Three-and-a-half years ago, 28-year-old Rachel Rappaport experienced what can loosely be called an eating epiphany: she concluded she could make better food, and make it more affordably, than she could get dining out at most Baltimore-area restaurants. She decided to devote herself to cooking. And because she’s a 20-something in the 21st century, she created an Internet blog to document her adventure.
Since 2004, Rappaport’s blog has become one of the top 20 food blogs in the nation, receiving about 50,000 visitors each month and as many as 3,000 hits per day. People don’t visit to hear Rappaport wax poetic about a plum. They come because several times each week, she posts new, original recipes illustrated with food-porn quality photos. Hers is one of the few food blogs on the Web that features only original recipes. And there’s no pretentious foodspeak. She’s as down-to-earth as that other Rachael who cooks— her ingredients are mostly items you can pull from your cupboards and her recipes aren’t complicated or time-consuming— but not so annoyingly perky.
Rappaport’s archive offers a food bible’s worth of recipes— more than 500 in all, and they’re cross-listed by ingredient, category and occasion. She’s big on desserts, but she has a growing list of main dish recipes, too. “Mango Chicken is one of my most popular recipes,” says Rappaport, who lives in Lauraville. “The National Mango Board sent me to Miami to go to a mango festival because of my blog.”
Though Rappaport began her blog as a hobby, it’s now eaten the rest of her life. She quit her job as a Baltimore City school teacher to devote herself to creating food and writing about it— and teaching a few cooking classes on the side.
House special: Here’s one of Rappaport’s recipes from last Thanksgiving. —L.W.
Cranberry Ribbon Cake
2 cups flour
1 cup plain yogurt, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup whole berry cranberry sauce, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 dash salt
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour (or use a baking spray) 1 bundt or tube pan. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, vanilla and sugar until well mixed. Slowly add in yogurt. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and a dash of salt. Slowly incorporate into the yogurt batter. Mix thoroughly. It might not look like you have enough batter to fill the pan, but you do. It is not a super-tall cake, but it will rise and have a great texture, I promise. Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a spatula. Carefully spoon the cranberry sauce to form a ring around the middle of the pan, without touching the middle or sides. Top with the remaining batter and smooth with the back of a spatula. Bake 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan about 5 minutes, and then remove to a wire rack. Slice and eat.
Finally, someone who answers the question we all want to ask after reading a restaurant review: was the meal worth the money? Marginal Foodie is a local economics professor who wishes to remain nameless— which is a shame, because we’d like to shake his hand. He visits a restaurant and posts his impressions of the food, service and atmosphere on his blog. Then— and here’s where he gets all professorial on us— he plots the restaurant on a graph titled “Price/Quality Frontier,” whose X-axis is labeled “yummy” and Y-axis is labeled “pricey.” No surprise, MF prefers “restaurants that are high up [good] and far to the left [cheap].” Unfortunately, he says restaurants in Baltimore are about 20 percent more expensive than in comparable cities. Ouch.
New to Baltimore, MF has been blogging only since August, though he’s covered 30 to 40 restaurants since then at a pace of two per week. Arcos, b., Bicycle and Kawasaki are at the top of his price/quality list. House special: Download a spreadsheet with all of MF’s reviews and carry it with you. —C.C.
For readers who prefer their meals with a side of insight, Kit Pollard tackles every topic in the foodie spectrum. From veganism to cultural taboos to Harry Potter, Pollard is the perfect dinner date— full of engaging, often controversial, conversation. “I call Mango & Ginger ‘a blog about loving food … sort of.’ It’s more about ideas and less literally about the meals I eat. Basically, I’m writing about how food influences culture and vice versa— and I’d like to think it’s not as boring as that sounds,” says Pollard, who started the blog in 2005 after a trip to Paris provided her with some great food stories. Recently Pollard has been writing about the pros and cons— mostly cons, as she sees it— of the trend toward global cuisine. “It’s also been hard to ignore all of the dialogue about the ethics of eating local vs. organic vs. vegetarian,” says the Towson freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. “I’ve been struggling a bit with what it means to be a ‘foodie’ and what kind of commitment self-defined foodies should make to cooking and eating ‘better.’” House special: Pollard writes about the role of food in pop culture— the role food plays in “The Sopranos,” for example. —M.M.
Combining appetite-whetting photography and a variety of unique recipes (avocado pound cake, anyone?), Simone Chen explores the origins of various world cuisines on her aptly named blog. “I let the food I eat and read about be my inspiration,” says Chen, a native of China who began blogging in April. “I love highlighting ethnic and traditional dishes that have been lost by time, and talking about the origin and history of them. It’s so important to honor dishes by preparing them in the authentic way. It connects us with the people and history of that cuisine.” Chen, a 2004 Hopkins grad who lives in Mount Vernon, also reviews Baltimore restaurants, favoring neighborhood eateries that are both rustic and gourmet (Henninger’s and Petit Louis are two of her favorites). “Baltimore has potential. We are all so open and welcoming to change and new ideas,” she says. “That’s what I love about living and eating in this town. However, we are in dire need of some good authentic Chinese restaurants.” House special: Chen’s recipes draw from a truly multi-cultural palate, from Golden Beet Terrine to zha jiang mian, a traditional noodle dish from Northern China. —M.M.
Since April, Elizabeth Large has been weighing in several times daily at her cleverly titled blog “Dining@Large.” The Sun’s food critic for 34 years, Large estimates she’s eaten at some 2,000 area restaurants, so she’s got the wisdom of experience. She chronicles memorable meals, dining trends, comings and goings on the restaurant scene and more— one recent post offered an anatomy of an airline meal. “I hope people will enjoy what I have to say and how I say it, and not take it too seriously,” she says. In her witty and informative “Top 10 Tuesday” posts (which often draw as many as 8,000 hits), Large offers lists such as “Top 10 Pet Peeves When You Eat Out” to “Top 10 Little Italy Restaurants.” “One of the strengths of my blog is that people are so interested in restaurants, I get great comments from knowledgeable people,” she says. House special: Great pics from The Sun’s photo archive. —C.C.
When you’re stuck in the food doldrums, pick up some culinary pizazz from Jake Slagle’s offbeat blog, which focuses on “unusual foods” in Baltimore and beyond. “I have a talent for going through cookbooks and magazines for obscure recipes that have potential,” says Slagle, a self-proclaimed “paw paw fanatic” who’s been blogging since September 2005. Shark salad, Chinatown chicken feet, mock terrapin and stinging nettles are only a few of the wacky dishes Slagle has made, eaten and blogged about. In addition to the recipes, which are illustrated with lovely photographs, Slagle, an investor and semi-retired entrepreneur who lives in northeast Baltimore, offers great insights about local restaurants. (He loves the fattoosh salad at Lebanese Taverna.) House special: Unique and tasty cocktail recipes. Watermelon margarita, anyone? —C.C.
For food and wine writing that is lush and romantic— dare we say, spiritual— visit Tony Foreman’s blog. The owner of Charleston, Pazo, Petit Louis and the newly opened Cinghiale records his impressions of wine farms visited, vintages tasted and meals partaken almost as an explorer of old, noting the subtleties of taste, texture, sight and smell. House special: sometimes Foreman offers a behind the scenes look at the life of a restaurateur. —L.W.
Can’t keep up with the Baltimore restaurant scene? Look no further than this blog created by the editors of “Where the Locals Eat: Guide to the Best Restaurants in America.” Nashville, Tenn., based editor Pat Embry offers a weekly compilation of Baltimore-area dining news, including openings and closings, chef changes and who’s reviewing what in the local media. “No other blog in most markets compiles such an extensive online dining notebook, nor keeps its dining guide database as current,” says Embry, who describes Baltimore’s restaurant scene as “more neighborhood-oriented, more tradition-minded, than some other cities in the region.” House special: Embry offers a one-stop shop for all the latest restaurant news in 50 cities, so visit before your next weekend getaway. —C.C.
One cup pop-culture and a heavy dash of wit make up Dan Taylor’s blog, which is an offshoot of the ’zine and Web site of the same name. Entries are brief and cover topics from annoying cooking shows to potato chips to the latest fast food trends. “I don’t consider myself a great chef, I don’t come up with recipes, and I’m not educated in the culinary arts,” says Taylor, a freelance writer who lives in Lutherville. “I’m just a guy who likes to eat and drink and wants to share my thoughts, encounters, successes and failures with anybody who cares to read about them.” House special: everything you ever wanted to know about weird new products like Oreo pizza. —C.C.
Vegetarian and former Brooklynite Roopa Kalyanaraman offers an unpretentious approach to high-brow baked goods and ethnic fare. But meat? Fuhgeddaboutit. Kalyanara- man, who lives in Mount Vernon and works at the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, started her blog in August after toying for years with the idea of writing a vegetarian cookbook with a stellar dessert section. Her favorite creations are recipes involving eggplant (of course), fruit-based desserts and cupcakes. “All my savory dishes are vegetarian and, while vegetarianism is pretty common these days, I still feel like many people don’t really know what to make for dinner that doesn’t have meat in it and isn’t boring or bland,” says Kalyanaraman, who offers recipes for everything from Zucchini Blossom and Taleggio Pizza to Stuffed Poblanos to Peach Melba Pie. House special: Kalyanaraman recounts what inspires her to create every recipe, offering a glimpse into her life and personality. —M.M.
If Lucy Ricardo wrote a food blog in Baltimore, diningdish.blogspot.com would be it. A professional food stylist, PR maven and devout foodie, Dara Bunjon beguiles readers with tales of bizarre culinary adventures such as her gig as promoter during the 2007 Cheez-It Big Cheese Tour. The highlight? A 700-pound cheddar cheese replica of Mount Rushmore featuring a partially-melted Abe Lincoln. Bunjon began blogging in 2005 after discovering that people liked her stories— and also finding she wanted “an outlet to rant.” “Baltimore keeps growing in it ethnicity and that is great! To me it is all these great small mom-and-pop restaurants that offer us an insight to the world beyond our local Bawlmer life,” she says. “People should embrace these restaurants and support them. The chains are great but the real food is with the independents.” House special: Sign up for Bunjon’s free foodie e-newsletter. —M.M.
Note to Baltimore restaurateurs: Tell your waitstaff to turn on the charm when Meg Fairfax Fielding reserves a table. On pigtown-pigout.blogspot.com, the Pigtown resident and former caterer can be relentlesss. Merciful? No. Entertaining? You bet. “I have fairly high standards and lived with a chef for a couple of years, so I know how a restaurant should be run,” says Fairfax Fielding, director of development at the Woodbourne Center. “I can be critical if small things are wrong, because I think that if you don’t pay attention to the small things, then you’re lax on the large ones. For example, we recently paid nearly $350 for dinner for four then it took 35 minutes to get our car back from the valet service at the restaurant.” House special: this Baltimore native has the inside scoop on locally owned places off the beaten path. —M.M.
Julie Thorne channels Julia Child as she adapts and creates recipes even Ms. Child would savor—and her witty wordplay is just as delicious as her famous crème fraîche. “I’ve always been a cookbook collector and I thought a blog would provide a good structure for finding new recipes to add to my repertoire,” says Thorne, who lives in Bolton Hill and works at an academic support office at Johns Hopkins. “Initially I thought I would stick to recipes about things that were low fat and healthy but that seems to have fallen by the wayside!” Artichokes and crème fraîche make frequent appearances, though Thorne varies the types of recipes so she’s not always writing about soup or pasta or dessert. Though Thorne eats in far more often than she dines out, she loves Attman’s and Tortilleria Sinaloa. “I do wish there were more Vietnamese restaurants within Baltimore City,” she says. Sigh. We do, too. House special: Great food photos … and great photos of Thorne’s dogs. —M.M.
This “blog about food and the people who eat it” is the creation of local music producer, teacher and alleged hermit Shelly Blake-Plock. To call it quirky or offbeat is an understatement—recent posts involve garlic coffee (“I bet heaven smells like garlic bread,” Blake-Plock writes), watching a 10-month-old eat and giving fruit salad as a gift. House special: You never know what Blake-Plock will blog about next. Expect the unexpected. —L.W.