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Cooks We Love: Denise Browning, From Brazil to You

Denise Browning lives a busy life! The graduate of California Culinary Academy's Culinary Arts Le Cordon Bleu program is the blogger behind From Brazil To You, and a wife and mother of two in Texas. Her native Brazil is still a part of everyday life, especially when she's in the kitchen doing one of the things she loves most: Cooking up childhood favorites and innovating her own Brazilian fusion dishes. Learn more about Denise and then check out her 10 best Brazilian recipes.

Website or blog: From Brazil to You

Blogging since: February 2012

Where you call home: Texas

What are three things you have in the pantry at all times? Sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, and Knorr chicken flavor bouillon!

Were any of the recipes on your blog learned from a mother or grandmother? I learned several family recipes while growing up, but the ones that are most memorable to me are my maternal grandma's chicken soup (canja de galinha) and her caramel flan (pudim de leite), as well as my mom's bread pudding (pudim de pão). Enjoying afternoon coffee at my grandma's table along with toasted, buttered French bread was a daily ritual when I was a child, and has remained fresh in my memory to this day. Preparing and eating these dishes has the power to transport me directly back home, and to comfort me when what I am truly craving is the presence of my loved ones.

What do you want people to know about Brazil, if they take away just one thing? It is quite hard to choose only one thing since Brazil is such a large country, with many rich and contrasting subcultures—the fruit of our great miscegenation of ethnicities and traditions. Each facet of its culture is equally interesting!

But if I had to pick out just one thing, I would want people to know about its exciting cuisine, with its many tasty, unique ingredients and dishes. French chefs know this so well that many have moved to Brazil over the years, establishing businesses there, elevating the profile of many local Brazilian ingredients and incorporating them into their menus. Several Brazilian chefs have also risen in the world of gastronomy, showcasing our cuisine in their own particular way—chefs such as Alex Atala, with his multi-award winning restaurant D.O.M. (considered the best in South America), and Helena Rizzo, chosen as the 2014 Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef.

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RELATED: From Brazil to You, 10 Amazing Brazilian Recipes

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Brazilian mango upside-down cake
Photograph by Denise Browning

Brazilian mango upside-down cake

Brazilian mango upside-down cake

Living in Texas, do you find it challenging to find the ingredients you need to make Brazilian cuisine there? What are some common substitutions for ingredients that are tough to find? Texas is a relatively tough place to find Brazilian goodies, especially those ingredients from the Amazonian region. Common ingredients are available at local supermarkets, while regional ones are sometimes available at Latin supermarkets such as dried, salted codfish, sour tapioca starch, and guaraná soda. Sharing certain ingredients in common with Mexico and other Latin American countries has definitely helped me and the rest of the Brazilian community living here in Texas, as well as other regions of the U.S.

Guava paste, cassava root, and frozen fruit pulps such as guava, guanábana, and passion fruit are a few items which can be acquired at local and national American supermarket chains.

I published a useful list of Brazilian food products and their American substitutes, which might make life easier for many; it has certainly made things less complicated for me when cooking Brazilian food in the U.S. for the last 12 years. I’ve been collecting these substitutes ever since I moved here, and only recently did I share them with my growing audience. The interesting thing is that Americans living in Brazil who follow my blog are also making use of this list, except in reverse!

You have two little girls. What are their favorite Brazilian dishes? I have a 7-year old and a 6-year old. Although they love several Brazilian dishes, pão de queijo is a favorite of both. It is something that we always have in our freezer since they request it so often. Although I have sneaked different flavors of pão de queijo on to their plates (such as basil or roasted red bell pepper pão de queijo) or occasionally fill these Brazilian cheese rolls with requeijão, guava paste or dulce de leche, they seem to prefer their pão de queijo plain. They are quite the pão de queijo purists!

Tangiroska, a tangerine-infused version of Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha
Photograph by Denise Browning

Tangiroska, a tangerine-infused version of Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha

Tangiroska, a tangerine-infused version of Brazil's national cocktail, the caipirinha

What’s your “There’s Nothing in the Fridge Dinner?” The one thing you often whip up with very few ingredients or, perhaps, very little inspiration? Brazilian tapioca crepes filled with cheese—A family favorite that only requires four ingredients and are very quick to make. They can be served for breakfast, as a snack or for dinner.

Your husband is American-born so as a multicultural family, I'm sure you're well versed in the world of intentional, as well as unintentional, fusion dishes. I've found in the United States within the Latin American community, Thanksgiving is the best time of year to see this type of mixing of culinary traditions in action. What is typically on your Thanksgiving table? With a multicultural family that appreciates food and many cuisines in addition to Brazilian and American, I do often find myself cooking dishes from different cuisines of the world and fusing them together.

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday. At my table, there are the classic American dishes such as candied sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (a real favorite of mine), as well as Brazilian dishes such as farofa (toasted cassava flour with bacon, herbs, and vegetables) which substitutes for the traditional American stuffing. My husband always requests homemade mac and cheese and my children ask for turkey and steamed corn-on-the-cob.

Cranberry sauce has to be homemade since all four of us are unanimously picky about it. Sometimes we have green bean casserole, or a fresh salad with pears or apples and candied nuts, which most of us prefer. What we never agree about is the desserts. To avoid drama, I either make or buy different flavors of pie such as pecan (my favorite), blackberry or apple (for my husband), and pumpkin (my eldest child's favorite). The only one who doesn't give me a hard time is my little one who doesn't care very much for desserts.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks and/or food blogs?

"D.O.M. Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients" by Alex Atala, "Good Eats" by Alton Brown, Bouchon by Thomas Keller, America's Test Kitchen

Where else can we find you? Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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