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Take a Baltimore food staycation with regional favorites

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Some cravings will not be ignored. Deny yourself for too long, and the craving may become an obsession. The foods we crave are often regional specialties that are seemingly out of reach — a Philly cheese steak, barbecue pulled pork, red velvet cake or a big bowl of New England clam chowder.

Luckily, you don't have to set the GPS and gas up the car to get what you want. We've found local chefs who are preparing these classics with authenticity — and willing to share their recipes, so you can have what makes you happy on your Baltimore food staycation.

For New England clam chowder, we turned to Phil Walsh, a self-taught chef (and native New Englander) who has used the same clam chowder recipe in each of the kitchens that dot his career, from fine dining and pub grub establishments in Providence, R.I., to his current gig as sous chef at the Talbot Country Club in Easton.

Walsh says authentic chowder must have salted pork and potatoes. Bacon is most commonly used, but salt-cured pork and fatback are acceptable. The chowder is typically thickened with a roux. Some purists use hardtack crackers instead.

"Cooking chowder always reminds me of Block Island and my family," he says.

An emerald isle of bluffs and meadows, Block Island was named one of the "Last Great Places in the Western Hemisphere" by the Nature Conservancy. It is to Rhode Islanders what the Eastern Shore is to Maryland families. Instead of serving steamed crabs with sweet corn and cold beer, Rhode Islanders bake clams and lobsters with hot rocks and seaweed while passing time with clam chowder. Once you try his recipe, you'll know why.

If a Philly cheese steak is what you're hoping for, start at MaGerks, with locations in Federal Hill and Bel Air (and Pennsylvania). MaGerks sends an emissary a few times each week to buy sub rolls from a Philadelphia bakery — they won't say which one. The idea is that great bread makes a great sandwich — especially when the sandwich has so few ingredients. An authentic Philly cheese steak consists only of bread, shaved ribeye and — wait for it — Cheez Whiz.

Some customers are surprised by the Cheez Whiz, says Sarah Clark, the longtime general manager of the Federal Hill location. "I remember being pretty put off by the idea of it when I started working here," she acknowledges. "Once you try it, though, there's no turning back."

Clark says even visitors from Philly are impressed.

"I think it's really nice for Eagles fans to have somewhere to go where they can be in their jersey on game day, watch the game and have a sub," she says. "It's just like being at home — if home also had a lot of Ravens fans."

But maybe you're looking for something sweeter, like red velvet cake, long believed to be of Southern origin (a theory bolstered by the film "Steel Magnolias").

At the Oooh So Sweet Cakery and Cupcakery in Mount Vernon, owner and pastry chef Shaun Price says she's put "a lot of time and attention into developing the perfect red velvet cake. I believe we've done it.

"When I think of red velvet cake I think of down South," says the self-taught chef. "But I associate red velvet cake and just good old baking with country cooks. Like my Grams. She was an old-fashioned baker. You know, a little of this a little of that. … And it works just about every time."

Keeping it authentic and simple is also the plan at Mission BBQ, with three locations in Maryland. For them, barbecue is about perfectly smoked meat.

"We believe there is a real distinctive flavor when you smoke low and slow, the way they have done it for centuries, particularly perfected in Texas and the Deep South," says Steve Newton, the restaurants' co-owner. "It produces a great, flavorful meat and an incredibly enjoyable eating experience."

Newton suggests adding "soaked wood chips such as oak, hickory and even fruitwood, such as apple to your charcoal," noting that "when the grill is covered, it will produce delicious smoked flavors in your meat."

None of these recipes require exacting techniques or much kitchen experience. What is required is an appreciation for the love that made these dishes into regional favorites. So get that staycation started, and start cooking.


The recipes:

New England clam chowder

Makes about 12 bowls

1/2 gallon heavy cream

1/2 gallon milk

1/2 gallon clam juice

1/2 pound smoked bacon, chopped

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 yellow onion, diced

1 head celery, diced

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup flour

6 red potatoes, diced then boiled until tender

4 cans (8 ounces each) chopped clams

1 tablespoon dried dill

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Mix cream, milk and clam juice in a large soup pan (3 gallons) and bring to a low simmer over medium heat.

In a separate pan, render bacon over medium heat until crisp. Add the oil, onion, celery and salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until vegetables are tender, stirring to prevent sticking (about 5 minutes). Set aside.

Mix butter and flour in a separate saucepan and whisk until smooth, being careful not to burn. This is your roux.

Add roux to cream mixture and stir thoroughly. Finish by adding the vegetables and bacon, potatoes, clams, dill and red pepper flakes (if using).

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with oyster crackers and hot sauce on the side.

The 9th & Passyunk cheese steak

Makes 1 sandwich

1 fresh, foot-long sub roll (the best you can find)

Cheez Whiz (as much as you like)

Oil for frying

8 ounces high quality shaved ribeye

Slice sub roll and gently spread open. Slather with Cheez Whiz and lightly toast under the broiler or in the oven.

Heat oil in a hot griddle pan (or skillet), then cook steak until browned, chopping it with a metal spatula as it cooks.

Mix a dollop of Cheez Whiz into the pan with the meat. Scoop contents of the pan into the roll.

Red velvet cake

Serves 15

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 cup of cocoa powder

1 tablespoon cornstarch

8 ounces unsalted butter

3/4 cups buttermilk

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons red food coloring

3 eggs

Blend all dry ingredients together. Then blend all wet ingredients together in a separate bowl (this includes the butter).

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients a little at a time until fully incorporated.

Beat mixture until well blended (no more than 3 minutes; do not over-mix).

Pour batter into two well-greased and floured cake pans (two 9-inch or 10-inch pans will work fine).

Bake in a preheated oven, 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until firm to touch.

Let cool for 15 minutes or longer before serving, or 30 minutes or longer before icing.

For the frosting:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 tablespoons cream cheese

3 1/2 cups powdered sugar ( have a little extra on hand for thicker icing)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until well blended. Adjust speed to low and slowly incorporate powdered sugar a half-cup at a time until you have reached your desired consistency. Then add vanilla extract, continuing to mix until icing is light and fluffy.

To assemble cake:

Place one cake on a cake board or cake plate. Grab a heaping dollop (about 4 tablespoons) of icing to top that cake. Spread evenly. Place your second cake on top of iced cake. Use the remaining icing to cover the entire cake.

Pulled pork in the oven

Serves 10-12

Bone-in pork shoulder roast, about 5-6 pounds (Look for one that has the most even layer of fat around the shoulder.)

For the rub:

1 cup paprika

1 cup kosher salt

6 tablespoons black pepper

6 tablespoons garlic powder

4 tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons onion powder

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup brown sugar

Red Rub

Spicy Carolina Vinegar Sauce

Remove shoulder from packaging, rinse with cold water and pat with paper towels, leaving it moist for the Red Rub to adhere to the pork shoulder.

Mix all rub ingredients together. (This makes more than one batch; store extra in a sealed Mason jar.) Rub the shoulder aggressively with the rub.

Cover with plastic wrap and store fat side up. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

5. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Place shoulder into a roasting pan, fat side up. Cook the shoulder low and slow until it reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees (approximately 6-7 hours).

Cover with foil, remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes. Use a towel to remove the bone — it's hot — and use two forks to pull the pork into small, medium and large pieces.

Serve the pulled pork with hamburger buns, pickles, sliced onions and your barbecue sauce of choice (spicy Carolina vinegar sauce recipe below).

Spicy Carolina vinegar sauce:

2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon hot sauce (your favorite)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Mix all ingredients together.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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