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  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Foodbuzz 24×24: Virginia Wine and Small Plates

Horton Vineyards, July 2010

I’ve mentioned before how much Eric and I love Virginia wine. Many people don’t know that Virginia even grows wine grapes; we certainly didn’t until moving here. Our honeymoon was in Sonoma, so I’ll admit that we were skeptical when we first visited a winery here. However, that skepticism quickly turned into excitement once we realized how much promise lies in Virginia wines. Even before moving here, I knew that Thomas Jefferson had unsuccessfully tried to grow European grapes in Virginia. In fact, he tried for more than thirty years and never got a single bottle from his grapes. George Washington tried for eleven years and also came up dry. (I’ll cut them some slack since they founded our country and all.) I think our former presidents would be impressed by how far Virginia winegrowers have come since then. I’ll spare you a lengthy history lesson, but suffice to say that there’s a good deal of it tied into wine in this state.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I volunteered to pour wine for Horton Vineyards at a wine festival at Montpelier (James Madison’s home). We came home with six bottles of their wine and knew almost immediately that those wines were the perfect basis for a 24×24 party. We decided on a menu and were all set to start planning. Eric and I have been to so many wine festivals that we had exactly enough tasting glasses for each of our guests, which allowed them to sample the wines before deciding which ones they wanted to drink. I didn’t set the party up so much as a tasting where each person would take notes, but rather as a laid back way to introduce the wines to our friends.


I knew I wanted several small plates for people to eat while enjoying their wines, so that defined what foods we decided to make. I feel good pairing one wine with dinner, but I’m not confident enough in my pairing abilities to have planned for each plate to have a corresponding wine. Still, my friends all found wines they enjoyed and ended up kind of pairing them on their own. Here’s what the menu looked like:

Caramelized Onion Dip and Crackers
Marinated Bocconcini
Roasted Pepper and Goat Cheese Crostini
Mozzarella and Roasted Tomato Phyllo Pizza
Crab Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce
Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches
Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce
Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Truffles


We had several bottles of wine, and we saved the fruity wines to have with dessert. Otherwise, we just let everyone choose which wines they wanted with their meal. Our wines, all from Horton Vineyards, were:

Cabernet Franc
Black Cat Chardonnay
Eclipse White

There are a few notable things about the wines that I’d like to share. Cabernet Franc is a wine we’d never heard of until moving here. This wine continues to be one of our favorite red wines, and I even heard a few non-red wine drinkers say last night that they liked this one. Norton is a native Virginia grape that was actually cultivated here in Richmond. My friend Elise loved it and couldn’t get enough of it when paired with the roasted pepper and goat cheese bruschetta. Xoco is a red wine with a hint of chocolate essence. It was the perfect wine to serve with our chocolaty desserts.


We had such a fantastic time sharing these wines with our friends. If you’re ever in Virginia, don’t miss out on its beautiful wine country. There’s a lot going on with Virginia wines, and I hope they continue to grow and flourish. This party just highlighted one specific winery, but there are so many wonderful ones here. We’ve actually got a few bottles from Jefferson Vineyards, and I’m pretty eager to open them. Being the history nerd I am, I can’t help but think of what Jefferson would think now about the grapes being grown on the same land he used and having a winery named after him.

I’ll post many of these recipes in the coming weeks. Since the crostini was such a favorite, that recipe will be making an appearance soon. Many thanks to Foodbuzz for sponsoring my party!

Chocolate Mousse

Soft White Hamburger Buns

Soft White Hamburger Buns

Eric and I are both really into bread baking these days. It all started with this Light Wheat Sandwich Bread a couple months ago, and we’ve been hooked ever since. We’ve had bread starter on our counter for quite some time, and Eric has been taking such good care of it that we decided it needed a name (we chose Arthur, by the way). While I was away at BlogHer Food in Atlanta, Eric made rolls to take to a party. (Seriously, here’s his picture.) I couldn’t help but smile when I saw his tweet and the attached picture while I was sitting in one of the sessions. One of my friends jokingly told me that her boyfriend would be eating frozen meals if she wasn’t there to cook, but I can safely say Eric loves cooking so much that he does it even when I’m gone. On that note, I know I’m the only one that writes this blog, but Eric is as much a part of it as I am. He does quite a bit of cooking and works on behind the scenes stuff for the blog all the time. And hey, I wouldn’t have this cool last name/blog name if it weren’t for him. ;)

Okay, back to the bread. This is just a basic recipe for hamburger buns, but you’ll be amazed at what a difference you’ll notice in taste when compared to store-bought ones. This recipe comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and it does not disappoint. This is one of the easiest breads we’ve made, and it doesn’t require a preferment like so many of Reinhart’s other recipes. The flavor comes from the enrichments added to the bread, namely butter, and for that reason a preferment is unnecessary. We made hamburger buns this time, but this recipe can also be used to make loaves, hotdog buns or dinner rolls with a couple slight changes in method. The buns are incredibly soft and airy and have a rich, buttery flavor. Reinhart mentions that it’s okay to substitute regular milk or even buttermilk for the powdered milk, but I have yet to try it. This substitution will cause the texture and flavor to vary slightly, and he recommends trying several variations to find your favorite. I already love this one so much that it may be a while before I try another version. If you’re thinking about cooking out this weekend, give these buns a try! They’ll make your hamburgers so much more special, and I have no doubt you’ll love this recipe as much as we do.

Soft White Hamburger Buns

Soft White Hamburger Buns
Makes 12

4 3/4 cups (21.5 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 ounce) salt
1/4 cup (1.33 ounces) powdered milk
3 1/4 tablespoons (1.66 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons (.22 ounce) instant yeast
1 large (1.65 ounces) egg
3 1/4 tablespoons (1.66 ounces) butter, melted or at room temperature
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon to 1 3/4 cups (13 to 14 ounces) water, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked with 1 tablespoon water until frothy, for egg wash
Sesame or poppy seeds, for garnish (optional)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a 4-quart mixing bowl, stir together flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast. Add the egg, butter and 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon water. Stir or mix on low speed until the ingredients form a ball. If the dough is too stiff, very slowly add more water until the dough feels soft and supple.

Switch to the dough hook and knead at medium speed for about 6 minutes. Alternately, sprinkle a work surface with flour and knead for about 8 minutes, adding more flour if needed. The dough should be tacky but not sticky and register 80ºF. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to it, turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

Remove the dough and divide it into twelve 3-ounce pieces. Form each piece into a ball by stretching the outside of the dough and pinching underneath to seal it. This will help increase the surface tension on the top of the buns and hide any seams on the bottom. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes. After the rest, gently press down on each ball to form the buns. Transfer the buns to a parchment lined sheet pan and lightly spray them with oil. Loosely cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough has nearly doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Brush the buns with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds as desired. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the buns are golden brown and reach 180ºF in the center. Cool buns for at least 15 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

We’ve stored these buns in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 day and found no decrease in quality. Additionally, they can be frozen in an airtight container and thawed at room temperature.

Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Frozen Mango Margaritas

Frozen Mango Margarita

Summertime is one of my favorite times of year. I hate the heat, but I love the carefree feeling that comes along with summer. Weekends spent working on outdoor projects, lots of grilling and cookouts with friends, visitors from back home (it helps that the past two places we’ve lived are near major tourist destinations), longer days, popsicles, etc. Summer kind of makes me feel like a kid again, and sometimes I miss being out of school and having the entire summer to play. However, one perk of growing up is that I get to enjoy fabulous adult drinks such as this one. I love mangoes and often use them in smoothies, which means my freezer is always stocked with them. A few weeks ago, Eric and I were having a Tex-Mex type dinner and decided on a whim to make margaritas. We’ve been enjoying this recipe ever since, and I think it would be perfect for the upcoming long weekend.

This recipe is pretty straight forward – mango, tequila, ice, lime juice – and it can be adapted to suit your personal tastes. We’ve successfully made it with strawberries, and I’m hoping to try it with pineapple soon. The mango (or whatever fruit you use) is the most dominant flavor, but the tequila doesn’t get lost. The tart lime juice helps bring out the drink’s fruity flavor and keeps it from tasting too sweet. Of course, the best thing about margaritas is enjoying them with friends. This weekend would be a great time to do so, and I completely understand if you want to test out the recipe this week before making it for party guests. :)

Frozen Mango Margarita

Frozen Mango Margaritas
Serves 2

Lime wedges for rimming
Coarse salt and/or sugar for rimming
3 ounces silver tequila
1 1/2 ounces triple sec
1 cup crushed ice
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups frozen mango chunks

Moisten the rim of two margarita glasses with a lime wedge and roll in salt, sugar or a mixture of both. Combine the remaining ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Check for consistency and add more ice or mango if needed. If using fresh mango, you will likely need closer to 2 cups of ice. Pour mixture into prepared glasses and serve immediately.

Adapted from The Complete Book of Mixed Drinks

Salted Caramel Brownies

Salted Caramel Brownies

I know this may come as a shock to some of you, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. There was once a time in my life that I didn’t like brownies. Actually, I wasn’t that fond of chocolate at all. The Easter Bunny would always bring me a white chocolate rabbit, and I turned down many slices of chocolate frosted birthday cake. Even now, I don’t really enjoy making chocolate frosting at work and always manage to inhale cocoa powder when doing so. If I had to pick a favorite dessert, it would most definitely be ice cream. Brownies have grown on me, though, and I couldn’t resist the urge to bake a batch of these soon after saving the recipe. While I haven’t always liked chocolate desserts, their appeal to me has increased steadily over the years. And now that I’ve tried these brownies, I find it difficult to imagine how it was possible that I once disliked such a delicious dessert.

These brownies are, without a doubt, one of the most decadent desserts I’ve ever made. They’re rich, gooey, fudgey, chocolaty and insanely satisfying. I’m one of the people that loves added texture in my brownies, so the pecans and chocolate chips are perfect for me. I think even those of you in the “brownies shouldn’t have mix-ins” camp will still appreciate these brownies. Because while they’ve got extra stuff in them, they’re still in your face with chocolaty goodness. On top of that, you’ve got an amazing sweet and melty caramel sauce that swirls into the brownies. If that doesn’t sell you, well, you should know I added salt to my caramel sauce. And not just any salt, some really fantastic fleur de sel. Salt+caramel+chocolate = deliciousness.

I made a few changes to the recipe. Taking Shawnda’s advice, I reduce the batter amount by half. I work at a cupcake shop and do not need more sweets than I already have. I used this caramel sauce and substituted 3/4 teaspoon of fleur de sel for the 1/4 teaspoon of coarse salt. I cooked the caramel to the soft ball stage, which is about 235ºF. You can certainly use caramel candies like the original recipe calls for, but I have to say I think the salted caramel really adds something special. Instead of baking the bottom layer, then adding the caramel and top layer and baking again, I baked everything at once. I found this method to be much easier, but I will warn you that it is a little difficult to tell when the brownies are done.

Salted Caramel Brownies

Salted Caramel Brownies
Makes 12 to 16

3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup caramel sauce
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350º. Place the pecans on a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 7 minutes. Coarsely chop and set aside. Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil, leaving several inches overhang on the sides. Grease the foil with butter or cooking spray and set aside.

Place the bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water, making sure the water does not touch the bowl. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth, then remove from heat. Whisk in the sugar, eggs and vanilla and continue whisking until glossy and thick, about 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and salt and mix until just blended. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Stir half of the chopped pecans into your prepared caramel sauce (if you use store-bought, you may have to heat it up slightly before doing this). Drop the caramel pecan mixture by spoonfuls onto the brownie batter. Gently swirl with a wooden skewer or thin metal spatula. Scatter the remaining pecans and chocolate chips on top. Bake for about 35 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and allow brownies to cool completely in the pan. Grab the foil overhang to lift the brownies out of the pan. Cut into squares and serve. Extra brownies (if there are any!) can be kept in an airtight container up to a week and will stay even fresher if wrapped individually in plastic wrap.

Heavily adapted from The Powdered Plum, first seen on Confections of a Foodie Bride, originally from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather

Rum Glazed Shrimp

Rum Glazed Shrimp

I haven’t always been a fan of shrimp. In the not so distant past, I didn’t like them at all. However, they’ve really grown on me (thanks to Eric, who really likes shrimp and is the only reason I kept trying them). I should’ve realized sooner that grilling them would do the trick for me because I will eat almost anything if it’s grilled. I first served these at my 24×24 party in January, and they disappeared quickly. I suspect that, now that the weather is more suited for grilling, we’ll be making these several more times throughout the summer.

The glaze is what makes these shrimp so delicious. With dark rum and brown sugar, how could it not? I was a little concerned that the cinnamon and cloves wouldn’t go well with the shrimp, but I loved the earthy flavor they provided. Grilling the shrimp over high heat allows the glaze to caramelize, which boosts the flavor and brings out the glaze’s sweetness. You can definitely taste the rum, but it’s not overpowering. Rather, it works in combination with the other ingredeients to give this dish lots of flavor and some Caribbean flair. Though you can’t really tell from the photos, the shrimp are skewered with sugar cane. I found the sugar cane swizzle sticks, oddly enough, in the produce department of my local store. The sugar cane does add some sweetness to the shrimp, but regular skewers will work just fine.

Rum Glazed Shrimp

Rum Glazed Shrimp
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

For the marinade:
24 jumbo shrimp (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the glaze:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup dark rum
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of salt
1 package sugar cane swizzle sticks (optional)
Vegetable oil, for the grill

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Allow to sit for 15 minutes while preparing the glaze.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, rum, mustard, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, 5 to 8 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove from heat and set aside. Cut the sugar cane crosswise on the diagonal into 5-inch sections, then halve each section lengthwise. You can prepare the recipe several hours in advance up to this step.

Set up your grill for direct grilling. Using a bamboo skewer, make two starter holes in each shrimp. Skewer the shrimp with the sugar cane. Brush the grill grate with oil. Grill the shrimp until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side, generously basting with the glaze. Serve additional glaze alongside.

Adapted from Steve Raichlen via Food and Wine