Tia’s Fancy Italian Pasta in Cast Iron

Last October, we went to North Carolina to see the leaves change. Since I had to pick up my sister at the local airport (2 hours away ) my friend Lourdes offered to accompany me and we stopped in Abingdon, Va. IMG_9211We stopped for dinner at a wonderful little restaurant called 128 Pecan. The menu was eclectic and delicious. We decided on a pasta dish with grilled chicken and Andouille sausage in a cream sauce. It was scrumptious. I tried to duplicate it twice, the first time it was OK. This time it turned out much better. Although, I just looked at the menu from the restaurant on-line and realized that the chef used rosemary and lemon to season the chicken. I totally missed that part. Here is my version of the pasta that I made in my cast iron skillet. Next time I make it I’ll try adding those two ingredients and I will update this post.

IMG_0407 - CopyIngredients:
Serves 4
70 grams roasted red pepper (½ a pepper)
80 grams mushrooms (6-8 mushrooms)
80 grams course chopped red onion (1/3 onion)
125 grams chopped tomato (1/4 cup)
70 grams Andouille sausage (1 sausage)
250 grams chicken breast (1/2 chicken breast)
2 ½ Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of butter
¼ to ½ cup of heavy whipping cream
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Red pepper flakes
½ box of penne pasta
About 3 tablespoons of neutral tasting oil, like peanut oil


IMG_0389• Take a whole pepper and roast it (burn the outside of it) if you have a blow
torch, it chars really fast
• Let it cool and then remove the blackened skin, it does not have to be absolutely every piece but most of it needs to be removed.
• Slice 70 grams of it into small, thin slices
• Season with salt and pepper and set aside


• Slice 80 grams of mushrooms (6-8)
• Season with salt and pepper and set aside




• Chop 125 grams of fresh tomatoes into small pieces (1/4 cup)
• Season with salt and pepper and set aside




• Slice 250 grams of chicken breast into small bite size pieces
• Season with salt, pepper, and oregano and set aside
• Or you can get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store




Slice 1 Andoulille sausage into ¼ inch pieces





Chop 80 grams of red onion (about 1/3 onion) into course pieces and set aside

Chop a handful of parsley into small pieces, about 2 ½ tablespoons


This sounds like a lot of work, but the good thing is that you can chop it all up early, put all the ingredients in bowls already prepared (mis en place is the fancy name for it) and then it takes 10-15 minutes to cook and serve, that is about the time it takes to cook the pasta.
If you love some ingredients more than others, it is easy enough to add more or leave them out. I used precooked, chicken Andouille sausage and whole wheat pasta. (Although I prefer the real thing.)

1. Add water to a cooking pot that will hold the amount of pasta you will be cooking
2. Add salt to the water (like they say on The Chew, it has to be as salty as the sea.)
3. Put in the pasta and set the timer per instructions on the box.
4. Heat up your cast iron skillet (or whatever skillet you have)
5. Add a little oil to the skillet, about 3 tablespoons
6. Brown the sausage so it does not look so anemic, but this is critical if it is fresh sausage, you don’t want it to be raw
7. Remove from the skillet
8. Add the red pepper flakes
9. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until almost done
10. Add the tomatoes (I wanted the tomatoes to disappear) cook for about 30-40 seconds
11. Add the peppers and cook for 30 seconds
12. Add the red onions until they start to get translucent
13. Add the mushrooms
14. Add the sausage back in
15. Take the pan off the fire and check your pasta! There should be about 3 minutes left. Always taste the pasta so you know it is cooked. I leave it a little al dente because we are going to cook it again a little bit with the cream.
16. When the pasta is done, add it to the pan that is back on the stove with low heat and contains the chicken, sausage, and veggies
17. Add two tablespoons of butter and mix well
18. Add the ¼ to ½ cup of heavy cream, you can add a little more if you like it really wet or a little less if you like it really dry. Just mix well, you want to include all the fond (the little brown pieces) at the bottom of the pan, that has a lot of flavor.
19. Add the ½ cup of grated cheese
20. Add the parsley

A nice salad, a glass of wine, a loaf of fresh bread, and you are set.

Enjoy!  Tia Ruth. Muaa Muaa

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Chocolate Beer Cake

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Hi, I am Tia Ruth and I’m a Chocoholic. I absolutely love the stuff.  But I am particular about it too.   I like my chocolate unadulterated.  Of course there are exceptions; there are some Mexican bonbons with tequila that … Continue reading

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Sous Vide on the Cheap Side

sous vide; sous vide recipe

Perfectly cooked medium well steak

I did it; I was able to do Sous Vide CHEAP!  How do you ask?

I had heard about sous vide cooking and it was in interesting concept.  But to purchase one of those machines was really out of the question, a question of priorities, how much sous vide was I going to do?  Scott Heimendinger at Seattle Food Geek talk about this subject and how he created his own sous vide cooker.  Although I knew my husband could make one for me, I have no room to store anything else in my house.  I also preferred to spend my money on something else, like a piece of jewelry or a new computer tablet.

The whole concept of sous vide cooking is to cook slowly at constant temperature without having to monitor the food.  Sound familiar?  Sounded like a crock pot to me!  I already had one in the cabin in NC, and my sister had one too and luckily she lives right next door.  Fate also had a hand in this.  I happened to run across a manual Ziploc vacuum food saver for ½ price, this was a no brainer – I got one.  Then I saw a Handi-Vac with 3 bags included for $3.00, also a no brainer, got one of those too.  And thirdly, I won an electric one at work at the Chinese Gift Exchange.  Nobody could understand why I would want to keep the “white elephant” gift.

I did some research and designed an experiment.  I needed to confirm the temperature that my crock pot maintained.  If you are willing to try cheap sous vide at home, I would recommend you do this same experiment.

  • Fill the crock pot with water
  • Monitor the temperature every ½ hour at the warm setting
  • Once you have at least 2 readings at the same temperature, you have probably reached steady state (this is when the temperature is stable and does not significantly fluctuate)
  • Set to low and repeat
  • Set to high and repeat

My readings were:
Warm 145o F
Low 180 o F
High 198 o F

I did not want to try this the first time with chicken, so I decided to cook a steak.  The research indicated that medium well steak needed to be cooked at around 135- 145 o F a little more or less cooked did not make a difference to me.

In addition, the research indicated you do not have to defrost the meat just cook it an extra 20 minutes.  So I seasoned the frozen steak with a little salt and pepper, put one frozen steak in each of the bags, sucked the air out with my Handi-Vac, and dropped them in the crock pot using the warm setting which was 145 degrees.

The steaks cooked for 3 hours.  I took them out of the bag and seared the steaks in a hot pan to caramelize and give the steaks a little color.

The steaks were not bad, not bad at all!  I would do it again if I were going to go skiing and was going to be gone all day, or I hosting a large party and everyone wanted the steaks medium well.  Buying the right equipment would make it much more versatile, but the basic issue remains, where does one store a fish tank?

Adios for now

Muá, Muá!
Tía Ruth


Posted in Main Course, Misc, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Sabores Cafe – Great Party!

sabores cafe, Havana-spice
Sabores Café
My friends  Pepe & Daisy Diaz, have a restaurant in Doral (Miami) called Sabores Café.  My husband has known Pepe since his high school days.

Daisy is a fantastic cook and hostess.  We’ve enjoyed their company at many parties and dinners before they opened the restaurant.


Sabores Café has done really well and recently expanded.  To celebrate they threw one of their famous parties at the restaurant.  These guys know how to throw a party!  As always, we had a great time.

Did I tell you Daisy was a fantastic cook?  I took a ton of pictures of the food with my new camera.  Someone even asked me if I was professional photographer,  I guess they did not see me eating everything!

In a future post I will ask Daisy to be a guest chef and give us one of her fantastic recipes.  Until that time, go to Sabores Café and let me know your favorite dish.

Below are pictures of the Café and the party.

The menu is varied and eclectic, a real home cooked meal, if your family is an Ecuadorian, Greek, Italian, and Cuban mix.

Thank you Pepe and Daisy for the fantastic party!  Additional party photes on the Sabores Café Facebook Page.

Until next time,

Muá, Muá!
Tía Ruth


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Arroz con Pollo (Chicken with Rice)

Food is decorated with pimentos and petit pois

My Mom makes the best Arroz con Pollo in the world. I’ve heard this all my life from anyone that has ever tasted it.  I must tell you she can make this ANYWHERE; in the oven, on the stove, or in the barbeque.

Mom, everyone calls her Mom, does not follow a written recipe and I have been trying to document it for at least a year.  Every time she has made it I have only captured bits and pieces, she just does it and forgets that I want to learn or write it down.  I was finally triumphant and finished getting it all with good estimates of the amounts of ingredients.  I made a batch myself and it worked.

Using the right rice is critical, Valencia Rice, without it you won’t have the same taste or texture. Using chicken with bones is critical too.  If you use boneless chicken the Arroz con Pollo will be tasteless and flat.  Also, make sure you use a good beer with flavor, like a lager, none of that watered down stuff.

Arroz con Pollo is not a cook-ahead meal but you can prepare most of it to the point right before you add the rice. Once you add the rice the guests should be there and ready to eat in about 45 minutes.  It is best to prepare all the ingredients before you start since there is not much lag time between steps.

When cooking the rice, do not mix it all the time, it will ruin the rice.  The consistency of the rice is dependent on the chef.  It is not supposed to have individual grains of separated rice and it is not supposed to be super mushy like risotto, or even really soupy but it is supposed to be “wet”.   This is called “a la chorerra” chorrear means to flow.  You want for the rice to flow off the serving spoon but you don’t want a soup ladle to serve it.  As noted in the recipe, you can add more liquid if it is too dry and bake another 10 minutes.  If it is too wet, it is harder to fix, the rice can get too soft but cook a little longer and it should be all right, it will still taste good.

Arroz con Pollo
This is a one pot meal but you have to have a pretty big pot.
Serves 4-6


  • 1 whole chicken
  • Salt for chicken
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 whole head of garlic (peeled and crushed
  • ¾ of a large green pepper (small pieces)
  • 3 small onions (small pieces)
  • 4 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce
  • 1 small can of petits pois (sweet peas)
  • 1 small jar of red pimentos
  • Powdered yellow food coloring 
  • 1-3 beers at room temperature (if the beer is added cold, it can stunt the cooking of the rice.  I can turn out more al dente and never quite cook through.)
  • 1 small bag of Valencia rice
  • 2 handfuls of salt (see picture) equivalent to 2 teaspoons 


Preheat the oven to 375
1.  Cut the chicken into quarter pieces, all about the same size for even cooking. The breast can be cut in ¼ so that the size is about the size of the thigh.
2.  Remove excess fat
3.  Rinse the chicken and dry with a paper towel
4.  Season the chicken with salt
5.  Heat the large pot
6.  Add the ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
7.  Add the chicken pieces and sauté for about 5 minutes to brown it
8.  Add all the squished garlic

Mash/Squish the Garlic

9.  Cook another 3-5 minutes
10. Remove the chicken from the pot and place in another container
11. Add green peppers to the pot and sauté for 2-3 minutes
12. Add the onions and sauté 2-3 additional minutes

Saute all the veggies (sofrito)

13. Put the chicken and any juices back in the pot
14. Add the small can of tomato sauce
15. Add all the liquid from the petits pois
16. Add ½ the liquid from the pimentos
17. Add the 4 cups of chicken stock
18. Add the 2 teaspoons of salt

This is how the pot looks with most of the liquid added.

Estimate of the amount of salt to add

Up to this point, you can do all the steps above ahead of time
If done ahead of time, remember to bring the oven up to temperature and heat the pot before you add the rice to the pot.

19. Put the rice in a bowl and rinse twice with water (discarding the water)

This is what the Valencia rice looks like (little pearls)

20. Add the yellow food coloring to the rice until bright yellow

Note the bright yellow color of the Bijol

21. Add the rice to the pot
22. Simmer the rice in the liquids for about 5 minutes
23. Add the 1 room temperature beer to the rice

Adding the beer

24. Bring to a boil and cook another 5 minutes
25. Cover and immediately place in the hot oven
26. Let it bake for 25 minutes, no peeking until the 25 minutes are up
27. Uncover and stir slowly
28. Taste the rice to make sure it is almost done (al dente, not hard but still has a little bite) and check for salt, you can add more salt at this point if needed.

Check to make sure the rice is ready

29. Add another ½ beer
30. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes
31. If the rice is not cooked enough, just add the rest of the ½ beer or ½ cup of water or broth and cook another 10 minutes
32. If you have ½ beer left, put it in the fridge and drink later, if you need to add more liquid, you can use more beer, chicken broth, or water
33. Take the pot out of the oven serve in the pot used for cooking and garnish with the petits pois and the sliced pimentos

When serving this dish beer or sangria are the better choices (I vote for beer). A side salad of watercress or avocado goes perfectly. Fried ripe or green plantains are a good side dish. Yes, lots of Cuban dishes are fried; croquetas, yucca frita, bistek palomilla, pollo frito, etc. etc. etc. YUM!

Don’t let all the steps keep you from trying to make this,  if you look at the steps, the majority is adding ingredients.

Hope you enjoy making this dish and sharing it with your friends and family, it’s a great meal for a party.

Until next time,

Muá, Muá!
Tía Ruth


Posted in Chicken, Main Course, Recipes | 3 Comments

International Food Bloggers Conference or #IFBC #IFBC NOLA

Should I or shouldn’t I?
That was the question.  I had been following the foodie website Foodista  promoting the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC).  The agenda looked interesting, chock full of information I needed to improve this blog.  The speakers on the agenda were people I wanted to learn from, some of them I have been following for a while on Twitter or PBS.

This was a three day conference; I would just be coming back from my vacation, and had tons of work at work. These were the big issues keeping me from going to this conference.  What swayed my decision was that the meeting was in New Orleans.  Just about the best food anywhere. I figured that with the worst case scenario, my husband and I could go eat to our hearts content.  This would be our second trip to NOLA, we KNEW the food was good, and we like food. We decided that it was a good opportunity to learn and have some fun.

Yes I dragged my husband with me.  And he loved it!

Bloody Mary for Brunch

When we first got to the city I was a little dismayed.  Although we had been there before it looked a little worse for wear than the last time we were there.  We knew that the hurricane had caused damage and were still surprised that the city looked so run down.  We got to the Hotel Monteleone and we instantly started to change our mind.  The hotel just celebrated its 125th anniversary and is just beautiful and the staff was fantastic.  We were starving so after checking in we went for brunch.  After a great breakfast (and a Bloody Mary to go!) things were beginning to look better.

We signed up at the conference and this set the pace for the rest of the weekend.  I have been to my share of business conferences, continuing education conferences, technical training, etc.  This conference blew all the others away.  Foodista  and Zephyr Adventures delivered as promised and then some.  The Project Manager in me was impressed.  They were professional, started on time, ended on time, promoted networking, provided great information, and arranged for the best food EVER.

Food provided by local restaurants

Oysters, Po'Boys, Shrimp mmm mmm good

I am not a big fan of seafood and the little I do eat is fresh from the Florida Keys caught by my husband.  Believe me this seafood was FRESH, you could only smell the exquisite tantalizing smells of herbs, spices, and the sea.  I tried everything that was served for lunch and dinner and can honestly say that just about everything was fantastic.  I even ate oysters, raw and grilled…delish.   I am now an oyster convert (Acme Oyster House for grilled oysters yum.) For pictures of the food, list of these restaurants and conference details click here:   Foodista IFBC NOLA

All the presenters were great, John Folse and John Besh were inspiring,  Andrew Scrivani, Marissa Brassfield, Brona Cosgrave, and Scott Heimendinger provided tons of useful information and we met lots of friendly, helpful people. What else can you give to food bloggers to make them happy?  Thank you Foodista  and  Zephyr Adventures. You know your stuff and you will see me again.

But the one thing that will bring me back to New Orleans is the people.  They were friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and oh so proud of their city and their heritage.   You could see it in the streets, hear it in their voices, and of course, taste it in their food.  They love their city, they all know each other, support each other, and are willing to share a piece of themselves to make visitors happy.  NOLA is really just a small town.  You feel right at home and it grows on you by the minute.  New Orleans has to be experienced, you have to walk it, smell it, hear it, and of course taste it. When (not if) you go to NOLA, feel confident that you will enjoy your meal at any of the restaurants at the Foodista IFBC NOLA web site.  For information on what is happening in NOLA go to 411NOLA.

Now how does Cuban heritage fit into all of this?  Many of the same ingredients and techniques used in New Orleans Cuisine are used when cooking Cuban foods due to the influence of Spanish, Caribbean, and French cuisine.  There are lots of dishes that I will show you how to make that New Orleans “copied” from the Cubans  🙂

One of the speakers, Poppy Tooker , told us about a cheese made in the old days which is being made again.  This cheese is made specifically from the milk of cows that were brought to NOLA from Cuba!  They would not have had Creole Cream Cheese if not for the contribution of Cuban cows.  We just had  to try it so we went grocery shopping before going home.  The cheese is delisioso.  I found a recipe for this cheese and will make it soon; without the Cuban cow milk of  course.  I’ll let you all know how it goes.

Muá, Muá!
Tía Ruth


Twitter: Havana_Spice

Posted in Misc, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Camaron al Ajillo (Shrimp in Garlic Sauce)

 Many Cubans are of Spanish descent and the influence of Spain is present in the food. A quick meal that is elegant and delicious is “camarones al ajillo” or shrimp in garlic sauce.

Fresh shrimp is best but if you have some shrimp in the freezer, this is a meal you can have ready for company at a moment’s notice and it is a great meal to make as a special treat during the week.

This is generally served as a meal with rice or as an appetizer with crusty bread. Your other option, which is the way my family prefers, is to serve it over pasta. I think my husband was Italian in a former life; his profile was in all the statues in Rome.

One of the items that you should have in your pantry for any seafood is a good Spanish Sherry from the Jerez region of Spain. I always keep a bottle of Tio Pepe in the fridge. It adds a distinct flavor to shellfish that other wines do not have. Of course if you are in a pinch or can’t find Tio Pepe, use any dry sherry, NOT sweet sherry which will really ruin the meal.

All you need to make this dish a good quality of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and shrimp. The olive oil does not have to cost you a fortune but it must be good quality. Cheapo olive oil is blah/stale. The really, really, good olive oil is wasted if used for cooking and best consumed on fresh bread with a little salt and pepper. Your other option is to use butter. Olive oil is the healthier alternative and does give a different flavor.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

  • ½ lb of shrimp
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil or 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of Jerez dry sherry
  • lime juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pasta (I prefer whole wheat pasta)


  1. Soak the shrimp in water with salt and a little lime juice while you prepare the rest of the ingredients
  2. Clean the shrimp; there is a handy, dandy, tool that helps with this task. Make sure you remove the black vein on the back of the shrimp, the shell, and the tail. Or go to a fresh seafood place and buy them freshly cleaned
  3. Dry the shrimp with paper towels
  4. Salt and pepper the shrimp to taste
  5. Squish the garlic until it is a paste, make sure you use a little salt; it will keep the garlic from flying all over your kitchen
  6. Heat the pan
  7. Add the olive oil
  8. Sauté the garlic in the olive oil until they just start to change color
  9. Add the Jerez Sherry
  10. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the smell of the alcohol goes away; be careful, you don’t want to burn everything. Be a scientist, use your senses to know when the food is ready, it takes practice but you will learn.
  11. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink and are no longer translucent, this only takes 3-4 minutes, DO NOT OVERCOOK THE SHRIMP, THEY GET TOUGH
  12.  Serve over pasta or rice.




Try making it both ways, once with olive oil, once with butter, let me know which is your favorite.

Muá, Muá!
Tía Ruth


Posted in Appetizer, Main Course, Shrimp | 4 Comments

Strawberry Season in Florida

cuban family strawberry cake

Add sugar to taste based on sweetness of the strawberries and about 3-4 tablespoons or less of Contreau for a pint of strawberries, this is optional.

In Florida, strawberry season is not the same as the rest of the country.  Florida’s strawberry season is in the spring.  Walking through the produce aisle of the supermarket, I came upon a sale of fresh Florida strawberries, and they smelled delicious.  Fact:  if they don’t smell good they don’t taste good. 

A celebration was in the planning stage and of course it includes food.  My nieces and their friends had helped my Mom move stuff from a warehouse.  To thank them for spending their Saturday working instead of going to the beach, I invited them to dinner.  I made asparagus with butter and garlic, lamb chops with a secret Chinese spice, and mashed potatoes.  I had to use the strawberries for dessert, they smelled so good.

I searched the internet for strawberry shortcake, strawberry tart, strawberry anything and found a recipe that looked appetizing and changed it a little. 

Recipe link for recipezaar:

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup fresh crushed strawberry, unsweetened

1/2-3/4 cup crushed strawberry
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
FOR CAKE: Sift together: flour, salt, and baking powder.
In a separate bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
Beat for a total of 3 minutes, scrapping the sides of the bowl.
Then add flour mixture to creamed mixture, alternating with strawberries.
Beat for two minutes.
Pour batter into two 8-inch round greased and floured cake pans.
Bake in pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until cake tests done.
Turn out on to wire cooling racks to cool.
When cool, top with Strawberry Glaze.
FOR STRAWBERRY GLAZE: Mix together all ingredients.
Use enough strawberries to thin mixture.

In Tia’s version, I did not use the glaze. I cut up some fresh strawberries, added sugar and Contreau and used these strawberries to fill the cake.  I also made a fresh whipped cream frosting to lighten the cake up. 

Whipped Cream Frosting
Small container of heavy cream
Dash of salt
Powdered sugar to taste probably less than ½ cup
¼ tsp vanilla

Mix the heavy cream until peaks start to form
Add a dash of salt
Add powdered sugar a tablespoon at a time until it is as sweet as you like, tasting as you add more sugar
¼ teaspoon of real vanilla

The rest of the dinner was also a success, but those recipes are for another day.  I did not like the cake as much as everyone else;  If it’s not chocolate, it is not worth the calories 🙂

Chris, Jackie, Noah, Alessio, Marcello and Katie, thanks for all your help.

What is your favorite way to eat strawberries?

Muá, Muá!
Tía Ruth


Posted in Desserts, Fruits, Recipes | 11 Comments