Friday, August 24, 2012

Sunday Brunch at American Tap Room

I love brunch.  Brunch is hands down, my favorite meal and sadly, it generally is only available on Saturdays and Sundays.  At brunch you can get breakfast and lunch foods paired together as a mid-day treat, embellished with fantastic beverages like mimosas and bloody marys.  Seriously, what is not to love?!?

Given that at this point in my life I have two young children, I don't get to frequent brunch very often because it interferes with pool visits, birthday parties, and nap time.  Total bummer.  But this past weekend, the kids had a sleepover at their Grandmom's house so we got to go to brunch!  I could just hear the mimosa calling my name when I woke up on Sunday morning (in a quiet house - which was a treat unto itself).

We decided to go to American Tap Room in Clarendon for brunch because we work nearby and have often wondered what it was like.  So off we went for our highly anticipated, much coveted brunch experience.

We had to wait for a table (about 15 minutes) since it was prime brunch time (around 12:30pm on a Sunday) -- not bad at all considering if you head to Eastern Market for brunch you could find yourself waiting about 30 min to an hour.  We went to the bar and ordered a drink (don't judge - it was after noon and it was brunch!!).  I got a mimosa and my husband ordered a bloody mary.  My mimosa was delicious but from what I was told, the bloody mary could have been a bit more spicy. 

I hear you mimosa, and I'M COMING!!!
We were quickly seated at our table (in an oversized chair that was comfy but a little unwieldy) and I ordered the eggs benedict while my husband ordered the carolina pork hash - we agreed to share our order because we honestly wanted a little of both.  I am no fool though, and I knew that I had to order the eggs or I would get nothing of those because my husband can put food away really quickly.

The eggs benedict were fantastic.  Perfectly poached eggs, the right amount of hollandaise sauce - yum.
Break the yolk!  Break the yolk!
 My husband absolutely LOVED the carolina pork hash.  I tasted some and it was good but apparently for my husband the very idea of bbq for breakfast was the hook, and he could not get enough.  I swear when I wasn't looking, he licked his plate clean.

Bar-be-Que for breakfast, a special treat
It was about this point in the meal, while I was sipping my mimosa and chasing it with coffee, that I realized that we were listening to crappy 'house' music.  My husband maintains it was not 'house music' but some version of pop, but either way, it was distracting from an otherwise relaxing brunch experience.  It was just a weird mix.  I would expect this type of music at a bar at 11pm, but not really at brunch.

Regardless of the music, the waiter came around with a dessert tray and we were hooked.  We had to have the dessert equivalent of what was described as an "Irish Car Bomb" - something about a brownie made with Guinness topped with Bailey's flavored ice cream.  It was really, really good.

Couldn't wait to take the picture, had to get that spoon in there!

It was a great brunch experience at American Tap Room and I will be definitely be going back to try their dinner menu with fried pickles!

American Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 20, 2012

Whole Chicken Carcasses = Homemade Chicken Stock

In addition to belonging to a CSA through Waterpenny Farm, we buy our meat through  PolyFace, a farm that raises animals using sustainable farming practices.  It is quite an adventure to get our meat every three weeks and create enough freezer space to be able to hold everything, but I'll save that story for another day.  

When you buy PolyFace chicken, you get a whole chicken because they don't butcher it into breasts, thighs and legs.  We get to do that (or rather my husband does because I am absolutely terrible at it).  So what we do is usually defrost a whole chicken when we want to use the meat for dinner, cut it into pieces, cook what we need, store the rest and then we are left with the chicken cavity.  I started to find these chicken cavity carcasses back in my freezer, wrapped in foil.  I guess my "at home butcher" wanted to reuse these and was relying on me to figure it out.  So I did.  Whole Chicken Carcasses = Homemade Chicken Stock.

Now I make homemade chicken stock once every month or so.  It is relatively easy to make but it does take a while *and* it sort of makes your whole house stink like chicken broth.  Oh well, not everything can be glamorous.  Here's how you do it:

 1) Defrost your chicken cavity (or chicken pieces if you have leftovers you don't want to use to cook with, but definitely use pieces with bones!) and throw it in a big pot.  I usually use 4-5 chicken carcasses.  Add water to fill the pot almost to the top.

Raw chicken, neck and all but no giblets
  2) Bring the water with the chicken carcasses to a boil, skimming off the clotted blood (which is foamy and disgusting).

3) Once the water reaches a full boil, lower the heat immediately to a simmer (so that little bubbles are just breaking the surface).  

4) Add some vegetables to flavor the broth.  I usually use whatever I have on hand, so for this batch, I used some onions, zucchini, squash, and thyme.  Just use 5 or so pieces.  Don't use tomatoes though!

Vegetables in the broth adds more flavor
5) Simmer the chicken stock with the vegetables for 5-6 hours.  The aroma of chicken will fill your house - so much so, that you won't need to buy Yankee Candles as you have created your own aroma - Chicken Soup.  You can thank me later.

What's that perfume you are wearing?  Oh, that?  That's Eau de Chic
 6) Let the stock cool, remove the larger chicken pieces, and skim the fat off the top if you want.  This is the part that makes my dog come down to the kitchen and wait near the stove for me to miss the trash can.  I do every time - special treat for Webster!  Be careful of those bones though, dogs can't have chicken bones. 

7) Strain the chicken broth to remove vegetables and small chicken pieces.  I use a regular pasta strainer.

Lookin' good
 8) Now for the part that is a straight up pain.  I pour the chicken broth into little baggies and freeze.  I use to use big gallon bags, but I don't need that much chicken broth for my recipes so now I use the little bags.  You can lay them on a cookie sheet to keep them flat and once they are frozen, they are easy to store up right.

Baggies make it easy to store and use in recipes
And that's it!  Now you have your own, homemade chicken broth to use in recipes and you got rid of all those chicken carcasses wrapped in aluminum foil in your freezer.  Oh wait, I probably was the only one with that problem...  well anyway, now you can make some homemade soup with your chicken stock!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DC Restaurant Week - Jackson 20

For all of you who aren't aware, this week is DC Restaurant Week.  It's a lovely week in August (which comes again in January) where local area restaurants offer a special lunch and/or dinner menu for a set price ($20.12 for lunch, $35.12 for dinner).  For the businesses, it's a good way to bring in customers at an otherwise 'slow time of year' (because Congress is out and DC folks are generally out of town on vacation) and for price conscious diners, it's a great way to go to some fancy DC restaurants at half the cost.  Everybody wins!  

For Restaurant Week this year, I made plans to go out with my girlfriends to dinner at Jackson 20 in Old Town Alexandria.   Jackson 20 is part of the Hotel Monaco, a trendy little boutique hotel that is right on King Street and I'm sure has the coolest little chocolates on your pillow which I can only dream about.  We chose Jackson 20 because of its Southern style menu and to be perfectly honest, it looked swanky and fun.  Goes to show, a good restaurant style can go a long way.  

We arrived at the restaurant on time for our reservation and were promptly seated (which I was relieved about because I read reviews about people waiting a long time for a table they had reserved).  True to form, the layout and design of the restaurant was fantastic - great lighting, bold colors, and velvet benches with sparkly pillows.  My friend was in love with the napkin rings and used this inspiration to serve as the resident photo stylist for the evening. 

Oink, oink!  Pig-themed Jackson 20

For their Restaurant Week menu, Jackson 20 offered three choices for appetizers, main course, and dessert which were items off their standard menu.  For the first course, I ordered the American Farm Cheese Selection.  It came with three cheeses (which I am guessing were a goat cheese, a soft creamy cheese (like brie), and a cheddar) a fruit jam (raspberry/strawberry), a caramelized onion spread, and grilled country bread (like Texas toast).  It was a good cheese plate and was very filling but I was not a huge fan of the bread.  It was hard to break apart to use with the cheese and jams.  Given that it is a Southern restaurant, I might recommend serving the cheese plate with some spiced pecans.  To even out the flavor mix - that would give the plate something sweet with the jam and spicy with the pecans.  Just my suggestion but you know, I don't run restaurants so I could be off...

Cheese me up!
We also got a bread basket with biscuits and corn bread.  It was awesome... totally Southern, and the butter was honey-flavored.  I love flavored butter and the honey butter with the corn bread was the perfect pairing.  Well played, Jackson 20, well played.

So good, it melts in your mouth
The main course I ordered was the Charcoal Roasted Slow Cooked Goat.  I picked this for my dinner because I have never had goat before and I was intrigued.  The goat was delicious - it was shredded and tender with a light salt seasoning.  Yum.  It was served with pureed sweet potatoes and creamed corn which were good accompaniments.  The goat was also served along side pimento cheese stuffed ravioli.  I could have done without the ravioli.  The dish was filling enough with just the goat, creamed corn and sweet potato puree.  The ravioli, in my opinion, didn't really add anything to the dish (and I forgot that was not much of a pimento cheese lover).  I did not eat the ravioli on my plate.

Meaty good....
For dessert I ordered the Grasshopper Pie made of Oreo crust, marshmallow and mint and it sounded awesome.  It was very good, but very sweet.  So sweet that I could only eat a quarter of the dessert.  A great concept but they could probably stand to serve half of what they put out on the plate.  And I loved the toasted marshmallow smear on the plate, it reminded me of making s'mores by a campfire - it was a very artistic touch.

Toasted marshmallow without the fire hazard
Overall, it was a solid dinner from Jackson 20.  And a fun time with my girlfriends!  I would recommend going once just for the experience but I probably wouldn't make it my first choice of places to go to dinner in Old Town.  It's a good runner up (like say, if you can't get reservations at your top choice in Old Town and need a Plan B).  

Oh wait, I totally forgot to mention - gazpacho!  They had gazpacho on the menu for the first course.  My friend got it and IT WAS SO GOOD!!!  It was very different than the gazpacho I made - it was a completely pureed soup and they added cream to the base.  The best part was the salt ice cream dollop that you could mix in according to taste.  Very clever on the part of the chef.  I love that kind of stuff.  Check it out.

Gazpacho... everybody's doing it!
 I knew gazpacho and tomatoes would come back to haunt me.  This time it was in a good way!

Friday, August 10, 2012


Today was the monthly celebration of Truckeroo, a festival of food trucks in Southeast DC near the Navy Yard.  I have frequented food trucks from time to time, but I have never attended Truckeroo until today.  This event has been on my calendar for two months since I couldn't make the dates in June and July.  Needless to say, I was very excited to attend my first Truckeroo and it did not disappoint.

I got to the "festival fairgrounds" and after having my purse checked by security (they were lucky enough to find some LEGO Batman toys and an airplane - nothing worth confiscating), I surveyed the scene.  There were so many food truck options!  I decided to do a lap around the food truck block to check out the available selections and see what caught my fancy.

So many food trucks, so little time...

After much deliberation, I decided upon (drum roll please!).... DC Empanadas to satisfy my hungry tummy.  I ordered an El Toro (Chipotle Beef, Onions, Garlic, Cilantro, Black Beans, Cheddar Cheese & Corn) and a Speedy Gonzalez (A mild Cheese Empanada filled with Queso Blanco, Asadero Cheese & Mozzarella Cheese).

Feed me...

The El Toro was DELICIOUS!  It had all the right spices and it took me on a trip down memory lane... back to memories of nights spent at Julia's Empanadas in Adams Morgan at 2 in the morning, eating empanadas in a drunken stupor after partying at all those bars (oh my god, I just aged myself didn't I?). record scratch... Oops anyway, I loved it.  The Speedy Gonzalez  on the other hand, meh... it was okay.  It was cheesy, but I didn't get a whole lot of flava love out of it.

My friend was nice enough to share his tater tots from DC Slices.  The bacon and cheddar kind.  For some reason, I was expecting these tater tots to be infused with bacon and cheddar which they were not, they were loaded with bacon and cheddar (like a baked potato). 

Bacon makes everything better!

Again, they were just okay.  I was expecting more, like a tater tot experience to rave about.  It just tasted like tater tots with bacon and cheddar on top.  But serving tater tots at a pizza food truck says a little somethin' - like, I'm not afraid to try something a little different here.  So if I ever run into this food truck again, I'm going to try the cajun kind because I think they are on to something... 

Anyway, for dessert (because no meal is complete without it) I had a red velvet cupcake from Curbside Cupcakes.  I had to try their cupcakes and it was all I could do not to buy the six pack.  I know people who leave meetings when the cupcake truck shows up outside their office.  I had to see for myself.  

I should have bought the cupcake six pack

OH. MY. GOD.  It was out of this world.  I am not sure what is in the icing, but it was so creamy and delicious I could have ate a bowl of it.  And the cake part was made perfectly - spongy and fluffy.  It looked so good that I didn't even get a picture, I just jammed right in my mouth.  Now I know why people run out of meetings to get those cupcakes.  They are made with magic fairy dust or something.

I had fantastic time at Truckeroo and I am pleased to say, I ate everything on my plate (and then some).  Can't wait 'till September, I'm coming back for more!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tomato, Tamato

Our family belongs to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and for the most part, it's great.  We get lots of fresh veggies and we support a local farmer -- Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, VA.  It's a win/win and you feel like a good little environmental steward.  However, there is the occasional problem around 'what in the hell am I going to do with this many (fill in veggie of choice here)?!?'  Because with a CSA, you get what is in season and right now, tomatoes are in peak season.  We get at least 6 to 10 tomatoes each week of a different variety - red, round hybrid, pink heirlooms and yellow hybrids.  It's A LOT of tomatoes to work with.  And coming from me, that's a pretty bold statement since I grew up "Jersey Fresh" and could eat tomatoes sprinkled with salt as a snack every day.    

Needless to say, I've got a lot of tomatoes that I need to do something with, so I decided to make gazpacho.  Initially, I was not a fan of gazpacho from a purely theoretical stand point. Gazpacho is a cold soup and in my mind, soup is a item meant to be served hot (unless you are homeless and are eating out of can, then you take what you can get).  But I abandoned my theoretical construct and embraced gazpacho in order to avoid rotten tomatoes.   

For my first try (since I am a gazpacho virgin), I got my recipe from a blogger my friend recommended, The Pioneer Woman.  I chose this recipe because it used a bunch of other veggies I had sitting around from my CSA share (zucchini, cucumber, garlic) -- two for one on that, choice is made!     

The recipe is super easy, basically chopping up veggies, pureeing a bunch of them with tomato juice, mixing the chopped veggies with the pureed ones, and viola! Gazpacho.  A few things to note that I found I had to adjust based on my preferences:
  • My gazpacho came out a little too chunky in the end for my tastes, so I added more tomato juice and did a little more pureeing to adjust the veggie chunk to soup ratio
  • Gazpacho is best served chilled (in my opinion) and to get it COLD, I throw my bowl in the freezer before I eat it.  Then it tastes refreshing on a hot summer day.

Overall, the gazpacho was delicious, proving that soup doesn't have to be hot (are homeless people on to something here?  hmmm.....) and like revenge, might be a dish best served cold.  Thanks Pioneer Woman for a super simple, and fantastic, recipe!  I will definitely eat what's on my plate.  And I guess what's on my husband's plate too since he claims to not want to eat 'salsa in soup form.'  Whatever, more for me!