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National Watermelon Day!

Posted by / Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

(Image: Francesco83/Shutterstock)

Today is the middle of the work week, boo. But just in case you needed something to celebrate to make your day better, today is also National Watermelon Day! So what better way to celebrate than to learn some fun facts about watermelon?

- Watermelon is a good source for vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6.
- The melon is made up of 92% of water, which means eating it will keep you super hydrated for these hot days.

How to Choose a Watermelon
- Make sure that is shiny and as symmetrical as can be.
- Avoid watermelons that have bruises or dents.
- On one part of the watermelon should be a patch of yellow or white.  This is the spot where the watermelon sat on the ground while it ripened in the sun. Yellow is riper than white, but white is better than no patch at all.
- Pick it up to see how heavy it is. The heavier it is in comparison to its size, the better.

Now I’m not very good with cooking so here are some interesting recipes I found:
Something to Drink: Watermelon Lemonade
Something Savory: Watermelon Havarti Stacks with Dilled Ranch and Grilled Chicken
Something Sweet: Watermelon Cake

- Mai Nguyen


Freeze Jag: ACKC Cocoa Bar

Posted by / Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: ACKC Cocoa Bar – 2003A Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-635-7917;

The prescription: Grace Kelly shake. ACKC co-founder Eric Nelson says they’ve conjured up over a dozen signature “Diva” drink creations–homespun indulgences that can be customized as iced coffees, hot chocolates, milk shakes or frozen desserts–ranging from the fiery “Lucy” (chipotle, cinnamon and chocolate) to the exotic “Lena” (featuring paprika and nutmeg). Nelson remains partial to the “Rita” (integrating chocolate, clove, orange and caramel) but we were smitten by Grace, a sumptuous, slow sipper blending together Gifford’s 72 percent chocolate chunk ice cream, dulcet caramel sauce, stunning flashes of sea salt and fluffy whipped cream. We were able to suction up the most of the ice cream through the straw, but a treasure trove of sunken dark chocolate bits awaits those willing to sweep up with a spoon.

Those looking to embellish their frosty treats even further can avail themselves of ACKC’s free toppings bar, a dessert detailing station crowded with complimentary confections, including: chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, m&m’s, peanuts, walnuts, reese’s pieces, chocolate and rainbow jimmies, chocolate chips, toasted coconut, crushed oreos–”Can’t keep them in the store,” Nelson said of the local favorite–and mini marshmallows. Meanwhile, Nelson mapped out plans to bottle the distinctive Divas in the coming months. “The sauces will be sold in jars and can be used over ice cream or turned into hot chocolate when added to milk and heated,” he said, estimating that the pre-fab flavorings could be on the ACKC and Artfully Gifts & Chocolate shelves by early fall.



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.


Bye Bye Blackberry

Posted by / Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

(Image: Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock)

I don’t know what it is about them, but blackberries make me reminisce. Maybe it is because I have seen them at their worst (in the form of Manischewitz “blackberry wine,” a shockingly saccharine substance of an appropriate color but with a Robitussin consistency) and the best (when my father would eat them one by one on summer days, unadulterated, savoring each plump, inky berry).

Blackberries are ripe for picking right now, but supplies at local farms won’t last long. Spotsylvania County’s Miller Farms Market, for instance, is reaching the end of its blackberry bonanza, but still has some left. Call (540) 972-2680 first before leaving to take your pick. Miller charges $2.55 per pound for these black beauties.

This weekend (August 6), you can also celebrate the glory of blackberries at Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery’s Blackberry Harvest Festival in Nellysford, Virginia. (Live a little, get out of NoVa and take a trip into Central VA!) Along with live music, wine (Hill Top makes a semi-dry blackberry wine), and mead, Rick’s BBQ will also provide a Pig Pick’N lunch for purchase. The festival runs from 9 to 5 p.m. and costs $10 per person.

Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery
2800 Berry Hill Road
Nellysford, VA 22958
(434) 361-1266

Looking for blackberry wine? Here are a few other VA wineries that make what I’m sure are more nuanced versions than the Man, oh, Manischewitz, What a Wine:

Horton Vineyard’s blackberry wine (blended with petit verdot; the only one I have tried of these wines. I recommend if you are looking for a nice sweet dessert wine that is not too cloying)
Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery’s Rapidan River Blackberry
Bluemont Vineyard’s Blackberry wine (a dryer dessert wine)

And what is a good alternative to making cobblers, crisps, and blackberry sorbet with your blackberry booty? What about using some of your pick-u berries to make blackberry curd. It is simple to make (as long as you watch the temperature), it keeps for a while, and you can use the curd not only on your English muffin or favorite toast, but to fill lemon sponge cake layers (then coat with white chocolate ganache), or as filling for tiny tarts. Blackberries generally pair well with citrus like lemon, orange, and lime, so let these flavor combinations be your guide.

Blackberry Curd
2 pints of fresh berries
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons of butter cut into pieces
pinch of salt

1. Puree the berries and strain out the seeds, reserving the juice.

2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks. Combine with the blackberry juice, and the salt and butter. You can either add everything to a saucepan, constantly stirring the mixture and scraping the sides with a silicone spatula (and removing it from the heat every so often so that the eggs do not scramble–you don’t want to see the mixture steam or boil). Look for the mixture to thicken and coat the back of the spatula.  Alternatively, if you are afraid you might accidentally scramble the eggs, I would set a bowl on top of a steaming pot of water to act as a double boiler. Follow the same instructions regarding stirring and cooking consistency.

3. Store in the refrigerator in an air tight container. Enjoy!

-Johnisha M. Levi


How-to: Guacamole

Posted by / Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Do you constantly find yourself getting guacamole at Chipotle or Qdoba? At first, to me it seemed worth it to have that extra glob of green in my burrito bowl. After a while, it started to seem like a hefty price to pay for just one spoonful of guacamole so I set out to try to make it myself. Here’s the recipe that I used:

One small red onion, or ¼ of a normal-sized red onion
Two ripe avocados
½ lime

Step One – Finely mince up the red onion and put it into a bowl.

Step Two – Scoop the two avocados out of their skin and put it into the bowl. Throw the seed away. Mash up the avocado and mix it with the red onion.

Step Three – Squeeze in half of a lime. Then chop up some cilantro and add it into the bowl. Add salt to taste. Mix everything together.

And you’re finished!  The guacamole turned out pretty addictive and good, considering this was my first time ever making it. It is a mild recipe but feel free to add chili peppers or jalapenos if you want something with more heat. If you don’t plan to eat all of it immediately, cover it up with plastic wrap as tightly as possible before storing in the fridge to reduce browning.

I’m not sure if I would go as far as bringing this to Chipotle to add it to my burrito bowl, but it will definitely come in handy whenever I take my burrito bowls home or want to satisfy a quick guacamole craving.

- Mai Nguyen


Sales of Farmed Virginia Oyster On The Up

Posted by / Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

(Image: Shutterstock/areashot)

Oysters are kind of a thing right now. First I saw them getting served up to a healthy sized crowd in the blazing heat of Brooklyn’s Smorgasborg, and now they’re popping up at fancy new D.C. eateries like Lincoln and Blackbyrd Warehouse.

All of this even though it’s August, and if my grandfather has any say in the matter, by God it’s too hot for oysters, s’wrong with you?

Regardless of what grandpa had to say, sales of farmed Virginia oysters jumped up 34% in 2010, according to a report from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Between 2009 and 2010, sales of Bay oysters went up from 12.6 million to 16.9 million, and the Daily News’ Deadrise blog reports, watermen suspect an even bigger jump in sales this year.

There are a few factors contributing to the increase in oyster sales, and their current status as the hip bivalve of choice isn’t one of them. The first is the tough nature of the farmed Chesapeake Bay oyster, which are fast growing, disease resistant and protected from predators (except us). Lingering damage from the BP oil spill has also contributed to the increase in sales, as Gulf oyster reefs have still yet to fully recover from the damage wrought on them last year.

I also suspect that that episode of Mad Men where Roger Sterling eats two dozen oysters and then throws up has something to do with it, but that’s just a hunch.

- Kris King


Red Meat: Nathan Hatfield

Posted by / Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

EatGoodFood Group‘s Nathan Hatfield can’t wait to help everyone get their hands dirty:

The Armstrongs’ go-to baker is excited about sharing his pastry knowledge with fellow cooking devotees at Society Fair, the bakery/gourmet grocery/epicurean playground/eatery–which, we have been assured, will feature a dedicated larder menu–slated to open later this fall.

WR: Butter. Sugar. What other culinary elements could you not live without?

NH: Flour–an ingredient that is so simple and unassuming [yet] has so much potential for flavor. With a little manipulation of time and temperature you can coax out sweet, nutty and floral notes that just aren’t there on a normal basis.

WR: What’s the very first dish you ever mastered? How long did it take? Do you still make it today?

NH: The first thing I ever mastered had to be my biscuits. It took me at least 40-50 attempts to get to the recipe that is forever burned into my brain. As a boy from the south, I kept trying to use lard as the fat in the recipe, but the taste was flat. Realized butter as they say, makes it better. And if you’re using Kerrygold it is even harder to fail. You have to use buttermilk and you have to be nice to the dough. I still make them at least twice a week, best right out of the oven.

WR: What seasonal ingredient(s) get your creative juices flowing?

NH: Corn and strawberries have to be the most exciting ingredients for me. When the corn starts coming I think cornbread, pancakes and puddings. As for strawberries, those little dark red strawberries that Bob (farmer) brings Restaurant Eve. They are so sweet and wonderful. Make jam, spread it on a warm biscuit, you just melt, it’s that good.

WR: My latest cookbook obsession is …

NH: Tartine Bread. This book is beautiful. The breads that they are producing are some of the best out there. It is very informative and great for the professional as well as the aspiring home baker. I’m also just a little jealous that he goes surfing in the morning before heading to the bakery!

WR: What’s the most challenging dish you’ve ever attempted? Would you make it again?

NH: Phyllo dough is the hardest thing I have ever attempted. You start with this piece of dough that is two inches thick and four inches square and then you have to proceed to stretch and coerce this dough into a sheet that is thin enough to read through. I try about once a month and have yet to be successful but I’ll keep trying.

WR: If I could the spend the day working alongside any local chef, I’d love to collaborate with …

NH: Besides my chef, Cathal Armstrong, who I really enjoy cooking with I would have to say, Frank Ruta. His food has always been inspiring to me. It is just clean, focused, well executed food. The fact that he likes making bread is just a bonus.

WR: What’s the easiest/quickest–but still wholly satisfying–meal you make for yourself?

NH: The easiest thing I make is a tomato sandwich. Just toast, tomato (bursting with ripeness), mayo, salt, and pepper, there’s nothing else to it. It would be my last meal. Thanks to my grandfather in North Carolina who showed me this very simple pleasure.

WR: In the next six months you won’t want to miss my …

NH: The newest creation from the EatGoodFood Group, Society Fair. A bakery, butcher shop, wine bar and studio kitchen all under one roof. The concept is similar to Eataly (but on a mom and pop scale) in NYC. Coming later this year.

WR: It’s quitting time. I’m pouring myself …

NH: Most likely it is bourbon, neat or with a bit of ice. Anything by Pappy Vanwinkle or Black Maple Hill.

Homemade cornbread and fresh strawberry jam sound like a little slice of heaven, chef.

Come back next Tuesday for another helping of Red Meat.



Freeze Jag: Lazy Sundae

Posted by / Monday, August 1st, 2011

August is historically the steamiest, stickiest, sweatiest month of the year–brilliant move, Founding Fathers, building the nation’s capital on a swamp–in these parts. We’ve tracked down 31 frozen treats (one a day for the rest of this month) to provide you with some temporary, and often insanely delicious, relief.

The place: Lazy Sundae – 112 N. West St., Falls Church; 703-532-5299;

The prescription: Head in the Clouds ice cream. This surreal looking scoop of dyed vanilla ice cream interwoven with marshmallow fluff is so near and dear to Lazy Sundae co-founder Rebecca Tax’s heart, she got a tattoo of the sky blue sweet (David Tax, her brother and business partner, chose to get inked with a mocha chip cone in honor of their mom). The stuff is crazy sweet, hitting you with an intoxicating rush of gooey-rich fluff, while the underlying vanilla is super creamy and extra buttery. “Our ice cream is made approximately five days after being in a cow,” David assured me, tipping his hat to Shenandoah’s Pride Dairy for the exquisite raw material.

Lazy Sundae boasts all kinds of eclectic flavors–sprinkle of sunshine (littered with rainbow sprinkles), honey baklava (baklava folded into honey vanilla ice cream), strawberry cookies and cream (strawberry ice cream bolstered by crushed oreos), peppermint (their debut flavor back in 1996 and perennial top seller)–but they tend to only stick around for a short time. ” We rotate our entire inventory every two days or so,” David suggested.

Meanwhile, they’ve already prepped their next generation temptations: fried oreo and fried rice krispy treat sundaes. “We will be showcasing this at the Beach Shack this week and adding it at Lazy soon!” David pledged.

You have been warned.



Keep tabs on the month long Freeze Jag trek here.


It’s August: Time to Wine, Not Whine!

Posted by / Monday, August 1st, 2011

News flash: it is hot right about now, but I am tired of talking weather. Instead, we should be celebrating these last days of summer. And when it comes to celebrating, wine always helps. So to stop our collective whining, here are a few events about town that will quench your thirst:

Wines & Food of Catalonia at Bastille

On Wednesday, August 3, join Chefs Christophe and Michelle Poteaux of Bastille for a wine dinner commemorating their travels in the Languedoc region of France. The night’s courses celebrate Languedoc’s Catalan heritage and are as follows:

Squid, Sardine and Mussels Escabeche Salad

Chorizo rillette and tomato salad

Grilled Virginia lamb, fried eggplants, and fire-roasted peppers

Blackberries, vanilla bean bavaroise, and pistachios dacquoise

The dinner is $69 per person with wine pairings; $45 per person without. Cocktails begin at 6:30 p.m., with dinner served at 7:00 p.m.
For more information or to make reservations, click here.

1201 N. Royal St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 519-3776

Cheese Boot Camp and Wine Tastings at Red, White & Bleu

The gourmet wine, boutique cheese and charcuterie shop, Red, White & Bleu offers customers free weekend wine tastings. August 5 through August 7, look forward to sampling wines from South Africa and New Zealand.

Want to learn more about cheese? Sign up for Cheese Boot Camp, which is an ongoing series of demonstrations, lectures, and tastings. On Sunday, August 14, from 1 to 3 p.m., the latest installment is “Milk Maid Comparison,” which will allow you to compare and contrast goat’s, sheep’s, and cow’s milk cheeses. The cost is $25/person. Call for reservations.

Red, White & Bleu
127 S. Washington St.
Falls Church, VA 22046
(703) 533-9463

A Taste of South Africa Wine Dinner at L’Auberge Chez François

And speaking of South African wines . . . You won’t want to miss the South African Wine Dinner at L’Auberge Chez François in Great Falls. Join winery owner and Master Sommelier Fran Kysela on Tuesday, August 23, as she pairs wine with Chef Jacques Haeringer’s tasting menu of:

Fresh Carolina Barbecued Shrimp
Spice Filet of Rock Fish with Roasted Peppers
Wild Mushroom Crusted Alaskan Salmon
Grilled Beef Medallions with a Zesty Ratatouille
Blueberry Custard Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream

Dinner is $125 per person. For more information or to reserve, click here.

L’Auberge Chez François
332 Springvale Road
Great Falls, Virginia 22066

-Johnisha M. Levi


Feeling Crabby?

Posted by / Monday, August 1st, 2011

Summertime signifies beach trips and seafood binging sessions. However, you don’t have to go to the beach to enjoy fresh seafood, and more specifically crabs. There are many places in Northern Virginia to satisfy your crab cravings. Now I’m not talking about fancier places that serve crab cakes. I’m talking about restaurants where the table cloth is a piece of paper, the only utensil you are given is a small wooden mallet, and you leave the place smelling like crab juice.

All you can eat crabs from Viet Bistro (Image: Mai Nguyen/Northern Virginia Magazine)

Viet Bistro – Here, you can order all you can eat crabs for $18.95 a person all day long. After ordering, the servers come out with a giant plate with about a dozen female Maryland blue crabs smothered in Old Bay. The crabs come with complimentary limes, salt, pepper, and butter to dip your crabs in. The thing I appreciate most about this restaurant is the main fact that they serve female crabs. These crabs are filled with an abundance of delicious, orange crab roe, which is, in my opinion, the best part of a female crab. They also have a pretty decent selection of seafood, but don’t expect it to be too extensive since it is more of a Vietnamese restaurant than a crab shack. Another plus is that since it is a Vietnamese restaurant, your dining partner, who might hate seafood, can order something else. (6799 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, VA 22044; 703-538-7575)

Captain Pell’s – A real crab shack with shrimp, clams, oysters, scallops, crab legs, and of course, crabs. They serve both male and female crabs in varying sizes. I can’t account for anything but the male crabs here because they have always been sold out of the female crabs every time I’ve visited.  All you can eat crabs is $36 a person, and last time I went, I believe they charged extra for butter. It is pricier than Viet Bistro, but they make up for it with their extensive seafood menu. (10195 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22030; 703-560-0060)

Here are a few more places that serve crab, but I have yet to try them out:

LoPo’s Crab Shack – Before you show up surprised, this is actually a food truck. They sell shrimp and crab legs by the pound and crabs by the dozen. It operates from April to mid-October, Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (43083 John Mosby Highway, Chantilly, VA 20152; 703-896-6117)

Today’s Seafood House – A relatively new Korean restaurant in Annandale. They serve crabs the by dozen, crab legs by the pound, a raw bar, fish, and shrimp. Your dining partner doesn’t like seafood? They also serve other traditional Korean dishes. (4231-H Markham St., Annandale, VA 22003; 703-256-1761)

- Mai Nguyen


Virginia Government Moving to Ban Winter Harvest of Blue Crabs

Posted by / Friday, July 29th, 2011

(Image: Shutterstock/Aleksey Klints )

Chesapeake Bay watermen aren’t making any money.

Even though this year’s harvest of blue crabs has been strong, consumer demand for the ugly, horned (but tasty!) crustaceans has been low–maybe them being stupid expensive has something to do with it. Low demand means that wholesalers aren’t shilling out as much to the fisherman as they once were, which means that fishermen are out of luck.

Their bad luck doesn’t stop there, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission has announced that it will hold a public hearing to extend its ban on the Winter Dredge for a fourth year.

Many fishermen rely on the Winter Dredge—where they scoop hibernating crabs from the bottom of the bay—as a means to sustain themselves through the cold winter months, but the practice was banned in 2007 when the bay’s crab population dwindled to twenty year lows.

Despite a lot of moaning from the docks, the ban has been effective in increasing the crab population. Last year’s combined bay harvest yielded 89 million pounds of blue crabs, the highest the region has seen since 1993. But with crab populations up, retail prices too high (says I), and wholesale prices too low, it’s a safe bet that extending the wintertime ban for a fourth year won’t go over too well with anyone.

Except maybe the crabs, they’d probably be okay with it.

- Kris King


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