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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hearty Sausage and Potatoes Frittata

8 large eggs
2 TB heavy cream, sour cream, or plain yogurt
half of a roll of breakfast sausage, cooked and broken apart with oil well-drained
1 potato, sliced into thin rounds and sauteed until cooked
1/2c shredded cheddar
2 TB grated parmesan
1/4 medium onion, chopped and caramelized
1 green onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TB minced fresh parsley
cayenne pepper, to taste
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp Hungarian paprika (or other ground hot pepper)
1 tsp black pepper
salt to taste (be sure to salt the eggs and the potatoes)

1 TB butter

*you can always sub slices of any sausage you like in place of the breakfast sausage.

1. Set oven to 400F

2. Beat eggs, cream, seasoning, herbs, onions, and garlic until frothy.

3. Melt butter over medium heat  in an oven-safe skillet.  Place sausage and potato into the pan and pour egg mixture o top.

4. Pull the edges of the egg away from the sides of the pan with a spatula, allowing the uncooked eggs to flow to the bottom of the pan. Repeat this process until the frittata is half set.

5. Once the frittata is half set,  place it in the oven for 10 minutes.

6. Remove from oven, plate, and enjoy.  No need to invert since the top is the pretty side ;).  Serve in slices.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Unforgettable Southern Shrimp and Grits!

I started making shrimp and grits after trying them at Richmond's undisputed soul food restaurant king, Croakers Spot.   After trying my new favorite version at Lunch, Richmond's new restauarant serving up Southern homestyle food with a twist, I figured that it was time to bring the old summer favorite.  Since Croakers Spot, I have made shrimp and grits at home a number of different ways--with gravy, with beer sauce, with tomato sauce, etc.  This particular version has a great summer twist from the incorporation of deliciously tangy green garden tomatoes.  If you don't have green tomatoes, just use red, but just know that the green makes it even more special with its delicious sweet yet tangy flavor.  My shrimp and grits has a  flavorful sauce with chunks of beautiful bright green and red, juicy, fresh tomatoes along with diced onion.  The light freshness of the shrimp and veggies combined with the creaminess of the grits, without the gross, heavy feeling of some restaurant grits.  This dish is fresh, nutritious, and bursting with flavor.  It's sure to be your next family favorite!

*If you like leftovers or have a larger, double this recipe.  It is just enough for 3 or 4 people.

1lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 c coarsely chopped onion
4 large tomatoes, in 1-1.5" chunks, preferably half green or mostly green
4 cloves of garlic + 2 cloves for marinating the shrimp
1 green onion, sliced
1/2 a light-colored beer (Corona, Coors, etc)
1 TB chopped fresh parsley
a small pinch of thyme

1c of grits (old fashioned, NOT quick cooking or instant)
2c of chicken broth (I didn't have any, so I used water and 1 pack of Goya bouillon)
1-1/2c milk (skim is just fine, that is what I used)
1-1/2c water + about 1/2c or so extra in case the grits thicken too much during cooking
1 TB secret ingrdient (don't worry, it's still great without it, but I'll keep this one a secret)
*Bear in mind that I don't actually measure the dry seasonings, add it until it's good :P*
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper to taste (salt generously because grits tend to suck up flavor)
1/2c shredded cheddar cheese

1. Place peeled, deveined, and rinsed shrimp into a medium size bowl.  Sprinkle a generous amount of salt (much more than you would season them with) over all over shrimp.  Toss the shrimp in the salt with your hands in a slight rubbing motion until they begin to foam slightly.  Once you begin seeing small foaming or bubbles, this takes 2-3 minutes, rinse the shrimp again.

2. Once rinsed, allow the shrimp to marinade in a little salt, two cloves of minced garlic and the sliced green onion.  Be sure to wipe off the marinade before cooking to avoid burning the seasoning.  Simply add the remaining marinade when it is time to add the green onion.

3. Prepare the grits according to the instructions, except be sure to remove the lid and whisk the grits for a minute about 3 or 4 times during the process to create creamier, smoother grits.  Be sure to add in the seasoning after initially whisking the grits into the boiling liquid.  If the grits get thick, add a little water here and there.  I probably added an extra half a cup of liquid by the end.

4. Once the grits are done, stir in the cheddar and continue cooking 1-2 minutes to incorporate the cheese.

5..Sautee the onions in a pan over medium low heat in a generous amount of oil, about 2TB or so.

6.. Once the onions are transparent, but not yet softened, add in the green tomatoes, if you are using them.  If you have red, do not add them yet.  Add garlic and stir occasionally.

7. Meanwhile, in a pan over high heat that has been lightly oiled, sautee shrimp for 1-2 minutes on each side. Do not overcook!  Once cooked, set aside.

8. Once the onions are almost completely softened, add in the red tomatoes and thyme. Sautee for one minute or so.  Add the green onion.

9. Increase the heat to medium and add in the beer.  Continue sauteeing until the beer has cooked off.  Be sure to adjust salt and pepper as needed at this point.

10. Add the shrimp to the sauce and sautee for a minute or two.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Bun Pull-Aparts**Brioche Effeuiller a la Cannelle**

*ugly, but it sure was yummy!*  Sorry,  I ate quite a bit long before I photographed*

*I overstuffed the pan, that's why mine was ugly.*

It's dough mania at my house these days!  I've been making lots of pastries with brioche.  This particular recipe uses French technique  but with an American twist from a nice cinnamon sticky bun topping.  The result is a cute (not-so-cute in the photo, but cute functionally :)) pull-apart roll stuffed with rum-soaked raisins, cinnamon, brown sugar, and white sugar topped with a perfectly ooey gooey, buttery brown sugar sauce on top.  

Brioche itself is a soft, tender, buttery, sweeter, richly flavored bread.  It is also used as the base of many traditional French pastries, or viennoisserie.  This particular sweet bread, brioche effeuiller, literally "leaves or leaved," since leaf and layer are often communicated with the same word in most romance languages, but it actually means layered brioche.  For this recipe, I took the rum-soaked raisins of pain aux raisins and fused a great American-style sticky bun sauce with this delicious, homey French treat!  I know that you will enjoy as much as I did!

Just a note, be very careful with loading the pan.  I overloaded the pan with dough, forgetting that although the risen dough in the pan still fit, the dough would rise to 1.5 times it's pre-baking size in the oven.  Needless to say, my dough spilled over, and I found myself skimming the browned bread off the top and waiting forever for the interior dough to fully cook.  Long story short, this recipe is for 2 loaf pans.  Yours will be much prettier than mine and they won't spill over this way ;).

Brioche *for 2 loaf pans*

Ingredients *for 2 loaf pans*
160g of raisins, soaked in 7 TB of dark rum
1 stick of butter, softened
1-1/2c packed brown sugar
2 TB cinnamon

1 stick of butter, cut into pieces
1/2c packed brown sugar
1c white sugar
1/4c milk
3 TB cornstarch
2TB corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of cinnamon
1 small pinch of nutmeg

Note: The original recipe uses evaporated milk with 1/4c brown sugar and 3/4c white sugar, but we didn't have any evaporated milk at the time.  I had to increase this and add cinnamon and vanilla to compensate for the milk substitute and the addition of starch, which tends to mask flavor.

Procedure and Technique

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Prepare dough per brioche dough instructions.  Once the dough has risen a second time and been punched down.  Begin rolling dough out on a floured surface.  Roll the dough into a rectangle no more than 1/4" in thickness.

3.  Butter the dough surface evenly with very soft butter.  Once completely buttered, sprinkle evenly with the topping.
4.  Begin cutting the dough lengthwise, as photographed here in the 4th row of photos.  You will lose topping in the process moving the layers on top of one another, but simply replace the topping before moving to the next layer.

5. Once the dough is placed in the pan, allow it to rise for about 15 minutes.  This is the perfect time period to begin making the sauce.

6. Next, place all sauce ingredients, besides the corn starch, into a sauce pot over medium heat.  

7. Once the mixture is homogeneous and hot, but not yet boiling, place the cornstarch into heat-proof mug or small heat-proof bowl and mix in a couple of tablespoons of the liquid from the pot.  Stir rapidly with a spoon until homogeneous and all lumps are out.  Add the cornstarch liquid back into the pot and stir until homogeneous. 

8. Allow mixture to boil gently 2-3 minutes, until thickened.  

9.  Once thickened and cooled slightly, just so that it is no longer boiling. pour generously and evenly on top of dough that has fully risen in the pan, just before baking.  I like to push the sides of the bread in a bit to pour some sauce a long the sides too, it won't hurt to pull the layers themselves apart to a bit to give them some extra love as well.  

10.  Bake at 350 in 2 separate loaf pans *that are placed on top of a baking sheet* for about 25 minutes, or until browned and a quick check between the center layers shows that the bread is done.  The baking sheet part is very important as that topping is very likely to spill over.

11. I actually inverted mine and poured more sauce before flipping over again.  The actual top is where it's easiest to pull the bread apart from.

12.  If you happen to overload your pan and your bread is browning too quickly without cooking enough in the center, simply cover to top loosely with foil, move the oven rack higher up, as the bottom is likely going to burn otherwise, and continue baking.

TIPS: For the brioche, you have to be sure to knead intensively the first time.  If you do not, your dough will be to slack, and once you add the butter there will be no repairing this since the butter will shorten the gluten strands, thus weakening the strength of the dough and causing it to be to slack, soft, and sticky.  After the first kneading, your dough should not leave bits here and there on the counter top.  You should be able to roll the dough and pick up any bits and lift the ball with minimal stickiness and the dough should form a smooth, very soft, yet minimally sticky ball.

Please see the link below for dough shaping process photos


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nicaraguan Chicken and Rice Soup *Arroz Aguado Nicaraguense* Updated


Back when was living in Miami, I made it my job to find the best places to eat on a budget.  When I first moved and I didn't know anyone, I would take advantage of every Friday evening to go drive around a new area in search of restaurants to put on my list to try.  I loved food that was comforting, hearty, and had that homemade flavor that reminded me of my own home here in Virginia.

In my search, I found that my absolute favorite Latin cuisine was Nicaraguan.  There was just something about the heartiness of its root vegetables and soups, homemade juices, wonderfully marinated meats with rice and beans, and amazing homemade tropical juices that really made me feel at home.  It was like trying new food at a friend's house.  One of my favorite places to have Nicaraguan food was at one of the local fritangas, or Nicaraguan homestyle cafeterias.  At any given time, fritangas are serving up 5 different dishes, plus the standard carne asada and grilled chicken with rice and beans.  They also offer at least five, and as many as 10, freshly made tropical style juices.  My favorite fritanga in Miami is Tortilleria Carne Asada in Sweetwater, known locally as the unofficial Little Managua.
*photo from Cesar L. on

                                                  *photo from Cesar L. on

One night after tons of studying way fewer breaks than I should've had, I headed 20 minutes out to Carne Asada, where I discovered arroz aguado.  Arroz aguado translates literally to "watery rice" or "mushy rice."  It is a delicious soup with chicken, rice, chayote squash, potato, tomato and lots and lots of mint, along with onion, garlic, and green pepper.  I know that mint sounds a bit odd in savory food, but it completely transforms when mixed with the Nicaraguan trio, green pepper, onion, and garlic.  Even if you aren't a big fan of mint, which I thought I wasn't, you will love this!

If you're wondering what arroz aguado tastes like, it has a mild tang from the citrus fruits, it has the comforting taste of a chicken soup with a tinge of tomato, and the rice creates almost a slight creaminess, then top it all off with a mild, soothing herb-y flavor that doesn't quite taste like any one particular herb.  When I was in Miami, I was also battling some serious insomnia, and I can't tell you what it was, but a good bowl of arroz aguado always had me sleeping like a baby.  I don't know any food like it when it comes to kicking some real insomnia butt!

Arroz Aguado

1 whole bone-in chicken, in pieces (as in legs, drumsticks, etc), or equivalent in legs, leave some or all skin
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 large carrot, sliced into diagonal round
2 chayote squash (in Latin markets), cubed
1 potato, cubed
1 bunch of mint (not a stem, yes, the whole bunch, stems and all)
1onion, roughly chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
bitter orange juice to taste, about 2 or 3 TB
juice of 1 lime
annatto powder, diluted in water, about 1 TB of liquid
2 cups of long grain rice, washed and rinsed
6-1/2 cups of water
salt to taste

1. In a large pot, place the water.  In the cool water,  immediately add in the chicken, bell pepper, onions, and garlic.  This allows the meat to release more flavor.  
2. Turn heat to medium high, cover, and bring to a boil.  
3. In a separate dry  pan over medium low heat, toast rinsed and drained rice until fragrant and rice has taken on a slightly different hue.  It will not brown.  Set aside.
4. Once the meat is cooked, add in the rice, potato, carrots, mint, the lime juice and bitter orange juice. and dissolved annatto.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
5. Adjust salt and bitter orange as needed.    Bring to a boil, add in chayote squash and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the rice plumps and the potato is cooked.
6. Traditionally, this dish is served with fresh, thick Central American style tortillas, but it is great just as it is.
7. Enjoy! Bye bye insomnia!


Monday, July 9, 2012

French Style Brioche Sweet Rolls *Pain aux Raisins*

I have never had pain aux raisins before, but I have been teaching myself to bake a number of traditional French pastries using French recipes.  Pain aux raisins is soft, tender, and fluffy with a dark, golden sweetness from the rum-soaked raisins, and a nice creamy, rich creamy surprise from the custard baked into the roll.  Even if you don't like raisins, you'll enjoy this special treat since the raisins are plumped and completely transformed by the rum.  

This sweet treat is a very common French viennoiserie, or pastry.  Viennoiserie is a class of pastry that doesn't have a true translation in English, but it encompasses things like croissants, brioche, pain aux chocolat,and  pain aux raisin.  These are all very elegant pastries that seem super complicated to us Americans, but in France, these are everyday pastries that are ubiquitous when it comes to bakery fare.  Surprise your friends and family with this delicious, fine and elegant treat!  It looks just as wonderful as it tastes!


After the first rising and punch down, brioche is fine for freezing.  Just wrap the dough tightly in plastic and place in a freezer bag, being sure to press out all air.

Michel Roux's Pastry Cream from Pastry
6 egg yolks
1/2 c + 2TB sugar
1/4c all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
          *if you don't have the bean, use about 1 TB of good vanilla extract

rum soaked raisins *Kid friendly, the rum cooks out
150 g raisins (maybe about 1/2 c)
6.5 TB dark rum (my favorite for baking is Barbancourt)

1. In a heat safe bowl, whisk together the yolks and 1/3 of the sugar until a ribbon like, or thick glossy consistency that forms a brief fold or ribbon when poured,  is achieved.

2. Bring the milk, vanilla bean, and the rest of the sugar to a boil.  Once a boil is reached, gradually pour the milk into the bowl with the yolk mixture, whisking continuously.

3. Return the mixture to a pan over medium heat.  Cook for 2 minutes, whisking continuously.

4. Set custard aside to cool.  Protect the custard from developing a skin on the top by either sifting powdered sugar over it or placing thin slices of butter over the top.

1. Roll out the dough into a rectangle 1/3" thickness.  Spread a layer of cooled custard over the dough and sprinkle the rum soaked raisins evenly across the dough.  Tightly roll the dough length-wise.

2. Slice the rolls in about 2 inch thickness.  You can do this either with a metal pastry cutter or by placing unflavored floss or thread under the roll and pulling each end to the opposite side to cut through the dough.

3. Place the rolls into a well-greased pan or baking sheet and allow to double in size.  Brush with an egg wash of egg and 1 TB of milk.  Bake at 375 until golden brown, about 15-17 minutes or so.  Brush the eggs with egg wash a second time midway through baking.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Worth-the-Wait Perfect Pizza Crust

*sorry, the pizza was perfectly round, but mom decided to get a sample before I could snap a photo*

If you're anything like me, you like a good pizza sometimes, but you're all too often disgusted by the greasy mess sold at pizza restaurants.  I promise you that making your own pizza at home is easy and completely worth the effort.  In fact, it's quite easy!  All you need is time.  You can get your kids, our bring over your cousins, nieces or nephews over to help out with the kneading.  They'll love it!

I found the perfect pizza crust recipe.  It has nice crisp outer crust and a soft, tender interior.  It cooks up beautiful and golden brown.   You can make your own crust and get as creative as you like with the toppings.  I just used some leftover meat, fresh herbs, black olives, shredded cheese blend, and a super easy homemade tomato sauce made from diluted tomato paste.  I flavored mine up with a bit of an Asian twist using fish sauce, soy, and garlic, but you can take it whatever direction you like.  There's nothing like the pride of knowing that you made every piece of your meal from scratch!  There's no match for the taste either!

Pizza Crust Recipe

Pizza Dough Kneading and Shaping Video

Easy Diluted Tomato Paste Pizza Sauce Recipe