Refreshing Cucumber Spa Water

Suddenly my refrigerator has been overrun with cucumbers from our CSA, and while I love cucumber salad and gazpacho, these guys are appearing faster than I can eat them!

Inspired by the chic (and refreshing) water I’ve had at the spa, I started making my own SUPER EASY cucumber water with the extra cucumbers. 

All you need to do is slice cleaned cucumbers, place the slices in a large jar or a pitcher, fill container with cold filtered water and let sit in the fridge for a few hours before enjoying.

Steeping Cucumber WaterSteeping Cucumber Water

Pro tip – toss herbs and/or fruit to create fun variations.

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Kitchen Adventures – Summer Salad with Watermelon, Feta and Basil

“… It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”

Call it whatever you like, but it is too darn hot in DC.

My solution? Chill out with my watermelon, feta and basil salad (it really is that easy!). The combination of  sweet, juicy watermelon with salty cheese and earthy basil is supremely refreshing.

Simply cube some good quality feta into a bowl, then cube watermelon (chilled is best!), and top with thinly cut basil (you can add some freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil if you like, but it’s not necessary). Gently mix and enjoy!

This salad is a hit at pool parties and pot-lucks alike, and pairs equally well with grilled chicken, shrimp, steak or sausage. (It is also a great grown-up answer to the question “What can I do with leftover watermelon?”)

*Special thanks to Emily and Guilherme for reminding me of this great dish!

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Things I Will Miss… (Nora Ephron Tribute)

Sadly, Nora Ephron passed away yesterday after a private battle with cancer. The world will miss her talent, wit and spirit… and her love of good food!

Inspired by a list Nora wrote in her book “I Remember Nothing”, I thought sharing my own food-nerd list of things I will miss would be a fitting tribute… a reminder to live the most wonderful life you can, and – most importantly – to stop to savor all the little things that make life incredible.

This list is not exhaustive, and I didn’t want to rehash my Thanksgiving post, but as an ode to the famous foodie, the list below contains things I will miss when I find that my time in this place is over:

  • Sun ripened tomatoes from the farm stand
  • Watery lemonade from a kids sidewalk stand
  • Rare steak
  • That first whiff of fall in the air
  • Pumpkin beers on Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and a chilly Tuesday for no reason
  • Buttery salmon and crisp greens
  • Watching a storm roll in from my deck
  • Celebrating holidays large and small with equal vigor
  • An extra olive in my martini
  • Succulent roast chicken with golden, crispy skin
  • TV on DVR
  • Singing loud with the car windows open
  • Movie Night
  • Champagne
  • Fireflies (or lightning bugs depending on where you are from)
  • Blue Crabs (with lots of melted butter and Old Bay)
  • Football
  • Movie popcorn
  • Chicken and Stars soup when I am sick
  • Tropical breakfasts in Brazil
  • Chocolate Mousse
  • Crispy bacon
  • Sharing food and drink with my precious family and friends.

 

“It’s not that I’m not obsessed about food. I really am and I’m sitting in a room right now with food and I’m 10 feet away from it and I’ve been thinking the whole time I’ve been talking to you, is the telephone cord is long enough for me to get some food?”

– Nora Ephron (from interview with Newsweek)

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Thirsty Thursday – Dig Pale Ale, New Belgium Brewing

I often feel that seasonal beers are released way too early, and that you have to hold onto them for a bit until the season catches up. Not so this year! I was thrilled to try this weeks featured beer, a spring seasonal, given the unseasonably warm temperatures!

New Belgium Brewing made quite a splash in the DC area last year when they expanded distribution drastically and announced plans for an east coast brewery. New Belgium is most famous for its Fat Tire Amber Ale, but they makes quite a few other beers worth trying and I am pleased to share one with you today.

Spring Seasonal

Dig Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale (Spring Seasonal)
Brewery: New Belgium Brewing
Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA
ABV – 5.6%
IBU – 36
Malts: Pale,  Caramel 80
Hops: Target, Nelson Sauvin, Cascade, Nugget, Sorachi Ace
Availability: Spring
Tasting method – 12 oz bottle poured into pint glass.

Appearance: Pours clear amber with thick foamy white head.

Smell: Smells sweet and earthy, sprouting grass.

Taste: Very balanced pale ale. Sweet malty flavors mix with notes of fruit, damp earth, cut grass, and bitter green.

Mouth-feel: Robust beer with an evolving palate. Immensely quaffable. Endearing

Overall: A supremely satisfying pale ale. Evokes memories of a backyard after spring showers. Amazing seasonal selection.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (in season)


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Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Hard boiled eggs are great to have on hand! They make a quick and nutritious breakfast, help turn a salad into a meal, and even make a comforting sandwich when mixed with a couple other ingredients. Need I mention Deviled eggs?

Follow the 5 tips below for perfectly cooked (easy to peel) hard boiled eggs!

  1. Start with good quality eggs. Ever noticed how the shells on some eggs are paper-thin and brittle? Not so great for boiling… I like to use brown shelled organic eggs whenever possible.
  2. Be patient (or opportunistic). Eggs that have been hanging out in the fridge for a while are easier to peel when cooked. There are a lot of explanations available for this, but the USDA puts it simply.
  3. Get a little chemical help. Adding salt and baking soda to the cooking water will alter the Ph enough to make the protein in the egg whites bond more strongly with each other than the inner membrane of the shell. I use 1/2 TBSP of each for 12 eggs.
  4. Cook gently. Place 12 large eggs in the bottom of a 3 quart pot. Cover with 1 inch if cold water (add salt and baking soda). Cook over high heat until the water starts to boil. Cover pot, turn off heat and set timer for 10 minutes.
  5. Chill out. As soon as your 10 minutes are up, cool the eggs quickly with cold running water. Let sit for 2 minutes and then eat or refrigerate your eggs!

What are some of your favorite uses for hard boiled eggs?

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Thirsty Thursday – Drifter Pale Ale, Widmer Brothers Brewing

And now for something just a little bit different…

During a recent lunch with a blog savvy friend, an idea for a new, regular feature was born! If you follow me on Twitter (@SuburbanFoodNrd) you may have seen enthusiastic tweets about craft beer or thoughtfully mixed cocktails. Starting today, I plan on sharing a delicious libation with you every Thursday. Think of it as a warm up for the weekend.

Widmer Brothers Brewing is probably best known in this area for their Hefeweizen which has been featured on taps across the region for years. Recently I have noticed several other beers brewed by Widmer, and wanted to give Drifter a try!

Drifter Pale Ale
Style: American Pale Ale
Brewery: Widmer Brothers Brewing
Location: Portland, Ore, USA
ABV – 5.7%
IBU – 28
Malts: Pale, Caramel 20L, Caravienne 20L, Caramel 80L, Carapils
Hops: Alchemy, Summit, Nelson Sauvin
Availability: Year-round
Tasting method – 12 oz bottle poured into pint glass.

Appearance: Pours clear amber with foamy off-white head, carbonation bubbles up as head fades and laces.

Smell: Nice citrus nose with hints of grapefruit, caramel and orange – Pleasantly sweet, finishing with wafting hops.

Taste: Mild, carbonated front, quickly developing hit of citrus then malt and hops, lingering slightly tart metallic finish.

Mouth-feel: Light palate, highly carbonated, thin.

Overall: A decent beer with balanced flavors. Would be a nice light beer alternative in the warmer months, or a refreshing choice for those who are burned out on heavily hopped brews.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10


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It’s National Margarita Day!!!

Please join me in raising a glass on February 22nd to toast National Margarita Day.

Yes. It’s a thing  🙂

Best of all – it’s a fun excuse to make (and drink) a delicious Margarita in the middle of winter.

My (current) favorite margarita recipe is below – you can skip the zesting and resting part if you are pressed for time, but the additional steps add a depth of flavor that can’t be beat!

My Perfect Margarita (Serves 4)

            • 3 Lemons
            • 3 Limes
            • 3 Oranges
            • 1 -2 oz Agave Nectar (you can substitute equal parts of Honey or 1/4 C. Sugar)
            • 1 1/2 C. Tequila
            • 1/2 C. Cointreau (or other Orange Liqueur)
            • Ice (crushed if possible)
            • 4 Margarita glasses (salted rim is optional)
      1. Wash and dry citrus fruit.
      2. Gently zest the citrus fruit into large measuring cup or other easy-pour container. (Be careful not to include too much of the bitter white pith in with the zest.)
      3. Cut all the citrus fruit in half and squeeze juice over zest (use a citrus reamer for best results).
      4. Mix in the Agave Nectar. *Do a quick taste test here, and add more sweetener if desired (or necessitated by tart fruit).
      5. Cover mixture and refrigerate until you are ready to prepare your margaritas (this can be done 1-4 hours ahead of time!)
      6. When ready, strain juice mixture through fine mesh sieve to remove pulp and zest.
      7. Add Tequila and Orange Liqueur to the strained Margarita base. *Do another quick taste test here – add more Tequila or a splash of Soda Water to adjust the flavor and strength of your Margarita. (Note that the finished cocktail will be slightly more diluted after the final steps.)
      8. Fill margarita glasses with ice.
      9. Pour 1/4 of your margarita mix into a cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously until well chilled, strain into prepared glass.
      10. Repeat as needed, then toast to National Margarita Day!

Cheers!

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Restaurant Review – Pork Barrel BBQ

You have probably heard of Pork Barrel BBQ… You may have seen them at the DC Barbecue Battle or read about their sauce in Men’s Health Magazine, you could have seen them on ABC’s Shark Tank, or purchased their rub in a store a store near you. You may EVEN own a bottle of Que – their “eau du barbecue” cologne. If not, all you really need to know is that Pork Barrel BBQ was started by two former hill staffers with a passion for sauce, spice and smoke and a knack for building their brand.

The newest venture for this seemingly unstoppable team is the Pork Barrel BBQ Restaurant situated in the Del Ray district of Alexandria, VA.  We stopped by this Sunday to watch playoff football with friends, and try the BBQ.

I walked in with no preconceptions, and was pleasantly surprised by the scene that greeted me. The dining area is open and sleek, punctuated with a long icy trough full of nostalgic and/or regional sodas (including Cheerwine, Coca-Cola made without corn syrup, and Nehi Grape soda). A counter for ordering your meal beckons from the back of the space, as does a collection of large trophies next to the counter.

Now – you have a decision to make… If you are looking for a quick bite to eat, grab a soda, walk back to the counter, place your order, and enjoy your meal in the dining room. If you are looking to enjoy your BBQ with an adult beverage or two, move into the large bar area to your left… Grab a seat at the bar and order up a cold one from the eclectic beer list before deciding what to eat.

     

Sitting at the bar affords the added privileged of being able to order your meal with the bartender instead of walking to the back counter. Heather, our tolerant bartender and BBQ ambassador for the day, helped guide us through the menus and made some great suggestions (including the suspicious but enjoyable Schlitz and Fruit Punch “cocktail” that one member of our party gamely sampled).

So – the ambiance is cool, the bar is great… the food is where things get tricky. BBQ preferences are deeply personal  – opinions are shaped by family history, geographic location, travel experience, and individual palates. While the argument can be made that all food preferences are subjective, very few cuisines elicit such a strong visceral response as BBQ. People either LOVE Carolina BBQ or they HATE IT. Memphis ribs may be heaven for one person, and dry, sandy textured torture for another. The BBQ Boys at Pork Barrel have done their best to appeal to a wide range of BBQ fans. The meats are simply rubbed with their proprietary blend, smoked, and served with a variety of sauce options. We sampled the Brisket, Pulled Pork and (homemade) Beef Sausage:

          

The brisket has a bright smoke ring and was well trimmed. The texture and moisture are right-on, but the beefy slices rely heavily on the Pork Barren BBQ sauces to bring regional BBQ flavor to the dish. You can choose from the (award-winning) original, sweet or mustard versions of the sauce which are readily available at the bar and on tables in the dining room.

The pulled pork stands on its own. The meat it is tender, juicy, slightly smokey and beautifully pulled into bite size morsels. It is not overly seasoned as some BBQ can be, allowing the inherent porkyness of the meat to shine.

The beef sausage (made in-house) was delicious as well – fatty, juicy, smokey with nice bit of heat that sneaks up on you. The sausages can be ordered as an entrée, or you can add a link to your order.

BBQ Chicken and St. Louis style pork ribs are also on the menu, but sadly, were not sampled (or photographed) on this visit.

    

I am happy to report that the side dishes at Pork Barrel BBQ are VERY good. It is clear that a lot of time and attention went into this aspect of the menu.  This is a refreshing change of pace as the side dishes are often treated as an afterthought at other establishments.

The Mac and Cheese is a must have – hot and creamy, soul satisfyingly cheesy – you can’t go wrong! If you are looking for something a little healthier (or cooler) the Texas Caviar is a satisfying mix of black eyed peas, diced onions, peppers, corn and tomatoes tossed together with vinaigrette and served cold. The cold Cucumber salad is spiked with onion and vinegar and offers a respite from the the rich meat flavors in the rest of your meal. The collard greens stand out as well. The greens have a distinct sweet/tart pickled flavor that really sets them apart from other collards I have tried. I was also able to try the creamy coleslaw which I LOVED, but did not get a picture of. The (somewhat) roughly cut slaw was dressed up with ribbons of colored sweet pepper and a nice creamy dressing that was not so thick or rich that you lost the flavor or crunch of the veggies. Baked Beans (with burnt ends of Brisket mixed in) and Potato Salad are available as well.

On your first visit – I suggest ordering a pork sandwich, topping it with slaw, and enjoying with sides of Collard Greens and/or Mac and Cheese… You’ll get a great feel for what Pork Barrel BBQ is all about. I’m going to try the chicken next!

Pork Barrel BBQ
2312 Mt. Vernon Ave.
Alexandria, VA 22301
(703) 822-5699

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New Year’s Resolutions (Happy 2012!!)

I am big on clean slates.

There is something about a new beginning that opens up life to possibilities. You are given the chance to envision yourself at your very best, and make a plan to get there. In the past, I have made WAAAYYYY too many resolutions all at once, been overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, and forgotten them by valentines day. I have accepted that I will NEVER go to the gym everyday. I will NEVER remember to send a card to every family member or friend on their birthday, anniversary etc. I will NEVER be able to do laundry on a set schedule, or iron (ick) once a week.

This year – I am taking it easier on myself with two simple resolutions – I resolve to bake more and waste less.

Baking and I have never gotten along. It is WAY too much like chemistry, and for some reason, I am a super messy baker. Recently though, I have been fantasizing about baked goods… Whipping up come cinnamon buns, a fresh loaf of bread or a warm batch of cookies is a very appealing idea. Just not one I ever act on. This year – I will act!

I really don’t like to waste food, but so often, I find myself throwing out goodies that have been sitting in the fridge for too long. I get so focused on a recipe or menu, that I often overlook perfectly good food for the sake of the dish I want to try. This singular focus causes MORE waste, because I end up with leftover ingredients from two dishes instead of one!  In 2011 I took baby steps towards this goal, but in 2012, I resolve to be more mindful of what I have on-hand, and find creative ways to use leftovers or remnants of ingredients from recipes.

I hope you all had a very happy and healthy holiday season, and I look forward to sharing more delicious adventures with you all in 2012.

Happy New Year!

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Restaurant Review – Freddy’s Lobster + Clams (A Bit of Maine in Maryland)

On Small Business Saturday, I needed to get out of the house, and it was clear that there would have been mutiny if I tried to serve Turkey leftovers again, so we took a little drive to Freddy’s Lobster + Clams in Bethesda.

     

This was my third visit, and I enjoyed the establishment more and more each time! Freddy’s opened this summer with a limited menu and a distinct lobster shack charm. From the beginning, their beer selection has been shockingly good, and kept us coming back even though not all my friends wanted a Lobster Roll.  This Fall, Freddy’s has really come into it’s own. They have slowly expanded the menu and are building a loyal clientele by paying attention to quality and value.

Saturday, we had the pleasure of dining in the bar with Bruno. He is upbeat and knowledgeable, but in a relaxed way.  Bruno patiently answered all our questions, and was quick with another drink or story.

At Freddy’s, they make almost everything in-house. Exceptions include the top sliced hot-dog buns (imported from Maine with the lobsters), and the thin cut fries. Real care and attention are shown to the from-scratch items, and it shows!

During my previous visits, I had sampled the lobster rolls. They are served cold (lightly dressed with mayonnaise), or hot (tossed with butter), each on a grilled bun. The meat is sweet, succulent, and piled high!

Cold Lobster Roll @ Freddy's

While I DID order the cold roll (wrapped to go – for dinner), for lunch I wanted to try one of the new items. Because I couldn’t choose one item, the understanding Mr. Food Nerd offered to split the Fried Chicken and the Hamburger with me.

The Fried Chicken is incredible, but beware, because the chicken is cooked to order, the dish takes a little longer to prepare. Bruno proudly explained that the chicken is marinated in buttermilk, then – when ordered – dredged in seasoned corn flower, fried, and then finished off in the oven.

Freddy's Fried Chicken with Grilled Asparagus and Butternut Squash Puree

This is the fried chicken I remember coming out of my grandmother’s kitchen in Albany, New York. It is not perfectly uniform in color, the crust is thin, crunchy and intensely flavored, the meat oh-so-juicy and tender. We ordered the butternut squash puree and grilled asparagus side dishes almost as afterthoughts. You get two sides with the meal and we were already getting fries with the Burger…  that, and veggies seemed like the best option to assuage a bit of Thanksgiving guilt. Happily, the sides added to the dish and were welcome accompaniments to the star of the plate!

The thin asparagus were green, tender and crisp, with the slightest hint of smoke from the grill. They TASTE like asparagus should – even at the end of November, which is rare. The silky butternut squash puree had a surprising citrus kick, and was a bright counterpoint to the rich chicken. I was tempted to steal the whole plate and leave my selfless companion to eat the burger by himself, but for you people I shared…

Cheeseburger with Thin Cut Fries at Freddy's

… and I was I glad I did! Freddy’s grinds their own beef, combining cuts of Sirloin and Short Rib to create the perfect mixture of texture and flavor. Our burger was topped with white cheddar cheese, and served alongside a heaping pile of crispy french fries. I would not go so far as to call them shoestring fries, but they ARE thin and very crispy – just like I like ’em!

Other notable menu items include Grilled Portuguese Sausage, Steamed Lobster, Fried Clams, Fried Shrimp, LOBSTER MASHED POTATOES LOBSTER MAC N’ CHEESE (As part of the menu upgrades this item was switched  – thanks to Chef Litchfield for the correction!), Grilled Fish, Grilled Ribeye Steak and Chowder…

Freddy’s not only has great food, but they have an incredible selection of craft beer, both on draught and in bottles and cans. Don’t believe me? Check out the “Booze Book” and try a beer you’ve never heard of before! In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am prone to exaggeration… I wanted to tell you that there were HUNDREDS of choices, but I just counted the beers listed on Freddy’s website, and there are more than one hundred options (so I was super close!).

Visit Freddy’s, enjoy a craft beer (or two), and order something delicious. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday.

Freddy’s Lobster + Clams
4867 Cordell Ave.
Bethesda, MD  20814
(240) 743-4257

Freddy's Lobster + Clams on Urbanspoon

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