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Cocktails @ Bourbon Steak DC

My love for Bourbon Steak DC is no secret, but we typically go for lunch or dinner, only spending a few minutes at the bar while waiting for our entire party to arrive. Mostly that was tactical since as some of our bunch are lightweights, indulging in a smattering of cocktails before our dinner would have them passing out before the entree arrived. So when a friend suggested heading over there for happy hour to celebrate her late mother’s birthday, it was a great reason to have some cocktails and laughs in the lounge.

I was well aware of the tempting libations from previous visits and the restaurant makes great use of social media, tempting their followers from time to time with food and drink suggestions…

I started things off with an Achilles Heel, hanger one frasier river raspberry, metaxa ouzo, fresh lime and ginger served in a salted glass with cucumber garnish. I’m normally pretty wary of ouzo, but I knew I was in good hands with Duane Sylvestre who made sure I got the most out of the drink by encouraging me to tuck into the garnish after having a sip. Who knew that a little salted cucumber could enhance one’s cocktail experience so well?

The boy prefers his drinks on the sweeter side and cooled off with a classic Planter’s Punch to start while my friend opened with her usual, a Sazerac. It was a good thing we got there fairly early as we were able to chat with the bar staff and I could get out my cocktail nerdity before the lounge got too loud and crowded.

For my second round, I went with the Wooden Chair Rickey, Bourbon Steak’s entry into 2012’s Rickey Month competition.

It had a nice blend of flavors which I confess I can’t recall exactly at the moment–perhaps too much celebrating–garnished with pickled cherries. It satisfied the requirements of the classic Rickey, it was cold, tart and fizzy with more than a hint of sweetness, or as the drink is commonly called, “air conditioning in a glass”. I always try to order a few in the warm months and I’m glad I didn’t pass this one up.

Closing out the night with a delicious burger and a Planter’s Punch of my own, it was a really fun evening with a bit of nerdy celebrity spotting, many laughs and sharing memories and stories. Something I feel you can’t always do with your friends online.

As I’ve said before, unfortunately Bourbon Steak isn’t for the everyday meal or cocktail hour, but as a special treat to yourself every now and then–I think we’re up to once or twice a season, now–you will enjoy a great afternoon or evening with impeccable service, delicious food and as I can now confirm, amazing cocktails.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

I am not a fan of pumpkin. There, I said it. I like pumpkins for decoration, like seeing them growing in patches, maybe painting one for Halloween, but in terms of pumpkin bread, pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice lattes? Not my thing. Growing up, we were a sweet potato pie family and that’s always stuck with me. Now the experienced foodies out there probably know by now that with most dishes, whether you use sweet potato or pumpkin, the spices are often the same and there’s probably only a slight difference in taste depending on how much sugar is used… but you still won’t see pumpkin “delicacies” coming out of my kitchen.

This sweet potato cheesecake recipe was a result of the combination of my love for cheesecake and the rapidly dwindling supplies of frozen homemade sweet potato pies that my aunt would send us each year. I’ve made sweet potato pies before, but somehow they don’t seem to impress and/or entice as much as cheesecake. I admit it, sometimes I make a dessert to bring to an event that will impress. I’m only human!

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

Crust*:

  • 14-ounce bag of gingersnap cookies, finely ground
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake:

  • 14-ounce can of canned yams in light syrup*, mashed with fork until it makes 34 cup
  • 24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider
  • 34 teaspoon ginger
  • 34 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 34 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 10 1 12-inch springform pan. (Optional) Line the bottom and sides of the pan with buttered parchment paper to make for an easier removal.
  2. If you’re a kitchen gadget person–like me–grind the cookies up in a food processor, if not, place the cookies in a large zip-top bag and crush them to your desired fineness with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs and melted butter and stir well. Pour the crumbs into the bottom of the springform pan, pressing out from the center and up against the sides to roughly an inch. A thicker base crust will mean less height on the sides. Use any round smooth-bottomed glass, measuring cup or kitchen tool to tamp down the crumbs, forming an even crust.
  4. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, the edges of the crust should pick up a bit of color but the crust will not be set. Remove from oven to cool slightly while completing the cake batter.
  5. In a mixer with paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, butter and sugar. Mix until smooth and combined. You may need to pause to scrape down the bowl once or twice.
  6. Add the reserved sweet potato puree and mix to blend. Add apple cider, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cream and mix well. Add eggs, two at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions and mix just until incorporated and the batter is smooth. (With most mixers, paddle attachments are pretty good at collecting "potato strings" for easy removal.)
  7. Pour batter into the prepared crust and bake at 350° F for an hour. It should be just set around the edges, and slightly jiggly in the center.
    • Employ your own "cheesecake baking/cooling method" here. I prefer an hour at constant temperature, then turning the heat off and leaving it in the oven another hour or two until it’s cooled down to help avoid cracking.
    • Some cheesecake recipes call for a slow reducing of temperature over time. Ex: 20 minutes at 350, then 20 at 325, 20 at 300, etc. That’s too much bother for me, but your miles may vary and you know your oven better than I.
  8. Once the cake has cooled, refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight before serving.

* Notes: My default crust for cheesecakes is now ginger snaps as opposed to graham crackers. It generally adds something extra and I’ve had friends that wanted to nibble on the crust more than the cake. I think the cookie better complements this cheesecake, but feel free to substitute your preferred crust.

I drain the yams and reserve the syrup, adding it back in as needed to make a smooth puree. It’s ok to mash together everything in the can, but be mindful of the level of sweetness.

As I note in the recipe, everyone has their particular cheesecake baking quirks, usually based on their oven or aversion to cracked cheesecakes. Sometimes I use a water bath or just a baking pan filled with water for steam, but the addition of the sweet potato puree to this one seems to ward off cracking, but if you have a standard baking method, there’s no need to deviate just for this recipe.

And before the purists get on my case, I know, the recipe says “sweet potato” and I’m using canned yams. I consider that a result of my upbringing as well since we didn’t really know the difference and more often than not bought cans labeled “yams” for the pie. I have made this with actual sweet potatoes–but not actual yams–before, and when it comes to the supermarket aisle, you’ll often see cans with both “yams” and “sweet potatoes” on the label. From what I can tell, what’s in the cans are sweet potatoes, but the cake will still taste great.

Obviously this cheesecake would be a hit at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t be afraid to serve it anytime. Enjoy!

Better than The “Best” Sangria

I know, I know, I already posted a recipe for “The Best” Sangria a year ago that remains one of my most visited pages on this site. Well, no disrespect to America’s Test Kitchen, but while their recipe is good, I think I’ve improved upon the original. As much as I see Sangria as a make-ahead recipe, I wanted to change it up a little bit that would allow it to only have to sit for a short time but release the “bite” that wine can sometimes have. Also, I wanted it to really taste more like the drink that you’ve made when you have a few bottles left open the morning after a big meal with friends.

Since mentioning Sangria as a good go-to Summertime party drink, many people would tell me how they used to make Sangria in college–always college–and it generally involved adding vodka, brandy or grain alcohol to wine, fruit optional. And while there’s nothing wrong with boozing up some wine, I didn’t think that would create a smooth and sip’able drink. Still, there was some wisdom to be had in adding either more or diverse liquor to my original recipe. I also figured, if this was a next day drink/punch, one wouldn’t necessarily have all the same type of wine lying around, right?

Thankfully, I had a party to attend, so tripling the amount of Sangria–using three different wines–wasn’t a bad thing and it’s a lot easier to transport 3 liters of Sangria in a bucket than trying to funnel it back into bottles. It vanished rapidly, clearly a big hit and I was told by a friend that it was better than my usual, so the recipe is a keeper!

Better than The "Best" Sangria

  • 3 (inexpensive or leftover) 750mL bottles of red wine
    • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Shiraz
    • Shiraz-Grenache
  • 34 cup sugar
  • 3 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. peach schnapps
  • 1 oz. St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
  • 4 sliced lemons
  • 4 sliced medium oranges
  • 4 juiced medium oranges*
  1. Add sliced oranges, lemons and sugar to large pitcher (or bucket) and muddle–not crush–with a spoon until the fruit releases some of its juice and the sugar dissolves a bit.
  2. Add orange juice, triple sec, peach schnapps and St. Germaine; stir.
  3. Pour in wine, stir to combine and refrigerate for at least 2–and up to 8–hours. Overnight is best.
    • If making a day ahead, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon after about 8 hours. The fruit’s oils will have been imparted into the Sangria and after that point it starts to become bitter from the peel & pith.
    • Reserve the fruit to add back in before serving.
  4. Stir briskly to distribute fruit and pulp; serve immediately over ice.

* If you’re not in the mood to pick over oranges in the produce aisle, pick up a 3 lb. bag of oranges that don’t look too bad. It should contain 8 or 9 oranges and you’re all set. Juice the ugly ones and slice the pretty ones.

The type of wines and liqueur you use is up to you, obviously, but the above combo is a winner. It makes a sweet enough drink to have right away and a smooth enough drink to have the next day. If you really want a “quick” batch, I’d use all Grenache blends as they have less acid and tannins so already come with less of a bite, even when blended with stronger reds. Removing the fruit helps the Sangria keep longer–without added bitterness–and makes for a boozy snack that still lets you say you’re getting a daily requirement of fruit… right?

After my last party experience, I’m tempted to suggest that you double the above recipe so long as you don’t throw out your back trying to move it from the counter to the fridge. If there are other libations available, it should last the evening for a party of 10 or so, but don’t count on there being any left over to take home with you. The summer may be almost over, but consider this recipe–whether served in a bucket or tastefully appointed punchbowl–for those “last hurrah” and Labor Day parties.

Slow-Cooker Red Beans and Rice

Loyal readers–all 3 of you–of this blog should know that I love my slow-cooker, crock pot, whatever you want to call it. Whether it’s making barbecue or mulling cider, it’s a nice and easy “no fuss” method of cooking that you can prepare well in advance and cook mostly unattended. It’s a bit like those old films of “Life in the Future” mixed with modern film techniques. I dump ingredients into the device in the morning, turn a dial, press a button and go to work. Jump-cut to 8 hours later when I come home, lift the lid and deliciousness ensues. Ah the convenience of technology!

Salt-soaking the kidney beans Admittedly most slow-cooker recipes aren’t so simple, but when America’s Test Kitchen came out with their Slow Cooker Revolution, I prodded them on Twitter to ask just how much pre-prep was required for their recipes. I was happy to hear that “most” of them don’t require a lot of work and once I got the book, it was nice to see many of the recipes marked as “Easy Prep.”

After finding their barbecue style chicken to be a huge improvement over my usual method, I was ready to give their Red Beans and Rice Stew a try. The dish is a household favorite, my other half naming it as one of his comfort foods. So I was definitely encouraged to see if I could skip the box mix and make it myself for a change. The ingredient list is simple enough for anyone with even a lightly stocked spice rack and a nearby grocery store. The only stumbling block is time. Slow-cooker recipes take a while–by virtue of the name, naturally–but this one needed 9-11 hours to cook on low and I always prefer to cook on low when I can. It also says 5-7 hours on high, but I prefer low. Also, they recommend salt-soaking the kidney beans overnight, though they also offer a method for quick soaking (as do most pre-bagged beans).

Since this was my first time making it, I didn’t want to let it cook overnight since some slow-cooker recipes need more attention than others. Believe me, now I know better! I did all the prep on the meat and veggies the night before, had everything staged and ready to go… for waking up at 6 the following morning to get things cooking. Pretty easy though, soften veggies, rinse beans, dump everything into the pot and back to sleep!

Red Beans and Rice Stew (serves 6)

Simmering the stew after adding all ingredients

  • 2 onions, minced
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme (or 12 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 14 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra as needed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 pound dried red kidney beans (2 12 cups), picked over, salt-soaked, and rinsed
  • 1 pound andouille sausage. sliced 12 inch thick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped medium
  • 12 cup long-grain white rice
  • salt and pepper
  • red wine vinegar
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  1. Microwave onions, celery, garlic, oil, thyme, paprika, and cayenne in bowl, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Stir broth, water, beans, sausage, and bay leaves into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.
  3. Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. Discard bay leaves.
  4. Stir bell peppers and rice into stew, cover, and cook on high until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. (Adjust stew consistency with additional hot broth as needed.) Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

Aside from the overwhelming compulsion to lift the lid and stir it, this stew really doesn’t need a lot of babysitting. It’s also not very exciting to photograph, until you have a finished product.

Red Beans and Rice

I used Wild Boar Andouille sausage from Red Apron Butchery and it’s excellent though next time I think I might put an extra half-pound of sausage in the mix, or grill it separately to serve on top. I also bumped up the amount of rice to 34 cups and still didn’t feel like it was enough, so prepared another 12 cup (before cooking) rice separately and stirred it in. The Test Kitchen recipe is designed to make more of a stew, but I like my red beans and rice thicker. I’m always skeptical of adding dry rice to any meal, but giving it over 30 minutes to cook in was about the right time and it didn’t get too mushy. Next time I’ll try serving it over rice, but I admit that fast food and box mix versions have gotten me used to having it all mixed together.

The splash of red wine vinegar is definitely a must, but I usually skip garnishes so didn’t bother with the scallions. I might also replace the cayenne with chipotle in future as I like things spicy, but this dish makes me sweat when I eat it. Some might want that, but until I get the proper ingredients and glasses for hurricane cocktails at home, I need to take it easy! Once I figure out how to better hack the needed cook/prep time, I could see making this recipe a lot, especially in colder seasons.

I’m really impressed with Slow Cooker Revolution and am already planning my next slow cooker experiment. The lasagna recipe is tempting, but I think I’d like to try a dessert… or wings!

Buddha-Bar DC new Lunch menu

Last week I was invited to try out Buddha-Bar DC‘s new “wallet-friendly” lunch options along with some other bloggers and journalists. I hadn’t been to Buddha Bar before, but one of the consistent opinions among friends were that the entree prices were a little on the high side, so this is a much-welcomed addition. Buddha-Bar is nestled into the still-growing corridor on Massachusetts Ave NW near Chinatown and the Convention Center but mostly what’s gone in there are apartment buildings and condos save for the CityVista with a supermarket and Busboys and Poets. It’s still developing as a “going out” area, but since a lot of people work in the area, changing up their lunch menu to appeal to a wider audience is a good thing.

Before I knew there were a collection of restaurants, my only exposure to Buddha Bar was the music compilation. The venue definitely suits the music, there’s even a DJ and I’m sure I heard a few chill lounge tracks from the albums. With a giant statue of Buddha overlooking the dining area and Asian touches throughout, they definitely create a mood that seems more suited to lifestyle dining than just heading to a restaurant.

From their recent press release:

Chef Gregg Fortunato’s new appetizers at lunch service include Big Eye Tuna Flatbread for $8 and Miso Black Cod Lettuce Cups priced at $10. New standout entrée salads, priced at $14 each, include an Asian Style Wedge with a Choice of Chicken or Shrimp; Thai Beef Salad or the delectable Green Papaya Salad with a Choice of Duck or Shrimp. Entree choices to beckon lunch-goers are the Kurobuta BLT, a Korean BBQ Sandwich, Kobe Beef Sliders, Japanese Sea Bass Tacos or the Buddha Bar Fish & Chips which range in price from $13 to $16. The new additions will be available for lunch service only Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

For the most part the food and service were excellent, though at times it felt like I was in one or two servers’ way, or that I couldn’t finish my water fast enough for them to offer to refill it. The tables and chairs don’t seem terribly well suited for the long-legged or tall diner, so that may have added to my discomfort. For starters they brought out their Buddha Bar (salmon, yellowtail, spicy tuna, snow crab wrapped in a cucumber “paper”) and Mass sushi rolls, then an eel-based roll after a member of our party disclosed a shellfish allergy and some Thai Beef Tataki skewers that were amazing–I found myself slowly sliding the plate away from others’ notice–and the Big Eye Tuna Flatbread which is also offered to lounge patrons as a complimentary treat while they enjoy cocktails.

We got a pretty good range of entrees: the Korean BBQ Sandwich, Kobe Beef Sliders, Japanese Sea Bass Tacos and the Buddha Bar Fish & Chips and there was some sharing, but definitely some standout dishes. Thankfully my friend was willing to trade her BBQ sandwich for one of my sliders and I feel that she made the better choice. Sliders are not always the easiest thing to pull off and for advertising that they were Kobe beef, these turned out surprisingly dry as if the size factor was working against them. My other friend was over the moon about her fish tacos, so I think I’ll be better informed for a future visit.

It’s hard to judge the time factor as there were about 8 of us and at the best of times, a group lunch like that takes well over an hour, but food came relatively quickly with enough time for us to chat and not feel rushed. Depending on starters or cocktails, the meals might have come to at least $20 or so per person, so it won’t be for everyone, but to change it up during the week or for a group outing, Buddha-Bar is a very impressive venue. We were there before the bulk of their lunch crowd, but when it fills up, you might find the noise level a touch above that for intimate conversation. The high ceilings, decor and spacious room would lend the venue to having a dance floor–especially since they have a DJ–however it’s said that patrons are free to dance at their tables–yeah, right. It was a fun time for lunch and I look forward to visiting again for happy hour!

Links
Buddha Bar DC: Facebook
OpenTable
Yelp
Urbanspoon
Buddha Bar on Urbanspoon

The “Best” Sangria

Not to toot my own horn, but I’ve posted an improved version of this recipe. It’s time to trade up!

We have tons of recipes for items that are a little past their prime. Whether it’s making bread pudding or french toast from day old/stale bread or using those browning bananas for banana bread, there’s always something that can be done with most leftover food. But when it comes to drinks, the field is pretty scarce, but Sangria is easily at the top of the list. While it’s mostly made with unopened wines, it’s also a perfect recipe for throwing together the leftover wines from the previous evening. Unless, of course, you’re like me and have to ask, “What’s leftover wine?”

My go-to recipe is pretty simple, but it’s not mine save for the odd alteration. This is “The Best Sangria” as determined by America’s Test Kitchen and the recipe’s been up on my other blog for a while now, but there’s nothing wrong with rehashing a classic, especially now that Summer is here. This really is the perfect beverage for a backyard cookout, a rooftop party or anytime it gets a little too hot and you’ve had time to prepare a cool beverage.

Ingredients

  • 2 large oranges, washed (one sliced, one juiced)
  • 1 large lemon, washed and sliced
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • 1 (750 ml) bottle inexpensive fruity medium-bodied red wine


Directions

  1. Add sliced orange, lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves, about 1 minute.
  2. Stir in orange juice, triple sec, and wine; refrigerate for at least 2–and up to 8–hours.
  3. Before serving, add ice and stir briskly to distribute fruit and pulp; serve immediately.

And it’s just that simple. A large orange produces about a 1/2 cup of juice in case you don’t have enough fruit around the house and I may change up the liqueur used, substituting out pear for orange or just adding it in to make it more potent. It will need at least 6 hours before serving to give the wine time to mellow out, so I usually make it the night before, or in the wee hours of the morning. If you won’t be enjoying it for a while, take the fruit out after about 8-10 hours and strain it to be stirred back in later.

As this is a “leftover” dish, it’s not meant for your finest wines unless you’re really into that. I usually opt for Fish Eye Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot because it 1: comes in screwtop bottles, which are great for transporting the sangria once made, and 2: it’s cheap. It costs $4.50 a bottle when you buy it as a 6-pack from Safeway. This recipe scales upwards nearly equally, so you’ll likely need a bucket when making a bigger batch, but I find that people appreciate that just as much.

As a special reward for yourself, you’ll find that, for example, making 3 bottles of wine into sangria results in about 4 bottles worth of sangria. So you can keep a bit for yourself at home in case you didn’t get enough of your own concoction at the party. But if–like me–you’re not proud, carting the sangria around in a bucket is just fine too and a lot easier. With the added potential of making new friends on the metro when they see what’s in the bag! And if you need a creative gift, buy some nicer bottles or make your own labels to slap on some screwtop bottles. This recipe keeps in the fridge for up to a week before it starts to go through a bit of fermentation which, while making it more potent, also turns it bitter faster. So it’s not something to keep around forever like regular wine.


If you can find it on the cheap, or happen to be gifted some Spanish wines, a Tempranillo or Grenache would be great or a big fruity French Beaujolais, but those are definitely bottles you’d use for next-day Sangria. This isn’t a drink to spend either too much money or time on. That latter because it goes fast. If you fear you haven’t made enough, be sure to fill each person’s glass with plenty of ice & fruit and as a last “stretching” resort, top each glass with ginger ale. In my experience, however, this won’t work for long but by the time it’s all gone people will be feeling pretty good anyway.

Now that my “secret” is out, I may have to start bringing actual food to potlucks and cookouts… the horror!

CommonWealth Summer menu

Last week, CommonWealth held a free cocktail reception for local media and food bloggers to introduce their new small plates, dinner and dessert items with a patio roast. Thankfully, as it was really too hot to enjoy it on the patio, they seated us inside.

I used to live down the street from CommonWealth and would often stop in after work for a drink and bar snack before heading home. It’s a very warm place, often busy, but it’s always felt more like a restaurant than a neighborhood watering hole. Their new “snacks” menu items may change that. They’ve added more televisions around the dining room, though there are still some tables where one won’t have to watch them, and their small plates seem to encourage people to come in for a lighter meal and linger. A move that can help maintain a good revolving crowd, but can backfire if a place becomes too popular. As CommonWealth is nicely established, I think this will bring in new diners without alienating their regulars.

Even though it seems trite to go to a restaurant with so many choices and order the burger, their new Lamb Burger with Salsa Verde is definitely a favorite. The fresh bright notes of the salsa blend amazingly well with the well-cooked, slightly spicy lamb. They served them up as sliders for the tasting dinner, but it’s normally served as a regular burger. However, our table did suggest they add the sliders to the bar menu as they’d be a big hit. Other highlights were the Lemon Fried Olives, Garlic Shrimp w/Thai Chilies, and Baby Beet Salad w/Green Beans in Mustard Vinaigrette.

The staff and owner Sandy Lewis were very knowledgeable about the food and drinks. And as is the growing trend, Lewis was able to tell us their farms and sources for the dishes. Chef Jamie Leeds–most recognizable from Hank’s Oyster Bar–was also on hand to answer questions, though you’re more likely to see her through the view of the kitchen available from some of the dining room tables.


I no longer live close enough to make CommonWealth the break in my commute, but when I get a bit misty-eyed for Columbia Heights, I could definitely metro up for a lamb burger and a french margarita. These new small plates seem to shift them a bit from gastropub to pub, but for many of us that’s a fine thing indeed!

Links
CommonWealth: Facebook
OpenTable
Yelp
Urbanspoon
Commonwealth on Urbanspoon

Microwave Iced Tea

When we saw Sara Moulton at Hill’s Kitchen a while back, one of the things she said was she didn’t care for the microwave because she didn’t think that “pushing buttons is cooking.” She’s clearly not a fan of The Jetsons. I do agree with her, for the most part, as I mainly use the microwave to help prepare ingredients or make items specifically designed to be cooked using that method. As I’ve never owned a tea kettle, one of my primary uses for the microwave has always been to heat/boil water for beverages. This led me to one of my standby “kitchen hack” recipes: microwave iced tea.

Of course, having been raised in the South, this probably has my ancestors up in arms because it isn’t “proper” brewed iced tea. But my ancestors didn’t have microwave ovens! I derive “kitchen hack” from life hack, in that it’s a trick to produce a satisfying result, even if not by the “standard” method.

When I first moved to Washington DC, it was Spring, which is a lovely time to be in DC. The temperatures are nice, flowers are blooming everywhere, there’s the occasional rainstorm to wash away the pollen… it’s great! Unfortunately, it’s followed by Summer, which is not a fun time to be in DC, an even less fun time to be in my first group house experience with no central air-conditioning. Our fridge was filled (and re-filled) with gallon jugs of water at all times and we’d spend a lot of time out front on the porch swing because at least there was sometimes a hint of a breeze. It was easy enough to make sun tea, but that took hours, so I would head into the kitchen and walk out 10 minutes later with a tray of iced tea for everyone. The housemates never asked how I did it–gift horse and all–and attributed it to a little Southern kitchen magic.

I tell you now, it will take you longer to read this recipe than it will ever take you to make this recipe.

Microwave Iced Tea

  • 4 cups water
  • 8 tea bags (or 2 family size tea bags or 3 tablespoons loose tea)*
  • 3/4 cups sugar, or to taste (naturally sweeter or fruit-flavored teas may need less sugar to your own taste)
  1. Add tea (bags or loose) to microwaveable measuring cup with 4 cups cold water.  Set for 5 or 6 minutes, bringing just to a boil.
  2. Stir and press tea bags gently against sides to release until tea is darker looking. With loose tea–it usually completely sinks or floats–remove from microwave with 1 minute cooking time left, stir and replace for the final minute.
  3. Pour sugar into a gallon (4 quart) pitcher.  Add tea, straining bags or loose tea as you pour.
  4. Stir, fill with water/ice and refrigerate or serve over ice.

* You can mix and match bags and styles of tea, but the key for a gallon is 8 teaspoons. I often temper 4 bags of strong tea with 1 family-size bag of green tea, or add loose mint tea to orange pekoe black for a sweet southern mint tea.

And you’ve got iced tea! Like I said, it’s a no-brainer but it surprises me how many people I tell this to that have never thought of it before. Adventures in Shaw was most appreciative when I showed it to her.

I’ve used this method with all sorts of teas: pre-bagged, white, green, black and red. The Strawberry Garden white tea from Zen Tara Tea works quite well and doesn’t even need that much sugar. It’s easy to adjust to your personal tastes and with Summer temps going into the 90s, I like having a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge at all times.

I’m sure we all have kitchen hacks that we’re proud–or sometimes ashamed–of, it’s all good. I wouldn’t necessarily stand this up against sun tea, but it works for me and my housemates never complained. Enjoy!

Vintage Virginia Wine Festival

Path leading up to Vintage Virginia in Bull Run Park

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.”
–Benjamin Franklin

I’m not quite as much of a wine drinker as I used to be. Vintage Virginia used to be firmly scheduled each year, but when I got rid of my car and other friends with cars moved away, it wasn’t quite as easy to make it out to VA to attend. This year a last-minute invite in response to my need for a day trip appeared out of nowhere and Vintage Virginia was back on!

T-shirt: If found, please return to the nearest winery About 50 wineries from Virginia show up, along with food and crafts vendors, and it’s a really good time. You’d think that it would be a loss for the wineries as they’re just giving away product all day–albeit in 1-2 ounce doses–but the vendors I talked to seemed really excited about the day. When I’d been in the past, the wineries had descriptions of their wines available and you could request a tasting of select bottles, but this year most of them seemed content to give tasting flights to a group at a time. This was both good and bad, as the group I was with was there to taste and buy, not taste and party. We got stuck behind some people for whom tasting had evolved to drinking. But as every taster is a potential purchaser, I can’t fault the wineries and volunteers for making sure no one’s glass went dry.

Vintage Virginia wineglass with my purchases of the day

Thankfully the sun stayed away for most of the day, but around 4 or so, it was streaming down on us. By then even my tasting had become drinking–especially as some wineries also sell wines by the glass. Along the way we’d made lots of notes about the wines we liked and decided to head back to our favored wineries to buy some bottles and have them sent to will call. (Will Call at a wine festival is the most dangerous and brilliant idea ever.) Luckily, for me, some of the wineries had sold out of the bottles I wanted by the time we rolled around. This is really a defensive maneuver on my part as I only came home with nine bottles. If I’d been buying while tasting, I’d have bought a lot more.

The pictures from the day are on flickr, and I’ve still got my notes on the wines I liked and the wineries I want to visit. Most of the wineries are a few hours outside DC/NoVA and I look forward to a day trip or two to make a visit. However, even if I can’t make it, living in DC allows me to have wine shipped–a big plus. Between Vintage Virginia and Wine in the Woods each year, there are few excuses not to indulge your love of wines and local wineries.

Sara Moulton at Hill’s Kitchen

Just over a week ago, I was fortunate enough to meet one of my food idols. I’d already planned to make it a “food excursion day” with some friends, grabbing a bite on the Hill and heading up to Bethesda to check out a tea shop when we saw that Hill’s Kitchen was hosting Sara Moulton for a cooking demonstration and book signing. You never saw plans change so fast!

If you’ve ever seen her shows Cooking Live or Sara’s Secrets, she is just as friendly and engaging in person. She reminds you of the friendly neighbor that might stop by to borrow a cup of sugar and then come back with a share of the cookies or brownies she baked with it.

Watching her talk about Food Network, Gourmet Magazine, her family, her recipes and the new book was like seeing her on TV all over again. One of the things she practices and stresses is that cooking shouldn’t be a burden. Many people resort to fast food or dining out because they see cooking as a chore, especially when they have families to take care of. The recipes in her latest book, Everyday Family Dinners are the cure for that. The longest “total preparation time” I’ve seen in the book is 2 hours and 30 minutes and that was for “quick” kimchi, most of the “hands on” times are 15-30 minutes. She even starts the book off with a “How to Use This Book” section explaining cooking terms, where to find ingredients mentioned, the difference in weight between box grated and microplane grated cheese and most importantly the equivalent between chopped fresh herbs and dried herbs–1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried. For most people, this is common knowledge, but it’s something that used to confound me when I started cooking, especially when finding fresh herbs wasn’t easy if you didn’t have a garden.

For the demo, she showed us how to make her Polenta Lasagna and Warm Chocolate Cheesecake (recipe below) and sent samples around the room for tasting. Chantal cookware is sponsoring her book tour, so she used their wares and was happy to show off its capabilities, but it didn’t feel like a sales pitch. Leah did make sure, however, to let us know that the items Sara was using were all available for purchase at Hill’s Kitchen!

When she was finished cooking, she answered our questions–about anything, not just food–and then the book signing began. Thankfully my friends were knowledgeable in the ways of book signings and explained the Post-It note thing to me. During her discussion, she admitted that she steered us wrong when she had her cooking show and never had a chance to correct herself. One of the classic cooking teachings is that when you oversalt something, you can add a potato to correct it… well this is a myth, and I now have her signed say-so! However, she did say that there are two things while cooking that you can’t undo if you mess them up: burning things and mashed potatoes.

I’m not a giant, she really is that adorably tiny in person. And when she found out my friend and I were food bloggers, she asked for our cards! Sara Moulton asked for my card! Believe me, I was buzzed off of that for days! It was a fun morning and simply amazing to meet her. There are few food celebrities/personalities that I consider must-see, and Sara is easily at the top of that list. Take a look at her book if you see it while out and about and Amazon has a Kindle edition for 1/2 price. This one won’t be collecting dust on my shelves for a while!

Warm Chocolate Cheesecake

  • One 3.5-ounce bar bittersweet chocolate
  • 
8 ounces full-fat or 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter four 1/2-cup ramekins and place them on a rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Coarsely chop the chocolate and melt it in the top of a double 
boiler or in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. 
Combine the chocolate with the cream cheese and vanilla in the 
bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Process 
until well blended.
  3. Stir together the sugar and flour, add it to the processor, and 
blend it into the chocolate mixture. Add the egg and pulse until 
smooth. Divide the batter among the ramekins.
  4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the centers are set. Transfer to cooling rack to cool slightly before serving.