHeadquarters decided, Hey, let’s take this ever-so-popular flavor, and stop making it. Every year. I would overhear someone say, “I had a Shamrock Shake and it was sooo good!” Then, rumors swirled around that the shake’s flavor wasn’t the same. McDonald’s denied any changes to the recipe but now it was too late: If you were a fan of the shake, you could’t find it. Last year, the kind folks at McDonald’s re-released the Shamrock Shake for a limited time.

Here is the dilema, if you will.  Why on earth would McDonalds discontinue this shake, or have they? If you have enjoyed a Shamrock Shake in the last few days, please post the location of the MickeyD’s where you purchased the shake here so that others can find the drink. Don’t be shy, you’ll help a fellow lover of the green shake!

The Perils of Packaging

25 Feb

tropicana-packagingSo: Old and reliable wins out over the shiny and new.

PepsiCo unveiled new packaging for Tropicana Juice, and let’s say it was a big NO from the public. The major complaint from consumers said that it wasn’t clearly marked anymore ( which I can attest to). Last Sunday, I went to  my over-priced chain supermarket with the newly- designed “Whole Foods” style decor, and it took me a minute to find my no-pulp juice. I really didn’t notice the change in design until I noticed the new retro-style lable, complete with the Helvetica typeface.

I wonder how nostalgia plays into how consumers relate to and ultimately choose the products they buy. In this case, PepsiCo relented, and will return to the packaging its consumers are used to.  I don’t get bent out of shape about packaging changes as far as logos and branding are concerned, what gets me twisted is when they change the size of packaging.  Now, that’s a soapbox you do not want me to get on ( just thinking about the change in sizes of laundry detergent, ice cream, peanut butter, candy bars, ect., just raises my blood pressure to the point of one day  finally meeting Elizabeth Sanford, whew!!!)

But, I digress.

Pepsi is all over the whole throwback look. If you haven’t bought a Pepsi lately, you are missing the whole nostalgia craze. Here is an example of how Pepsi Looked last year, and how it looks now:

old-pepsinew-pepsi If you noticed, the lettering went from futuristic and slanted on an angle denoting action and speed, to a solitary, minimalist design with the retro-style lettering. I wonder why the decision was made to go with this style. Does the economy have something to do with it? Is it the return to a design that inspires nostalgia within us. Hell, I jut noticed that the Pepsi can isn’t red on the bottom anymore.  I’m not a design expert, but I do notice stuff.  I notice the shift in advertising to  something a bit more confortable and reassuring. Its no wonder that stock in Campbell’s Soup and McDonalds is up, one for the cheap prices of their products; and two, because of the comfort food factor.

If there is anyone out their that can explain to us how this all works with graphic design and advertising, let me know!

National Irish Coffee Week & bonus recipe, too!

27 Jan

photo courtesy of http://www.liquerious.com

This is National Irish Coffee Week, and if you’re located in the northestern United States, it couldn’ve come at a better time. It is just a hot mess outside today weatherwise, all icy and whatnot.  I tried my first Irish Coffee when I was 18 or 19 years old. I was trying to appear sophisticated, so I ordered it with a group of co-workers on a frosty winter day way back in 1981.

I was surprised when the server brought this concoction in a glass mug piled high with whipped cream. She then artfully drizzled green creme-de-menthe and chocolate syrup all over the top.  It was spectacular; the swirls of stiff cream looked like a minature mountain while the irridescent ribbons of green and brown slowly glided in between the  crevices of whipped cream. Iwondered aloud how to drink it, and someone said to drink a bit of the coffee through the small red and white coffee stirrers provided.

As I took the  first sip it was incredibly hot , and the bitter, sharp sting of the whiskey proved a bit challenging to me. I wasn’t accoustomed to the taste; you see, I cut my drinking teeth on frozen daquiris and other sweet drinks. Another person said to stir the cream into the coffee slowly, so that as the cream melted it would cool off the drink. I followed their instructions, and secretly felt like I was in an exclusive club. That was before I went to Ireland and had the authentic version.

The chef intructor took us to Slain Castle ( the same place where U2 filmed one of their videos), and had a great dinner. We had some pink trout among other things, and at the end I ordered an Irish coffee. What I got was nothing I had ever seen before. Instead of the glorious mounds of whipped cream and the familiar drizzles of green and brown oozing their way down the sides of my glass, I was greeted with a pedestrian-looking coffee with some cream floating on the top.  The only thing spectacular about the dring was the ornate crystal glass it was housed in. What I wasn’t prepared for was the taste.

Our instructor saw the look on my face and said, ” Just sip it through the cream, and don’t stir it.” Following his directive, I sipped the coffee carefully. The sensations were great; first came the cold and suprisingly thick cream, and then a warm rush of the coffee chasing it. I remembered closing my eyes, and thinking, “Where had THIS been all my life???”  Instead of a bitter wash of whiskey and coffee, it was warm, sweet  and simply sublime. I didn’t miss the cream de menthe or the chocolate syrup at all.

So my friends, you too can have the same experience I had in Ireland at home. Here is a recipe I’ve culled from my memory; it’s simple!


Two large mugs

stainless steel bowl


measuring cups and spoons


You will need ( 2 servings)

 2 cups brewed coffee, strong

1/2 cup whipping cream, cold

2 healthy shots of your favorite Irish Whiskey ( John Powers, Jameson, or Bushmills)

4 T. turbinado sugar, or your choice of artificial sweetener.

Boiling water

Refrigerate stainless steel bowl until cold. Pour cream into bowl and whisk by hand until cream is thick  and still pourable, not whipped. Set aside.

In two large mugs pour boiling water into each mug and let sit for two minutes.  Discard water, and add desired amount of sugar to each mug and stir. Add one shot of whiskey to each mug. Add coffee, leaving an inch below the rim of each mug.  Spoon the stirred cream into each mug and serve. It is imperative that you don’t stir the cream into the coffee; sip the coffee through the cream carefully in order to appreciate the whole experience.

A letter to Anthony Bourdain

12 Jan

Dear Anthony Bourdain,

I ran across your blog the other day, and  was ecstatic that you came to my hometown–Baltimore, Maryland.  Then, I was surprised at your choice of eateries; Mo’s Crab and Pasta Factory. I’m sure you went there as part of the show, and to meet some of the cast of  “The Wire.”

While I appreciate that you may have enjoyed yourself at the fixture that is Mo’s ( BTW- What the EFF is an Obama drink???? I am a martini, Irish whiskey and Grand Marnier girl, and will not entertain anything the color of Windex to enter my gullet) ; I would like to formally invite you back to my fair city to take you on a tour of some of my city’s best, but little known eateries.  I feel that you missed some of the best food that we have to offer.

By the way; I’m not talking about some high-priced chi-chi, frilly place, but good food and great atmosphere.  Places like The Blue Moon Cafe, who serves the best breakfast in the city. Big portions, and all of it is homemade.  And, Peter’s Inn, with  ambitious food and atmosphere crammed into a  tiny Fell’s Point row home. And, while in Fell’s Point, we have to go to Bar, the original hole-in-the-wall.

Can I get an Amen? Amen.

Oh, and we can explore Hampden, hon for some of the local bars, and then make our way to the Real Deal Jamaican-American carry out for some of the BEST jerk chicken I’ve had to date.

Afterwards, we can stop by Club Chuck for a nightcap before I put you on the train back to New York. Did I mention you will have to pay, because I’m poor. Really poor. But that’s another story for another day.

Please entertain the idea of escorting a retired chef around town so I  can show you all the flavors of the town I love so dearly, warts and all.

Sincerely yours,

The Culinary Chick

PS: Anyone within the Baltimore-area who wants to throw in their two cents, feel free to do so.

My soon-to-be-famous Sangria

11 Jul

The best time to serve this is the day after it is made. This allows all of the flavors to marry, and the fruit to leach out all of their flavors.

Makes 2.5- 3 quarts

Equipment you will need:

A large pitcher ( glass or plastic; not metal)

Wooden Spoon

sharp knife

Cutting board


1- 750 ml bottle of an inexpensive, but assertive dry red wine ( no Merlot OR Beaujolais; use a cabernet or a shiraz)

2 apples

2 oranges

2 plums

2 peaches

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups grape juice blend ( such as cran-grape, apple-grape, ect.), OR 2 cups cherry flavored Juicy Juice®.

1 cup citrus-flavored vodka


Thoroughly wash the all fruit, setting aside oranges. Cut and seed the apples,peaches and plums with the skins on. Dice fruit and place into pitcher. Cut the top and bottom off each orange, and place the orange on the cutting board with the cut side facing up. Using the knife, cut off the skin of the orange, removing the white pith underneath (If you take the short and  hand-peel the orange the usual way, it will make your sangria have a bitter aftertaste).  Cut the orange into three or four pieces, and add to pitcher.

Pour the sugar on top of the fruit. Then with the wooden spoon, mash the fruit in the pitcher until fruit is wwll broken up. Add Juice, vodka and wine; stir until blended. Place a lid on the sangria and let “age” for 24 hours.  To serve, pour into ice-filled tall glasses and enjoy.