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.Cucumber Water Steeping Cucumber Water

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

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Looking For Luck This New Year?

So… If you’re like me, you could use a dose of good luck for 2014!!

Here is an incredibly thorough and scientific list of things that you can do/eat to ensure health and wealth in the new year! (I’ll try anything once!)

- Spanish tradition suggests that you wear red underwear on new year’s eve.

- My Brasilian mother-in-law insists that you should eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight (one for each month of the year).

- Mr. Food Nerd’s wise and somewhat mystical childhood nanny says you should eat 7 pomegranate seeds and then SAVE the seeds in a little bag for good luck throughout the year.

- A large number of cultural traditions suggest that eating Lentils and/or Black-Eyed peas on new year’s eve and new year’s day will invite wealth/good luck in the coming year.

- Eating fish and pork are particularly lucky to eat on new year’s eve and new year’s day because they swim and graze forward… avoid chicken or other poultry who scratch backward!

- A Cuban friend suggests picking up a suitcase at midnight and running around your house three times (with said bag) if you want to travel more in the coming year.

Bonus hint – DON’T clean your house tomorrow! Some cultures believe that you can sweep or wash away good luck by cleaning on new year’s day!

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy and wealthy new year!

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Perfection

Hello. My name is Hilary and I am a perfectionist.

My perfectionist tendencies are a blessing and a curse – they allow me to perform/produce at a very high level, both at my day job and in my personal life but they can also cause chronic inaction.

It always starts innocently – I put up a roadblock, a reason to delay doing something in order to ensure an optimal result. I guess the best way to explain it is an imaginary prerequisite. These prerequisites can sometimes lead to an “all-or-nothing” mentality on my part. When something isn’t perfect, when I can’t fulfill the mental “requirement” that I set for a task or a project, I either ignore it entirely or I create a bigger (more complicated) prerequisite to compensate for my perceived shortfall.

Some requirements are smaller than others… like putting off scheduling my dental appointment until after I make sure to floss three times a day for three weeks in a row (ok so perhaps I’m a little OCD as well), or not publishing a post to because I forgot to take a picture of the reviewed dish.

Sometimes, these requirements spiral out of control and after a period of inaction I come up with a bigger or more complicated prerequisite that I believe will make up for my (admittedly imaginary) failure or shortfall.

Sadly, perfectionism has taken its toll on this blog. I missed a couple posts and I started feeling guilty so I devised a whole series of incredible features (you would have loved them – farmer’s market profiles, CSA challenges, an entire WEEK on asparagus!) …and then I posted exactly nothing.

Why? Life happened. I couldn’t be perfect. I felt bad.

Something I love quickly turned into a burden, something shameful that I didn’t want to think about or talk about. So I ignored it. I ignored YOU.

The funny thing is that no one really seems to mind how much I post. People are still enjoying the existing entries (who knew so many people are looking for info on Jowl Bacon and Lobster Rolls?!). Funnier still, the best received posts are NOT the ones that I think are the most polished. The most popular posts are the messier ones – the ones in which more of my voice leaks through… Let’s face it. This is not a destination for literary foodies. It’s a humble blog run by a humble food nerd, who really should enjoy it more.

All that being said – I think I want to start posting again. I want to post when inspiration strikes and not when google analytics says I should. I want to post about the things (the foods, restaurants, kitchen gadgets etc) that I am currently fascinated with, and not worry about “brand continuity” or Klout scores. I want to post because I have something of value to share.

My name is Hilary and I’m not perfect (but I try).

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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!

Posted in Cocktails, Holidays, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

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

Pork Barrel BBQ on Urbanspoon

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