Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wonder Bars? Wait, what are they called?

The other night I did a little re-vamp on a tried and true recipe. I call them...wonder bars. The names was coined by my friend Sharon who has an impossible time remembering the name and blurted this one out one time - and it caught on. She also calls them "crack" bars since they are really addictive and you can't stop at just one piece. But a post entitled: "How to Make Crack" is not really something I'm comfortable with ;)

The recipe is the same as before, except this time I lined the pan with foil and I make it in a cake pan so there'd be a little less. I also cut down on the condensed milk. Here's the modified version:

3/4 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup oats
1 cup chocolate chips
9 oz condensed milk
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a cake pan by lining it with foil and spraying with PAM.

In a food processor pulse butter, sugar, flour, and salt. Then add oats and pulse again. Pack into the bottom of the pan and bake until golden brown - 20 minutes.

Once it comes out, let it cool for about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle over the chips and any other toppings you want to use Drizzle over the condensed milk, then the coconut, making sure to cover the top completely.

Bake another 15 minutes, until the coconut is browned.

Friday, February 24, 2012

From the Outside...a Take on the RVA Food Scene: by Guest Blogger Weston Bruner

Sheila asked if I would spell her for a post and since I do a little bit of writing on the side I was more than happy to accept. I currently live in Ann Arbor, MI and but I try to visit Sheila whenever I can. A year and a half ago I thought I would be visiting some nondescript medium-sized East Coast city, but I have found that Richmond to be an absolutely incredible city, and the food is no small reason why.

I have to preface by saying I am a Baltimore kid, born and raised (well not born there, but we moved before I can remember so we are going with that). I grew up with a fondness for the culinary traditions of my fair city, from crabcakes to Smith Island cakes, and I can’t say that I would trade it for anything in the world. I met Sheila when we were students at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and we have been together ever since. I supported her when she made decided to head out to Richmond when the opportunity presented itself, hoping to follow her soon out to the East Coast. I didn’t know anything about Richmond but my first trip impressed me right away.

Kuba Kuba and Acacia are two of those places I seem to see all over Richmond- a small restaurant tucked away in a residential neighborhood where you would never otherwise see one. I don’t know what the zoning rules are in this city, but they allow for you to be driving around and suddenly at the corner- a gorgeous establishment. Everywhere else I have spent time the restaurants are all clearly in certain parts of town or obviously commercial property. One of the things I love about Richmond is that the food scene is so built into the fabric of the city that it’s right in the neighborhoods. That makes parking a lot tougher, but that’s supposed to be the charm, right?


One of the things I experienced in Baltimore is far more apparent in Richmond- pockets of downtown. There is Carytown, Shockhoe Bottom, and other little areas that each have their own unique flare- completely unconnected but equally fascinating. When people ask me about Richmond’s downtown I am forced to ask, “Which one?” Ann Arbor’s Main Street area kind of resembles Shockhoe Bottom and the Kerrytown district resembles Carytown (I know, strange), but even those comparisons don’t work on some levels.

I also love the variety of food- you would think that a city in Central Virginia would be mostly southern or soul food with some fancy European restaurants sprinkled in. I have been shocked by the variety- and quality- of international dishes. I have had stellar Cajun, Jamaican, Barbecue, Thai (well not stellar, but good), and Cuban (Kuba Kuba is the only place that serves Cuban food almost as good as my Cuban mother’s) in Richmond and I haven’t even scratched the surface. I don’t know how such a plethora of options manages to flourish here, but it has kept me (and my friend Matt Sadler) very busy. Food is such an intrinsic part of the culture here, which is something I never would have expected.


I suppose what I love the most about Richmond is the sense of character, of ownership of the city that reminds me so much of my hometown. This city, like Baltimore, is made up of people who have lived there for generations, who understand that there is something unique about their city to take pride in, not for the purpose of showing off or shoving it in people’s faces (*cough* New York *cough* Boston) but knowing in your heart that you are somewhere special. I may never spend enough time in Richmond to fully appreciate what that something is for this city, but I know it’s there. It’s what causes people to enjoy life with all their senses and make their city as great as it can be, which reveals itself in the senses of smell and taste and the creative restaurants that exist all over the city.

So thank you Richmond for being so good to Sheila and so good to me. I hope we get to spend a great deal of time together, and I can’t wait for the next course.

- Weston

Monday, February 20, 2012

Quiche Lorraine

I've always kind of loved quiche - but every time I talked about making one my mom used to tell me that it was full of fat and calories. Now, though, I know now that eating in moderation is the key to anything and after 11 years of holding off, I think I've built up enough points to finally make a glorious quiche.

Jeremy had a lot of leftover eggs from a previous baking adventure gone slightly awry so he invited me along to make a yummy quiche. We decided on a smoked ham and Gruyere with caramelized onions. I'd been thinking up that combination for a while and was going to incorporate it into a mac and cheese, but then when I heard he wanted to make quiche, I thought nothing could be better.

Since the grocery store was out of pie crusts, we used puff pastry instead. Yeah, I don't want to hear it. This is a dish that will help you reach your calories quota for the day, so eat it in the afternoon :)

I got the recipe here: but mainly just used it as a base and added whatever I wanted:

You Need:

5 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp chili powder

Mix these ingredients together and set aside.

Allow the puff pastry to thaw and layer in one sheet into the bottom of a quiche dish.

Take about 1/4 pound of Gruyere (a small hunk is fine), and cut it into thin slices. Arrange these on the bottom of the quiche pan.

Take one slice of a good smoked ham, cut it into small cubes, and fry it just to caramelize it slightly. Sprinkle this over the cheese and pour the egg mixture over top if it.

Finally, fry one large onion until it is golden and add this to the top of the quiche.

Bake at 425 degrees for about 2 minutes - until the top is slightly set. Take the quiche out and criss-cross the top with the second layer of puff pastry. Turn down the oven and bake an additional 45 minutes, or until the quiche is set and the puff pastry is golden brown.

Let the quiche cool for about 15 minutes and serve immediately! It is soooo good - this is one of my recipe highlights for the year so far.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sticky Rice: First-time Sushi

With a physiology exam looming, Rini suggested a study break for sushi. Sushi? Sushi! Finally I get to try some sushi here in Richmond. When I found the restaurant she wanted to go was Sticky Rice, I was really excited because I've heard mixed reviews on this place. We decided to go to the Sushi ToGoGo (their pick-up locations across the street), so I can't really comment on the atmosphere or waitstaff, but I can comment on the sushi :P

I ordered the eel roll and the spicy avacado roll. Two things struck me right off the bat while I was perusing the menu: cream. cheese. It was in almost every single roll! I personally hate cream cheese in my sushi. I don't like it much in general, actually - especially when it hasn't been altered in any way.

I settled on the spicy avacado roll and the eel roll - two of my favorites (I like to do a fish roll and a "clean" roll). Rini got two of the specials - one was called Battered and Buttered or something like that, and another one with everything under the sun: crab, avacado, shrimp...

The servers were really nice and gave me an extra container of pickled ginger (my favorite condiment EVER) and I really love the chopsticks here - super sturdy.

When we got home, I surveyed my choices. The first thing I noticed was how thick mine was cut. It made all the flavors jumble together, so I just took a big knife and cut them in half width-wise. That made a hige difference and I could taste the ingredients. The rice was realllllly sticky - I like the rice at Sadako better. When the roll pieces were on the larger size, it was so annoying to be sitting there with a ball of rice rolling around in your mouth. Again, I was glad I cut them.

The spicy avacado rolls was realy good - the avacado was fresh and I enjoyed the kick of whatever they'd rolled the rice in. Goooood stuff! The eel roll left something to be desired. It was good, but I couldn't taste the eel very much. And it wasn't as flavorful as I would have liked.

I didn't try Rini's butter roll thing - it turned me off once I realized that little thing on the side to dip it in is butter. Or something that's supposed to emulate it. No thanks, not interested.

Her other roll was really good, though. I think I might even order it again, but tell them to hold the cream cheese. Some bites were awesome and the fish shined - other bites were bogged down in... well, you know.

Lasting impressions:

Great concept - having a To Go section which is a seperate place entirely allows for faster service. I also like the option of their "half rolls" which are really just smaller rolls, for half the cost. This lets you taste more and not risk getting bored.

Quality - Meh... a little better than average. The flavor wasn't bright enough for me and I felt like the quality of the fish wasn't that impressive.

I'll keep looking for a regular sushi place, but in the meantime, I was happy with Sticky Rice. It didn't blow me away, but it did satisfy my craving.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lift Coffee Lunches to Go

I've passed Lift Coffee a few times on Broad and always wanted to go in - it looks really cute and there's always a long line and a big crowd sitting inside. But as I'm not a huge coffee drinker, I rarely have the urge to go out and get myself a java fix. But since I discovered Lift does lunches and treats, too, I might just change my mind.

The VCU School of Dentistry hosts "Lunch and Learns" where companies can come in and discuss various rpdicts or functions or organizations they want us to join. The draw? Lunch. The latest Lunch and Learn provided information on a new bill Virginia has passed regarding specialization s for international dentists. Since this is not a political blog, I'm refraining from going into anything. I'll focus on the lunch...which was delicious.

I think what impressed me most were the sandwiches - they were super fresh, HUGE, and had some interesting combinations. Apple Turkey Cheddar? I have heard of those things going together, but never really ventures out to try it. I think I will, though, because it's a fresh and delightful way to spruce up a boring sandwich routine. Just add a couple thinly slices of green apple and your tastebuds will be jumping for joy.

I'm also picturing one of their brownies because it was amazingly moist and chocolaty. A lot of boxed lunches come with dry, crumbly, old brownies, but these tasted like they'd just been made that day. Mmmm...

LinkSo, a trip to Lift Coffee might just be on the horizon - just to see what it actually is like inside and get a feel for the vibe. It reminds me of an Ann Arbor favorite, Comet Coffee.

Monday, February 6, 2012

So You Say You Love Pumpkin?

I've been looking for a new breakfast idea and muffins have been on my mind lately. And I've had a can of pumpkin in the cupboard for a while now and thought it'd be fun to try making pumpkin muffins loaded with cinnamon and nutmeg. The results were good, but not great and I'd make a few modifications next time - see below.

I got the recipe here but I've added my revisions in:


  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 can canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • Cooking spray
  • Brown sugar - for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine flour thru salt in a large bowl.

Combine pumpkin through eggs and add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Don't over-mix!

Spoon the batter into 18 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the tops with brown sugar.

Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove muffins from pans immediately; cool on a wire rack.

I found the muffins a little dry, so I might have added sour cream to the batter to loosen it up a little. Also, some cranberries would have been a tasty addition.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Do You Have Five Minutes?

Lunch is a tricky meal...especially on the weekends. I think it's the fact that you want it to feel special, but you don't want to put a lot of work into it. At least, that's how it is for me. I eat basically the same thing every weekday since I pack my lunch, but on the weekends, I typically scrounge.

Usually I do a midday breakfast and make an omelette or bake something I've frozen from a dinner earlier in the week. But last weekend I was running low on food supplies and I had to be creative.

I remember I had some leftover chicken from the chicken I'd cooked for my casserole, so I added that to a pan with a drizzle of sesame oil. Then I added 3 carrots, cut into long strips. I cooked up some pasta and added that to the chicken and veggie(s) and let it get really nice and crisp - then I added 1 Tbs of peanut butter and seasoned with spices.

It was actually quite delectable. And it took me all of about 10 minutes to make - I was talking to Weston the whole time, so it felt even shorter. Quick cooking is all about seeing what you have on hand and being creative. I was quite pleased with the results :)