The Dining Dish blog is Dara Bunjon's take on anything food, both national and in her hometown of Baltimore. Warning: this food blog can be harmful to your waistline.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Chopping Block gets the ax

Souces say that NBC has given it's culinary competition show, The Chopping Block, the ax after airing just three episodes. Ratings were lackluster, 3.8 million viewers with numbers decreasing with each airing. The remaining episodes will be aired sometime in the future. Chef Marco Pierre White, a British Michelin starred chef and the original Peck's Bad Boy didn't stir up enough controversy to drive the ratings. The time slot will be filled with reruns of Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

The Chopping Block is was a culinary competition pitting teams of two against each other for $250,000 prize. Chef Marco Pierre White is known to have brought Exec Chef Gordon Ramsey to tears and have Mario Batali stomp out of his London kitchen. Read more about Chef White in his book, Devil in the Kitchen.

For now, episodes are still available for viewing at the NBC Website

Passover - Tapas Style

For the past couple weeks, my friend, Jill Colella Bloomfield has been trying to come up with menu ideas for this year’s Seder meal, rather unsuccessfully. She is not having that many guests this year, and all her guests are under 35 years old and might be best described as urban hipsters. Not that urban hipsters don’t like a nice slice of brisket every now and again, but she was hoping to up her game and offer something a little more inspired than my tried and true traditional recipes.

Jill Colella Bloomfield is a cooking instructor and food writer. Her most recent book is Jewish Holidays Cookbook (DK, 2008) which contains both traditional and whimsical recipes such as (Plague of) Frog Meringues. She has agreed to share her story with us.

Hell's Kitchen Inspiration

Finally, inspiration hit and it came from, of all places, this week’s episode of Hell’s Kitchen, the cooking reality show where chefs compete under the wonderful and terrifying aegis of chef Gordon Ramsay. The quick competition between contestants this week required them to create a tapas dish in twenty minutes. I, of course, was on the couch with my requisite laptop, tapping away at recipe websites trying to dream up a Passover menu. Tapas—what if I avoided the heavy, sleep-inducing meal and instead created a series of varied dishes that would hold easily in the oven until the Shulhan Orekh, or actual meal part of the Seder, and would delight the vegetarians and meat eaters in the group. I realized that the reason I kept hitting the wall as I planned was because I was trying to create a balanced menu—with no chametz, or leavened foods, no less—but could not satisfy all the challenges of cooking and serving a Seder meal.

As I began to think about my favorite tapas restaurants,
Jaleo in DC and Tapas Teatro in Baltimore, I started to get more excited by the creative latitude that this meal would provide. Since most tapas dishes rely on strong flavors, the need to cook with chametz falls away, and simple, fresh tastes can be the stars. I also plan to have some tapas ready when guests arrive, prior to Kiddush, to stave off the hunger that often happens as readers make their way through about twenty-eight pages of Haggadah before eating really begins.

Here’s what I am thinking for a menu:

A traditional Seder plate
A variety of red wines from Spain
Olive Tapenade with Matzoh
Chicken Soup Shooters garnished with a Matzoh Ball
Potatas Bravas
Roasted Eggplant with Sweet Peppers
Cinnamon Chicken with Dates
Marinated Garbanzo Beans with Pepitos
Spanish Omelet with Onions
Gefilte Fish with Mojo Verde
Grilled Fruit with Whipped Cream

Here is my recipe for Olive Tapenade. If you expect a crowd, double the recipe. Make it up to two days ahead and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

Olive Tapenade

8 servings

3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 tablespoons capers
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


1. Place the garlic cloves into a blender or food processor; pulse to mince.
2. Add the olives, capers, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil. Blend until everything is finely chopped. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Serve with matzoh.

For more info: Jill is a regular blogger for, and her blog will feature new recipes and ideas daily during Passover.

Got a pothole? Call KFC

KFC is taking street signs literally. In Louisville, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) is filling in the city’s potholes, topping them with a white, chalky stencil saying “refreshed by KFC” that eventually disappears with the next rainstorm. The fill the pothole program ties in with their new “fresh” campaign promoting their focus on food quality.

This is called cause-marketing/branding and in this case helps out local government as well as creates goodwill. It is doubtful that seeing an advertisement on the asphalt will move me to buy a 2 piece combo but it stirs the pot of conversation. Charmin’s public bathroom in Times Square during holiday season and their I-Phone and Blackberry applications that let people find public bathrooms when the need arises is cause branding.

So from what I read, KFC is looking to help out 3 or 4 more cities….do you hear that Mayor Dixon, give the Colonel a call and let’s fix Charles Street.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Easter and Passover Recipes

While I celebrate Easter, I have had to cook for Passover at various times of my life. These recipes are appropriate for both and they so useful for other times during the year. My son, Steven, who has a sweet tooth as big as mine, loves to mix and make the macaroons with me.
....Chef Anthony Marini

I am thriled my friend, Chef Anthony Marini took the time to create this post for you for the upcoming holidays. Learn more about Chef Marini at the bottom of the post. I especially like the 3 options versions of the macaroons. Now, if I can convince him to fix the dinner for me that would even be better.


If you're making this dish for Easter, serve it over couscous; for Passover, serve it with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes.

- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp pepper
- 8 lamb shanks
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger root
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp hot red chile flakes
- 28 oz tin plum tomatoes, crushed with juices
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup honey
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine ingredients for rub. Pat into lamb. Marinate a few hours if possible. Heat oil in a Dutch oven. Brown lamb well, in batches if necessary. Remove from pan.
2. Discard all but 1 tbsp oil from pan and add onions, garlic and ginger. Cook gently for a few minutes until tender. Combine cumin, coriander, cinnamon and chile flakes in a small bowl and add to onions. Cook for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add stock. Bring to a boil. Return lamb to pan. Cover lamb directly on the surface with parchment paper and then with a lid. Simmer gently for 2 to 3 hours or until lamb is very tender.
3. Skim fat from surface of stew with a large spoon. Add honey and lemon juice to sauce. Bring to a boil. If sauce is not thick enough, remove lamb and cook sauce, uncovered, until it is thicker.

Serve one shank per person or remove meat from bones in large chunks, return meat to sauce and serve like a stew. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

* 4 egg whites
* Pinch of salt
* 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
* One 16 oz. package sweetened coconut
* 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, if desired, for variation #2
* OR 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, for variation #3

1. Variation #1: Coconut Macaroons
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
3. Place the egg whites and the salt in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until frothy. Add the sugar a little bit at a time and beat until soft peaks form.
4. Fold in the coconut with a rubber spatula until evenly mixed.
5. With a 2 oz. ice cream scooper, scoop out mixture onto cookie sheets that have been lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
6. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from pan while hot to cool on wire rack.
7. Variation #2: Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons
8. Prepare the recipe as above.
9. After the coconut is folded into the egg whites, stir in 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, and continue the recipe as written.
10. Variation #3: Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons
11. Prepare the coconut macaroon recipe and let the macaroons cool.
12. Lightly spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
13. Melt 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips in the top pot of a double boiler over barely simmering water.
14. When the chocolate is completely melted, dip half of a macaroon into the chocolate and place on the cookie sheet until set.

For more info: Anthony Marini is a chef and restaurant consultant. He is the Principal of The AMI Group, a firm that handles and consults on a variety of restaurant and food service concerns. You can contact him by phone at 301.377.4004 or his email, You can see him on the web at

Oyster Shucking 101

Couldn't resist popping this video up. While your practicing your oyster shucking skills I will come over and help test the end product.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And the winners are?

All the glitz and glamour was out tonight at Martin’s West at the Restaurant Association of Maryland Industry Awards. This black tie affair annually brings Maryland’s restaurateurs together to share good food, war stories and pat themselves on the back.

The walk about appetizers had me munching from raw bar to Ra Sushi. The delicious apps were from AIDA Bistro, Big Fish Grille, Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs, The Classic Catering People – Raw Bar, The Crab Shanty, Glory Days Grill, Lebanese Taverna, The Pantry Personal Fine Cuisine, Red Sky Steak & Fish House, RA Sushi, The Rumor Mill and Yellowfin Steak and Fish House. I indulged in a vodka martini from the 42Below Vodka Ice Bar. So many familiar faces, the usual cast of media characters to share my table and mucho food.

So who won you ask? Here we go:

Favorite Bar & Tavern: Fager’s Island
Favorite Restaurant: Marlin Moon Grille
Favorite Caterer: Putting on the Ritz Catering
Wine & Beverage Program of the Year: Liquid Assets Wine & Martini Bar
Marlyand Favorite New Restaurant: Mitchum’s Steakhouse
Pastry Chef of the Year: Chef Arismendy Infantale-Restaurante Tio Pepe
The Schellhase Award: Steve F. de Castro-Big Steak Management
Chef of the Year: Chef Michael Gettier – Antrim 1844
Restaurateur of the Year – Leighton Moore – Secret’s Bar & Grill

Proceeds from the auction and car raffle will benefit the Restaurant Association of Maryland Education Foundation.

It was a good night all the way around and I got my chocolate covered strawberries to cap off a lovely evening.

Economic times hit Per Se

One of the most exclusive, most expensive restaurants in the United States is offering an alternative in these economic times. Where in times passed, the menu is prefix and dinner is $275 – that is the low end of what your bill will be, add drinks etc and you are walking out paying around $450 per person. Feeling the effects of the downturn in the economy they will now be offering a menu of a la carte items.

The New York Times reported that come this Wednesday, renowned chef Thomas Keller will begin offering the a la carte menu in their 24 seat lounge. The offerings are reported to be changing daily and will feature approximately 7-9 items. Price range is $24 to $46 and the dishes will be larger than the appetizers and smaller than their normal entrĂ©e size – so says the Times.

From McDonald's mini mac for $1.49 to Per Se's pre fixe for $275, you have to say I cover the gamut.

It's a wrap for mini mac

McDonald’s Snack Wrap Mac is being tested in 1,400 McDonald’s in Canada and in Houston. It is a mini version of the Big Mac but instead of being in a toasted sesame seed bun, the mini version is being wrapped in a warm flour tortilla. Is this a marriage made in heaven: two trends of the wimpie-styled sandwich and the easy to carry, flour wrapped snack? They are reported to be selling for $1.49 in Houston.


Yes, I’ll admit I eat at McDonald’s from time-to-time, I need to get my Big Mac fix….it is the special sauce. Back in olden days, in Daraland, before McDonald’s really hit here in Bawlmer, we went to drive-in restaurants. It was Ginos and Ameches and both had there varitations on the Big Mac, at Gino’s it was the Gino Giant. I remember “hanging out” at both drive-ins, shades of American Graffiti. And yes, there were characters like Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard – wish I could say I was the Susanne Sommer’s character.

I get pretty stick-in-the-mud as to how I eat my food, there are traditional go-withs in Daraland: fries with beef gravy, shrimp salad on rye, and a sesame seed bun with my "mac".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fine dining in the friendly skies

My friend Jeff Deasy of American Feast posted an interesting story about fine dining in the friendly skies on his blog and I thought it a wonderful topic for discussion. Jeff has given me permission to post his story here.

The best food I had on a flight was to Paris when I was traveling with a friend who was a caterer and she dressed up the food containers with colorful ribbons. People were drooling-it was still a flight that served meals in economy. Coming back from Paris, my friend had bought all these wonderfully smelly cheese. The stewardess informed her she wouldn't be able to get them passed customs so it was an aromatic flight has she tried to eat all of them.

Please feel free to weigh in your comments of the good, the bad and ugly of your airline food interludes.

Fine dining in the friendly skies by Jeff Deasy

Is it time to give airline food another try? History has us skeptical but we’ll try to keep an open mind.

We gave up on airline food. First, it was just the poor taste. Airline meals always seemed to include some goop, not immediately identifiable, it could be the gravy or it might be the dessert. It was bound to include ingredients we couldn’t pronounce.

We tried ordering a kosher meal in advance, but that didn’t get us much of an upgrade in flavor or nutrition. Requesting a low fat or vegetarian meal was the last and probably the best strategy we tried. Then meals began to disappear altogether from some flights. Sometimes you could get a tasteless meal, if you were willing to pay for it. Having to pay for airline food struck us as a grave injustice. We were the ones bearing the health risks.

Then we found out the airlines would let us bring our own food. Soon we were enjoying gourmet tapenades, artisanal goat cheeses, smoked salmon and smoked pheasant, stone ground mustard, and various chutneys on fresh-baked bread during flights. (We bring the bread pre-sliced; airline security is understandably touchy about passengers carrying bread knives.) Dessert might be an old-fashioned fudge brownie, a slice of pumpkin cheesecake, or a single-origin chocolate bar.

An article in the Washington Post tells us the airlines are ready to have another go at pleasing palates. Famous chefs have been brought in to design meals that will again have foodies boarding without a bag of gourmet goodies; if they are willing to pay for first-class tickets on long international flights.

We’ll try to keep an open mind, but it sounds like we’ll be bringing our own food on most flights for a long time to come.

If you’d like to read the Washington Post article cited above go to: Celebrity Chefs Bring Plane Food to New Heights

Learn more about Jeff Deasy and American Feast: American Feast ~ fine foods from America's Kitchens

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cooking Class at Sotto Sopra

There is quite a bit of interest in cooking classes so as I learn about them, I will post the information. Sotto Sopra's Executive Chef Bill Crouse has been offering optional hands on cooking classes for the past year. I participated in the March class and can tell you that everyone had a great time. The students made pasta from scratch, struedel and helped break down lobster for the lobster ravioli.

The class is worth the $65, which also includes sitting down and sampling all the dishes prepared in class along with some liquid grape.

Also offered at Sotto Sopra is a demonstration cooking class with Daniela Useli who teaches rustic Sardinian recipes. Her upcoming classes are tomorrow, Sunday, March 23rd and Sunday, April 26th - $65 per person.

Here is the information on Chef Bill Crouse's upcoming class:

Cooking Class with Executive Chef Bill Crouse
Sotto Sopra Restaurant
Ideas for your Holiday Table

Sunday, April 5th
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
limited to 16 students

Please join uber exec chef, Bill Crouse for his spring holiday table class. The class offers optional hands-on opportunities for the people who like to get their hands into the cooking mix. Enjoy the fruits of your labor by dining on the foods prepared in class along with wine.

Cooking Class Curriculum

Salads and Vinaigrettes
Duck Ravoli
Roasted Leg of Lamb and Accoutrements

Please call to make your reservations with Monika Pawlak at 410 625 0534. Reservations are guaranteed and can be cancelled up to 24 hours prior to the class. Any cancellations in the last 24 hours before the class will be billed.

Sotto Sopra Restaurant
405 N Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
410 625 0534
twitter: sottosopra
Facebook: Sotto Sopra Cucina Italia Group

Friday, March 20, 2009

And the nominees are:

Restaurant Association of Maryland’s “Stars of the Industry” Awards Gala is Monday, March 23rd – the big restaurant event of the year. The votes have been tallied for Maryland’s Best New Restaurant, Favorite Bar and Tavern, Chef of the Year, among other awards and the winners that will be announced to the public that evening at Martin’s West in Baltimore. Each year the Association invites the dining public as well as hospitality professionals throughout the State of Maryland to vote for their favorite “Stars of the Industry” both online and by mail and then honors the winners at the annual awards ceremony.

2009 “Stars of the Industry” Nominees by Award Category:

Allied Member of the Year
(voted on by RAM members only)
Fred Lankford, Lankford Sysco Food Services
Mary Ellen Mason, HCAT, Anne Arundel Community College
Henry Pertman, MICROS
Brian Pfeifer, PAYCE
Mark Winters, US Refrigeration

Restaurateur of the Year
(voted on by RAM members only)
Dorothy and Richard Mollet, Antrim 1844
Jeff and Barbara Black, Black Restaurant Group
Leighton Moore, Seacrets Bar & Grill
Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf, The Charleston Group
Miguel Sanz, Tio Pepe Restaurante

Favorite Restaurant
Antrim 1844, Taneytown
Black’s Bar & Kitchen, Bethesda
Marlin Moon Grille, Ocean City
Charleston, Baltimore
Jordan’s Steakhouse, Ellicott City

Chef of the Year
Michael Gettier, Antrim 1844
Richie Regan, Monocacy Crossing
Michael Rork, Town Dock Restaurant
Bruce Wetterau, Granary Restaurant & Sassafras Grill
Cindy Wolf, The Charleston Group

Maryland Favorite New Restaurant
Catonsville Gourmet Market & Fine Foods, Catonsville
Mitchum’s Steakhouse, Trappe
Old Hickory Steakhouse, National Harbor
Volt, Frederick
Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore

Favorite Bar & Tavern
Anna Bell Lee Tavern, Baltimore
Fager’s Island, Ocean City
Nacho Mama’s, Baltimore
Red Star, Fells Point
The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, Statewide

Wine & Beverage Program of the Year
Charleston, Baltimore
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Baltimore
Grapeseed American Bistro & Wine Bar, Baltimore
Liquid Assets Wine & Martini Bar, Ocean City
SoBo’s Wine Bistro, Salisbury

Favorite Caterer
Ceresville Mansion, Frederick
Fork and Knife Catering, Rockville
Putting on the Ritz Catering, Savage
The Oaks, St. Michael’s
Zeffert & Gold, Baltimore

Pastry Chef of the Year
Jaime Ayala, Ranazul
Arismendy Infantale, Tio Pepe Restaurante
Susan Limb and Patrick Musel, Praline Bakery and Bistro
Joseph Poupon, Patisserie Poupon
Cheryl Schneider, Penny Chocolates & Gelato

The Annual “Stars of the Industry” Awards Gala is a black tie celebration that brings together 800 of hospitality’s finest. Honored are the state’s most remarkable restaurant and foodservice delegates who represent the industry’s many successes. Guests enjoy a cocktail reception featuring Restaurant Association of Maryland member restaurants, entertainment, a live auction, vodka ice bar and an unsurpassed fine dining experience prepared by exceptional industry chefs.

The dining public is highly encouraged to join in for this celebratory evening! Click HERE for more details.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Direct purchase wine bill needs your signature

It is down to the wire for the bill allowing Marylanders to be able to purchase wines directly. There is an on-line petition that NEEDS to be completed by Sunday night – you can make a difference.
The MD House Alcohol Sub-Committee is meeting on Monday at 3PM to deliberate the direct wine shipping bill, YOUR HELP is needed! Please complete the online petition by clicking on the following link:

This will send an email to all of the sub-committee members, and they will hopefully will be overwhelmed by Marylanders when they come in on Monday.

Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Are you mad about sushi - can't get your fill?

If you love sushi, can’t get enough sushi, can consume triple your weight in sushi then I have a contest for you! Yes, you! Ra Sushi is having a sushi eating contest on Sunday, March 22nd in honor of March Madness. For the guy or gal who eats the most sushi the prize, FREE sushi for a year.

Here are the details as I received them:

Calling all competitive eaters! RA Sushi is hosting a sushi-eating contest in honor of March Madness on Sunday, March 22, 2009 from 12-5pm. The grand prize eater will receive free sushi for a year, as well as bragging rights as the first RA Sushi MAKI MADNESS champion.

Organized like a bracket system, this sushi-eating contest will take place in rounds and heats. MAKI MADNESS eaters will be gaming against their opponents and a lot of sushi rolls. During the first three rounds, the competitors who demolish two uncut RA Sushi signature Tootsy Maki (crab mix, shrimp and cucumber topped with tempura bits) in the fastest amount of time during their heat advance to the next round.

MAKI MADNESS is limited to the first 40 entries, so make sure you register now! Applications are available at RA Baltimore, 1390 Lancaster Street. Deadline to register is Sunday, March 15 and all eaters must be at least 18 years old to participate. Registration to compete includes a $10 fee, which will be donated to The Tyanna Barre O’Brien Breast Cancer Foundation along with donations from guests at the door.

All ages are welcome to attend the event and watch the second round of March Madness. RA Sushi will also offer guests Tootsy Maki rolls for $5.00 and drink specials throughout the event including the Double Dribbler ($3.00), “RA”ckin’ Rebounder($3.00), Metromix Madness ($4.00) and the Elite 8 ($8.00), a drink for two.

RA Sushi Baltimore’s Inaugural Sushi-Eating Contest

WHEN: Sunday, March 22, 2009 from 12-5pm
12:00pm Check-In
12:30pm Round 1
2:00pm Round 2
3:30pm Round 3
4:30pm Championship Sushi Showdown

WHERE: RA Sushi Baltimore
1390 Lancaster Street
Baltimore, MD 21230

REGISTRATION: Deadline to register is Sunday, March 15.
Contest is limited to the first 40 entries. All participants must be at least 18 years old. Applications are available at the restaurant.There is a $10 entry fee, which will be donated to TheTyanna Barre O’Brien Breast Cancer Foundation

PRIZES: First place wins sushi for a year ($600 value)
Second place wins $50 gift certificate
Third place wins $25 gift certificate
All other participants receive RA Penny Drink Cards
All participants receive a RA Sushi sweatband

FOR MORE INFO: Call 410-522-3200.
RA Sushi is pleased to partner with, b free daily, and the Baltimore Sport and Social Club (BSSC) for MAKI MADNESS.

RA Sushi is located at 1390 Lancaster Street in Harbor East’s The Eden. Open seven days a week beginning at 11 a.m., the sushi bar and kitchen close at 11 p.m. andthe bar is open until 1 a.m. or later every night. Happy Hour food and beverage specials are offered Monday through Saturday from 3 to 7 p.m. and The Flying FishLounge, a reverse Happy Hour held on Sundays, has food specials from 8 to 11 p.m.and drink specials 8 p.m. to midnight. For more information, visit RA Sushi online at or call (410) 522-3200.

photograph courtesy of Ra Sushi - Ra Sushi's Mango Lobster Roll


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