Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cooking...Day 4


I'm playing catch up! I know, I know. I've missed 4 days. That means there will be 4 posts in a row. I apologize for the mass blogging (especially to those I know with RSS feeds that will get flooded).

I do have a pretty good reason for not blogging the past few days. I catered a nice little Christmas party for my church. While I only had to feed about 25 people, it's still a lot of work. I made fried chicken, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese, broccoli, haricot vert, honey-glazed carrots, corn bread muffins, white chocolate bread pudding with white chocolate sauce, mixed berry crisp with whipped cream, cheese and crackers, grapes, apples, and cranberry punch. It was a lot of cooking, but we got it all done and it all turned out wonderfully! I also had to do the decorating, which took a little creativity and planning. I couldn't have pulled it off without the help of my sous chef, my Daddy, and my Momma. They were awesome help in the cooking and set-up processes as well as breaking everything down and cleaning up. Everyone really enjoyed the food and it was nice to spend time together without the distraction of kids, work, or school. If anyone from SCoC is reading this, thanks for coming! I hope you enjoyed it :)

My inspiration for the belated 4th day of Christmas Cooking actually comes from this party. My good friend Liz asked if I would put the recipe for my white chocolate bread pudding up on my blog. So this one's for you, Liz!
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On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

A white chocolate bread pudding recipe!


Elle's White Chocolate Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Sauce

1 loaf (about 5 cups) of french bread, torn or cut into 3-inch pieces
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. high-fat cocoa powder (regular unsweetened cocoa powder will work just fine)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. real vanilla extract
1, 12 oz. package white chocolate chip morsels

Tear or cut the french bread into large pieces (about 3 inches). Place them in a greased 9 x 13 baking dish. In a bowl whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, brown sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon and vanilla. When that mixture is blended well and beginning to look frothy, whisk in the milk. Pour the egg and milk mixture over the bread. Using your hands (even you, Liz!) press the bread down into the baking dish to help it absorb all the liquid. If everything still looks a bit dry, you can add a few splashes of milk. Cover and refrigerated for at least 2 hours. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover and continue baking for 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until set. While the bread pudding is baking, you can make the sauce.

White Chocolate Sauce

1 pkg white chocolate morsels
1 pt. heavy cream

In a sauce pan, slowly heat the cream on medium heat. When cream is barely simmering, add the whole package of white chocolate morsels. The sauce is ready when the white chocolate has melted completely into the cream.

The bread pudding is best served warm with the warm sauce drizzled over it. Both the pudding and the sauce reheat very well.

Enjoy!

Elle

PS If you don't care for white chocolate, you can replace the white chocolate morsels with milk or dark chocolate morsels in both the pudding and the sauce.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cooking...Day 3

I'm sorry Day 3 is late. Yesterday was not a nice day and I had a lot of errands to get done. But I'll make up for it, I promise!

It's getting colder where I live. We've actually had some frozen precipitation and school closings in my area, which is pretty unusual in December. Normally, our coldest month is January. So in attempts to keep myself cozy and warm, I've been drinking lots of hot beverages like tea, hot chocolate and coffee. With that in mind, I bring you day number 3 in the 12 Days of Christmas Cooking (and drinking).
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On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

3 Lovely Hot Beverages!

Coffee: Red Sea Blend by Allegro Coffee

Howie, my co-host on The Geeky Gourmet and coffee guru extraodinaire, suggests the Red Sea Blend by Allegro Coffee, sold at Whole Foods Markets around the US. It's one of his favorites because it's not over-roasted, like Starbucks coffees tend to be. He says, "It's a good, solid blend that is consistent. It's as good as you're going to get on a normal basis." The company that roasts this blend describes it as a fragrant, exotic flavor with notes of cherry, strawberry, tobacco, and nutmeg. Howie also encourages you to do a little research for local places that roast their own beans and offer sample packs. That way you can try a few different varieties to decided what you like best.

Tea: Imperial Republic Snow Rose Full-Leaf Herbal Tea
This is one of my favorite teas. It comes from The Republic of Tea- an awesome company for tea enthusiasts. It's made from a native Chinese herb called Snow Rose, as well rose petals and other fragrant herbs. It's light and soothing. I've only had it a few times because it's a bit pricey at $31.00 per 3.5 ounce tin (that makes about 50 cups), but a nice treat. But in all honesty The Republic of Tea offers something for everyone. They have a wide variety of black, green, red, oolong, and herbal teas. There's even a tea of the month club and a tea blog that is full of information to help you better understand traditions and new trends in tea.

Hot Chocolate: I love them all!
Okay, I don't know that I love them all. However, I do like so many that no particular type sticks out in mind. I just enjoyed a cup of white hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts the other day. Starbucks has a really tasty salted caramel hot chocolate. I love the Mexican hot chocolate from my local coffee shop. And I make a mean homemade version, myself. So I think that's what I'll share.

Elle's Double Chocolate Hot Chocolate

3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 chocolate chips (milk chocolate, semi-sweet...it's up to you)
3 C. whole milk or half and half
Marshmallow fluff or whipped cream for topping

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, and water into a smooth paste. When this mixture is well combined and starting to heat through, add the chocolate chips and gently melt them into the cocoa powder mixture. When everything is completely melted, slowly whisk in the milk. Bring the milk and chocolate mixture up to a simmer, whisking often. Simmer for about 5 minutes to help thicken. Pour into mugs and top with marshmallow fluff or whipped cream. Oh! If you add a bit of cinnamon and a teeny pinch of cayenne, the flavor of this drink changes in wonderful ways!

Stay warm and enjoy!

Elle

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cooking...Day 2

I was looking up the lyrics for the "12 Days of Christmas" to be sure I remembered them correctly and I found a good wiki article that sums up the actual celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas quite nicely. For the record, yes. I realize I'm doing it wrong. The 12 Days of Christmas truly starts on Christmas Day. But sharing these ideas and recipes with you now might give you a chance to make them part of your holiday celebrations.

If you're interested, read the article here. If you're anything like me, you'll sit there reading the article going, "Oh *that's* where that came from!"
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On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

Robot Salt and Pepper Shakers!
Do you or someone you know like robots? Do you have a need to season your food (the answer is yes)? Here's a great, last-minute stocking stuffer for that geeky foodie in your family! These guys seem like fairly frivolous items, but they are very adorable and would be entertaining at any family meal. They are good for everyday use or special occasions. Not only are they actually functional salt and pepper shakers...they're wind-up toys, too! Wind the key and set them off down the table when some one asks you to pass the salt or pepper.


I'm so glad I got to share my love of robots and the importance of seasoning your food all at once. Check back with me tomorrow and see what else I come up with!

Elle

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Cooking!


My Exams are finished and we are back in business! This semester has made me all sorts of crazy and I'm so glad it's over. I have a month to recover and let my brain go back to mush. Then, January 10th, it starts all over again. But until that day arrives, "let the good times roll"!

I have a lot of shopping and wrapping and decorating left to do. I also have a party to cater this coming weekend. That should be tons of fun. I'm organized a lot better than in years past and I feel a bit more comfortable since I've had a good bit of experience now. It'll be a nice, southern menu with my added twists here and there.

Oh, right! So you might notice the title. Yes, that's right. Something else holiday themed. Just what you need, right? Well I hope so! In order to encourage myself to write more often and to spread a little holiday cheer, I've decided to bring you the 12 Days of Christmas Cooking! For the next 12 days (starting today) I'm going to put up a post with a yummy recipe, a review of a gadget, or maybe a little history about food in holiday traditions. I don't have all 12 days planned out, so I'll be just as surprised as you! Be sure to check back every day to see what I've come up with.

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On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

A Spicy Pumpkin-Pear Bread Recipe! I made this quick bread for Thanksgiving. I had a few pears that were over-ripe, but I hated to just throw them away. So I grated them and added them to this recipe in place of mashed, canned pears. The pear flavor isn't very strong without the addition of a liquer. But the addition of the pear flesh makes this bread incredibly moist and naturally sweet.

Elle's Pumpkin-Pear Bread

2 C. pumpkin puree
3/4 C. grated pear (or canned pears, drained and mashed)
1 C. granulated sugar
1/4 C. canola/vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 1/4 C. All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cardamom
2 Tbsp. pear brandy (optional)

Mix all wet ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. In another bowl, sift all dry ingredients together. In about 3 separate batches, add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet. Mix until just combined. Try not to over mix the batter. Pour evenly into 2 greased, medium loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes.
Obviously, you can adjust the spices to your taste. I really enjoy strong spices, but some may not. By cutting the amount of each spice in half, you'll still have a flavorful bread, but the flavors will be more subtle.


See you tomorrow!
Elle

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Geeky Gourmet Update

If you happen to listen to the show, I'm sure you've noticed we haven't posted a new show in quite some time. We haven't given up on the project and I really hope no one has given up on us. We've taken a bit of a hiatus. There are a few reasons we haven't recorded another show recently and I just wanted to let you all know what was going on.

  • Howie has been utterly exhausted with life lately. To be honest with you, I'm not sure what exactly has been going on. I just know that he is usually very good at juggling a lot of things in his life at once and right now, he's just really tired. No shame or blame there.

  • Our schedules haven't matched up well. Between Howie's work schedule, my school schedule, and our other various commitments, we've not been able to find a time to record that really works well for both of us.

  • My life hasn't necessarily been boring. Charlie and I have had company from out of town, then we went out of town to visit his family. We got engaged! Finals are coming up soon. My family has had various surgeries and travels. There seems to be a lot going on.

We are also going to change our format a little. Instead of pushing to do a show once a week, we are going to try 2 a month until we can get into a better routine. I'd rather give our listeners really good quality shows a little less often than mediocre shows more often. Other than that, we'll still be talking about great things and being silly! It's what we're good at :)

We're at 199 followers on Facebook, which is amazing. I'm excited to know that almost 200 people have heard of us in one way or another. We'd still like people to follow us on twitter if they are so inclined: http://twitter.com/geekygourmet. And if you have any holiday recipes, show ideas, questions, comments...anything (except spam), I would really love it if you e-mailed us at thegeekygourmet@gmail.com

The next show I hope to record sometime very soon. During the last show, we said we would be talking about tomatoes in our next episode. I had a change of heart and the next show will be about apples. Then to follow that we will hopefully be talking about cookbooks and kitchen gadgets. Please keep an eye out for the next show and keep listening!

Thank you all so much. We'll be back as soon as we can.

<3 Elle (and Howie, too)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Baking season has begun!

In the Hinson household, baking is a season. We tend to bake all year long, but in the fall and winter months it's almost as if baking were a sport. The oven is constantly on with something baking away, making the air smell delightful. We, being my mother and I, make cookies, breads, cakes, pies...the list goes on. I always enjoy being in the kitchen concocting something new. My dad and fiance make great taste testers, too! As a side note, it still feels weird (and awesome) to say fiance as opposed to boyfriend.

This year's baking season began with Pumpkin-Pear spice bread and a pumpkin cheesecake. I used roasted pumpkin that I froze earlier this fall for both recipes. I added the pear to the bread basically just to use up some over ripe pears that I didn't want to throw out. It added a lot of moisture to the bread making the texture awesome! I think it also added a nice sweetness, but it's not too sugary. Tonight, my baking season continued with Coconut-Chocolate chip cookies. They taste like a Mounds candy bar in cookie form. The flake coconut helps keep the cookies moist and chewy, which is my favorite texture combination in a cookie.

As requested, here's the recipe!

Coconut-Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 C. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C.white, granulated sugar
3/4 C. light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 and 1/4 C. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1, 12 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup flake coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter, white granulated sugar, and brown sugar together using a stand or hand mixer. Next, add the eggs and extracts. Blend until everything is incorporated very well. Then, add the salt, baking soda and about half of the flour. When that is well mixed, add the rest of the flour and mix just until blended. Using a heavy duty wooden spoon, stir in the coconut flakes and the chocolate chips. (Charlie had to help me with this because I have zero upper arm strength.) When the cookie dough is mixed well, drop rounded teaspoon fulls of the dough onto greased or parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake for about 9 minutes give or take, depending on your oven. Allow to cool on the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack or sheet of parchment. This recipe makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Most cookies freeze well if you put them in vacuum sealed bags. Otherwise, they'll keep for about 2 weeks or as long as the people in your house allow them to :)

I'll try to share some pictures and a few more recipes of my baking season in the coming weeks. Until then, happy baking!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What we can learn from "My Cousin Vinny"


To be honest, I'm still a little mad at Howie for trying to "out southern" me with Joe Pesci quotes. There's just something so very wrong about that. And besides, it doesn't take that long to cook oatmeal either, but he cooks that in the crock pot. So why not grits? It's the same principal. The whole point is to slow cook them while you're asleep so you wake up to a yummy, warm breakfast that's ready to go. If you have no clue what I'm prattling on about, you should listen to show #6- The Crock Pot Show! We took a step back from the "gourmet" side of the culinary world and relaxed in the homier side of cooking. Crock pots are the original "set it and forget it" machines that can make meal time a lot easier.

I was a little worried about this one. It seemed that when we recorded, there was more of us goofing around than there was actual information. But somehow, by Howie's editing magic, this one came out great. I hope you have or will enjoy it!

I did want to mention something that got left out that I, personally, deem important when it comes to crock pots or slow cookers. So here we go...
Buying a crock pot- When I first starting thinking about this show, it occurred to me that a lot of people think all slow cookers are created equal. Nope! Not true. There are some things that are good to consider when purchasing a crock pot.
1. Buy the size suitable for your space. If you live in a small apartment with a teeny kitchen, chances are there are only one or two of you living in that space. There is no need for you to have a giant 7 quart slow cooker hogging the precious little counter space you have. A smaller 1.5 or 2 quart model ought to suit your needs well and can easily make enough to feed up to 4 people.
2. Buy a slow cooker with a removable crock. It makes life so much easier when trying to clean up. It's also handy when you've made a big meal and have leftovers. You can leave everything in the crock, cover it, and put in the fridge. When you want to reheat it, just stick it back in the heating element.
3. Look for temperature settings and timers. Newer models with timers and auto-function settings are awesome. But at the very least, your crock pot should have low, high, and warm temperature settings. I speak from experience on this one. I have a small crock pot with no temperature control. When you plug it in, it goes to whatever temperature it feels like that day. Uhg.
4. Think about what you'll be using your crock pot for most often and keep that in mind when going to purchase one. If you plan to use it for family meals, I recommend a simple model that is size appropriate. Keeping the controls simple will allow multiple family members to use it properly and perhaps give mom (or the head chef) a bit of a break. If you plan on using it for pot lucks, small catering events or anything where the food should be portable, consider a model with a tight fitting and/or locking lid. If it's just to hold meatballs, cocktail smokies, or nacho cheese warm on game day, I'd get a smaller one with simple temperature settings and a removable crock so you can let it soak for 2 days after your husband/boyfriend leaves it on high for the entire game and after the party. Or to avoid this disaster, buy a crock pot with a timer and set it to automatically turn off by the 3rd quarter.
5. Always buy a brand that has a decent warranty. Crock Pot, Rival, Hamilton Beach, Kitchen Aid, All-Clad...these are all brands that come with at least a limited warranty. As with any small appliances, follow through with your end of the warranty agreement. Send off what ever receipts and papers you need to. It might seem like a pain, but it ensures that you're covered if anything breaks or goes wrong. It seems like a slow cooker would be a sure thing, but knowing my luck? Something would go wrong. I always try to send in for the warranty.
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I messed up my information a little during the show and would like to clear a few things up. I said that the running temperature for a crock pot is 190 degrees to 215 degrees F depending on your settings. I was a little off. The correct range is 175 degrees to 215 degrees (again, depending on what setting you have it at). I also kinda stumbled over my words when I was trying to explain why vegetables take longer to cook in a crock pot. Let me try that again. Veggies usually respond better to high heat methods of cooking like sauteing or boiling. It has a lot to do with water content and drawing out the water as fast as possible to preserve the color and nutrients of the vegetable, while still cooking it through. That's why steaming root vegetables, especially, takes forever. If you're going to cook veggies with your protein, place them at the bottom of your slow cooker (under the meat) so they will be immersed in liquid and cook evenly.
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While researching recipes and clever trivia for the show, I came across a wonderful site. I'm sure it's one of hundreds of crock pot websites but I really enjoyed this one. It's got a lot of good ideas and recipes.

Speaking of recipes, it's that time again!

Howie's "Pot Roast"
3-5 lb chuck roast, shoulder roast, london broil... whatever roast-type beef is on sale or that you prefer
8-12 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cumin
additional spices*
1/4 C. olive oil
1/4 C. red wine (or white if you prefer)
1/4 C. Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper for seasoning the beef

Place mushroom caps at the bottom of your crock pot, stem-side down. Heat a large skillet with about 1/8 C. olive oil. Trim the roast as needed and season the beef on all sides. When the skillet is hot and the oil is just starting to smoke, sear the beef on all sides. When the meat is caramelized and seared, place it on top of the mushrooms. Add the onion to the same pan and cook until translucent-about 3 minutes. Then, add the garlic and continue cooking for about 2 minutes more. De-glaze the pan by adding about 1/4 C. red wine. Allow to simmer for about 2 minutes, then pour the onion mixture over the beef and mushrooms. Add the remainder of the olive oil, spices, balsamic vinegar, and both cans of crushed tomatoes. Cook on your crock pot's low setting for 6 to 8 hours.

*Howie always uses salt, pepper, and cumin in this dish. You can add whatever spices suit your taste. If you'd rather go a more Italian/Greek route, I recommend rosemary and oregano.

After that great meal, what about dessert? I got ya covered.

Basic Bread Pudding (please personalize this any way you'd like)
3 C. day-old French bread*
3 large eggs
1 C. heavy cream
1 1/2 C. whole milk
1/2 C. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. Whiskey, Brandy, or Bourbon
1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, ground
1 C. fresh or frozen berries, stone fruit, bananas, apples, chocolate chips, or what ever flavorings you'd like
2 Tbsp. butter

Grease the crock with 2 Tbsp. butter. Cube or tear bread into 1 inch pieces and place in the crock pot. Sprinkle the flavorings of your choice on top of the bread pieces. Whisk together cream, milk, vanilla, liquor, salt, and spices. Pour over the bread and flavorings. Cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours. Raise the heat to high for another 30 minutes. You'll know it's done when you insert a knife into the middle and it comes out clean.

*If your local market has an in-house bakery, chances are you can get the "fresh baked" left overs from the day before at a discounted price. Any bread with a chewy, soft texture will work. Avoid using loaf bread or something too hard like a baguette.
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I'm currently in the testing phase of my Swedish Meatball challenge. When I've got it where I'd like it, I'll let you know. For now I'd just like to share my ideas again. Typically, the "Swedish Meatball" most of us are used to is a basic beef meatball cooked in cream of mushroom soup mix, milk, and maybe a little allspice. This dish is often served over egg noodles. I've had it before and it's edible, but Howie challenged me to make it better. Here are my thoughts so far:

Instead of a standard beef meatball, a combination of ground veal and lamb would be much more flavorful and meaty. I'd also like to add some vegetables to make this more of a complete dish. My choices right now are mushrooms and fennel. Then to replace the cream of mushroom soup, I think a bechamel sauce finished with some nutmeg would be a good alternative. I would most likely keep the egg noodles as the starch for this dish. It sounds good, right? Experimenting and testing is the only way to know for sure. Like I said, I'll keep you posted.

Well, there you have it. 6 shows down with (hopefully) many more to go.

We do apologize for how slack we've been lately. Life seems to be giving Howie and I, both, a swift kick in the pants. We had a lot of momentum for this project in the very beginning and then all of a sudden, everything seemed to stutter to a halt. We're working to get back on a semi-normal schedule that we can both live with. Thanks for your patience. We haven't forgotten about our listeners. Please don't forget about us. Even if there isn't a blog post or a show posted, there are still discussions on our Facebook page and our inbox is always open at thegeekygourmet@gmail.com.

<3 Elle

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A belated, but epic recap...

...of Euphoria! I'm suddenly reminded that I never really talked about my adventures, as I sit here in the t-shirt I won for asking lots of good questions. Now is a good time, right? Right.

A few weekends ago, a food, wine, and music festival/fundraiser was held here in Greenville, SC. Euphoria was started by Edwin McCain, who is originally from Greenville, and some restaurateurs in the downtown area. The idea of the festival is to play up pairing food and wine, but also throwing music into the mix. To give you an idea of what I mean, the event I was able to go to was a tasting showcase. 4 different chefs gave hour-long demos presenting to the audience a signature dish, something from their new menu, or a dish that showed new techniques. Each chef was paired with a musical artist and during the down time of the demonstration, the artist would play a little something for the audience. In the tent behind us, there was a grand wine tasting. About 30 vintners and representatives from various wineries were there showing off their different varietals, dates, and specialties. When asked, they could pair a great wine with a sample of the chef's demonstrated dish.

The tasting showcase was just one of many events held during the 4 day festival. There were many musical guests including Edwin McCain, Shawn Colvin, Walter Blanding Jr. and a few locals like Taylor Moore who were there at different times during the weekend. There were wine dinners with guest chefs, including the chefs who cooked at the demonstrations. There were jazz brunches, BMW driving experiences, parties and a VIP package that included every event over 4 days for a grand total of $800. In all fairness, that is quite a deal if you consider the price of each event individually (plus the VIP only things).

At any rate, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to go to the Tasting Showcase on Saturday thanks to my fantastic Aunt L and Aunt S. (These are the aunts that spoil me rotten quite often.) The 4 chef's that were there to demonstrate were Mike Lata of FIG (Food is Good) in Charleston, SC; Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun's, Kevin Rathbun Steak, and Krog Bar in Atlanta, GA; Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef: Las Vegas and Volt in Frederick, MD; and Justin Bogle of GILT in NYC. Unfortunately, I got there for the very end of Mike Latta's demo. However I was there just in time to taste what he created! Swordfish with heirloom eggplant caponata and chanterelles. It was the best swordfish dish I've ever had. After I tried his offering, I went and picked up my complimentary wine glass, a program and got myself settled in the second row (near a cooling fan).

Soon enough it was Kevin Rathbun's turn to show off. He made a sea scallop benedict with country ham studded grits and a tobasco-lime hollandaise. It was amazing. And as much as I love benedict-type dishes, you know this is something I'm going to have to try to recreate. I got to ask him questions like what his favorite ethnic food was. He told us that it really depended on how the night went or if he had a hangover. *giggle* I also got to meet him after his demo and tell him that I was a huge fan (because I am!) without fangirling too much. He's one of the most laid back, fun chef's I've had the chance to meet.

Then it was Bryan's turn. Bryan freaking Voltaggio. He is like my Brandon Patton of the food world- a major chef crush. He's amazing to look at and his demonstration was fascinating. His motto is "It's okay to play with your food", after being told for years by his mother that it was not okay. Now he has made a career out of it and is one of the leading chefs in this new molecular gastronomy craze. He wasn't quite prepared to offer tastings for the whole audience. But he made 3 dishes using fun, food quality chemicals like liquid nitrogen and agar agar. One was a play on a caprese salad, another was a lemon curd with fresh summer berries and finally, his version of tirimisu. He pays a lot of attention to detail when plating yet he never forgets how important flavor is. Each of his dishes were well balanced. How do I know this? Because I got to try his food! He made a lemon curd foam using a whipping cream canister to aerate it. Then he dipped the foam into liquid nitrogen so that it formed a solid ball shape while still remaining soft and creamy on the inside. He also took some berries for a little swim in a bowl of liquid nitrogen until they were solid. He then crushed them to break them into their individual little seeds. The texture was awesome; it reminded me of pop rocks. The temperature and texture manipulations were really interesting. After his demo, where I got to ask more questions, I met him. He talked to me for a few minutes, wished me luck in school and even signed something for me! By this time, I was star struck and ready to explode with joy. But there was still one fantastic chef to go.

Justin Bogle took the stage! He's adorable, but he means business. By the time he was 28 (only 2 years ago), he was the executive chef of GILT receiving 2 stars from the Michelin Guide. It's seriously one of the most impressive achievements from such a young chef. He also played with molecular gastronomy a little when he demonstrated something from his spring/summer menu. He made a green garden gazpacho with king crab, grape verjus, toasted almond powder, and a greek yogurt espuma. He didn't use liquid nitrogen, though. He used tapioca maltodextrin to make the almond powder and agar agar to create the grape verjus. Like Bryan, his attention to detail was pretty impressive and the flavors of this dish were delicate and bright at the same time. I got to meet and talk to Justin a bit after his demo, as well. It was such a pleasure to meet him. Especially since he's been so successful in the city I want to end up in.

It's quite a few weeks later, now, and I'm still so fantastically happy that I got to go. It was an amazing experience I wish all young chefs could have. Meeting so many successful and talented chefs is really invaluable. Thank you so much to my Aunts for giving me the opportunity to go.

And now...pictures!



Did I mention I had a blast? It still makes me smile and squeal just thinking about it! One of these days, I hope to be one of them. I want to be one of the chefs everyone wants to meet. It could happen :)

<3 Elle

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tasty Starters

Okay. I know it's not a big landmark number or anything, but Howie just posted show #5. We've been doing this for over a month and I think we really might have something here. It's pretty exciting! We're closing in on 200 "likes" on Facebook, which is neat and weird at the same time. I have a few more people following this here blogging contraption, too! Although, I will admit that I wish I had never pressed the "stats" button. The traffic this thing gets, or lack there of, makes me slightly sad. However, a great man once said, "We must press on!" (Thanks, Adam.)

So here we go. Show #5 was about appetizers- those delicious nibbles to whet your appetite and wake your palette up in hopes to better the experience of your entire meal. What we now see in most casual and fine dining restaurants come from either simpler or more elegant beginnings. Especially in the United States, the bigger and better attitude has taken the simple canape and turned it into something like "Joe's Rockin' Rib Rolls". I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it's certainly different.

Here are some of the most popular appetizers people have come to enjoy:
  • Mozzerella sticks (this was the most popular answer along with "anything with cheese"
  • chips and dip
  • potato skins
  • fried calamari
  • onions rings/bloomin' onion
  • hot wings
  • cheese fries
  • jalapeno poppers
  • fried mushrooms
  • garlic bread
Those were to most common answers from my friends, family, and classmates when I asked them what their favorite restaurant-style appetizer was. Some of the answers like clams casino or blackened tuna bites with horseradish cream, were a bit more unique.

Once you come up with something yummy and marketable in restaurants the next step, of course, is to make it available at home. Unfortunately that's not always the best idea, in my opinion. Now there seems to be an issue with overly processed, pre-packaged junk that isn't good for you and it's definitely not good tasting.

In response to this "junk", chefs and home cooks alike are looking for and creating new, fresh, and delightful treats. I am among those chefs and home cooks. And that means I have a few recipes to share!

Here's hoping you'll never have to buy frozen, breaded mozzerella sticks again:

Homemade Mozzerella Sticks
1 pkg string cheese (there's usually 12 sticks per package), unwrapped and cut in half
1/2 C. all purpose flour
1/2 C. bread crumbs (Italian, plain, panko...whatever you like)
2 eggs + 2 Tbsp water, beaten well

Preheat a large skillet on medium to medium-high heat. Add enough oil so that there is about a 1/4 inch layer in the pan and 2 Tbsp butter. Allow the butter to melt into the oil and let the mixture heat up. DO NOT LET THE OIL SMOKE OR BURN. Test the oil to see if it's hot enough by placing the end of a toothpick or wooden skewer in the oil. If bubbles form rapidly around it, the oil should be ready. Roll the cheese sticks in flour first, then gently shake off any excess. Dip them in the egg wash, then finally coat them very well in the bread crumbs. Carefully place the cheese sticks in the hot oil, a few at a time. Cook for 30 to 45 seconds then turn them and allow to continue cooking. The cheese sticks should only take 1 to 2 minutes total to cook. Let them drain on a paper towel after frying. They should be crispy and golden brown on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside.

Here's a recipe that can easily be changed (I'll share a few variations) and is great for parties or potlucks:

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms
2 pounds cremini or white button mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
1 8 oz. pkg cream cheese, softened
1/2 C. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 C. grated provolone cheese
2 Tbsp fresh chopped chives, sage, basil...whatever fresh herbs you have on hand
1 pound Italian sausage (or your favorite bulk sausage), browned and drained
Salt and Pepper to taste
4 Tbsp melted butter

Mix together cream cheese, 1/4 C. parmesan cheese, provolone cheese, herbs, and sausage. Season with salt and pepper if necessary. Fill the mushroom caps with the cheese and sausage mixture. Place in a large baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese and evenly pour over the melted butter. bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes or until the tops of the mushrooms are golden brown. Serve warm.

There are a lot of variations with this recipe. You can really use what ever kind of cheese you'd like. You can also substitute the sausage for a package of frozen spinach that's been thawed and drained. You could also use chopped artichoke hearts or bell peppers or a combination of all 3 vegetables. Oh! And as Howie pointed out during the show, if you're using white button mushrooms, reserve the stems, chop them up and add them to the filling. That way there's no waste :)

If you need some more ideas for quick, easy, and yummy appetizers send us me an e-mail at thegeekygourmet@gmail.com

Enjoy!
Elle

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I'm strong to the finish, because I totally love spinach!

However, I am not Popeye the sailor man. But, I do love the cartoon :)

This week's installment of the Geeky Gourmet was about a leafy green that most kids grow up hating- spinach. Yes, it's green and it's good for you. It's enough to send my boyfriend running for the hills. Well, really he just makes these hilarious faces and says ewww!

Me? I love spinach! Howie really likes it too, so I think we both really had a lot of fun with this show. Howie even contributed a recipe of his grandmother's. We found some pretty interesting things about the nutritional value along with all the other research. Did you know spinach contains tryptophan? Yeah, I didn't either. And while it's true that a serving of spinach has a good portion of your daily iron intake in it, vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese, and folate are much more prominent nutrients.

I find that spinach is fairly easy to grow, if that's something you're interested in. The key to growing spinach is loose, nutrient rich soil and a good balance of sun light. Too much direct light will damage the leaves. Bright morning sun and afternoon shade are ideal, along with plenty of water.

There are a lot of uses for spinach in either of it's forms. I use the frozen stuff when making dips, stuffings, or casseroles. I like the fresh leaves when making salads, sandwiches, and when sauteing or creaming it as a side dish. And speaking of lots of uses, here are a few recipes as promised:

Howie's Grandmother's Borekas

2 bunches of spinach (2 boxes of frozen spinach, thawed and drained or 2 regular bags of fresh spinach should work)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
1 box of phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, well beaten plus 1 Tbsp cold water (egg wash)

Mix all ingredients (except phyllo and butter) together well in a bowl. Set aside. Layer 2 sheets of phyllo together, brushing melted butter between each layer. Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, cut the phyllo into approximately 2-inch wide strips, length wise. Place a small amount of the spinach mixture at the top of each column of phyllo. Fold the phyllo into triangles like you would a paper football or a flag. Brush the tops with egg wash. Place on a sheet pan. Bake all the Borekas on a greased or lined sheet pan at 350 degrees F for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown on top; "Bake until done", according to the original recipe. Just be mindful of when you put these in the oven. Phyllo can over-bake or burn really easily.


Here's a "weird" one. It is a little different, but tasty and refreshing:

Watermelon and Spinach Salad

1 bag of baby spinach
3 C. watermelon (seeded or seedless), diced
6-8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 C. red onion, VERY thinly sliced
Your favorite vinaigrette, sweet and sour or poppy seed dressing

Top a bed of fresh, baby spinach with the red onion, feta and watermelon. Finish with the dressing of your choice. Simple, right? And it's tasty, too :)

And finally, something that's making a come back on Steakhouse menu's across the U.S., Creamed Spinach

1 bag of baby spinach
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 C. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat olive oil and garlic together in a pan until the garlic is fragrant, then add all the spinach. Allow the spinach to wilt for 3-4 minutes before adding the cream. Add the cream to the wilted spinach and continue cooking for 5 minutes to reduce the cream. Add the nutmeg and season the, now, creamed spinach with salt and pepper to your liking. Serve hot and enjoy! Adding a little grated parmesan never hurt, either ;)


I hope y'all have enjoyed the show and will try the recipes. If you've got questions or comments, just let us know! Find us on Facebook, Twitter or e-mail us at thegeekygourmet@gmail.com

Elle

Friday, September 24, 2010

Shaping up to be a great weekend!

I'm taking a minute to post a non-Geeky Gourmet related entry. After all, this blog is still a more personal means of expressing myself and it ain't all about the show (don't tell Howie I said that).

Today was a great start to my weekend and I promise it's sorta food related. My darling, sweet boyfriend asked me out on a date. I sometimes think I made it too easy for him, in the beginning of our now 3 year relationship. I told him a few nights ago, "You should ask me out sometime." Sure enough, he asked me out on a picnic lunch! But then the question was, what to eat? I thought it only fair, that since he asked me out, he should figure the lunch part out. We have both come to really enjoy sushi (cooked or raw) and that's what he was craving. But I was unsure if our local sushi joint allowed take-out orders. Sushi isn't typically something I would think of on a take-out menu. To my surprise and our luck, they do! So Charlie got a small variety of sushi to share, some veggie fried rice for me, and 2 tempura chicken strips for him. He told the nice woman who took the order that it was for a picnic and she included two house salads for us for no extra charge. How nice! So he picked up lunch and I made "Mexican Hot Chocolate" brownies. They had cinnamon and vanilla in them for a nice little twist to a typical chocolate brownie. All in all, it turned out to be an eclectic little lunch, but it was very nice. We found a shady spot in the SC Botanical Gardens and enjoyed the food and each others' company. It was an awesome way to start my weekend.

And tomorrow...tomorrow is Euphoria. It's a big, fancy culinary festival in Greenville, SC (about an hour from my house). I am beyond excited! Bryan Voltaggio (from Top Chef: Las Vegas), Kevin Rathbun (of the Rathbun Brothers and Rathbun's Steak House in Atlanta), Justin Bogle (of GILT, New York), and a few other awesome chefs will be there doing demonstrations and will be guest chefs at various wine dinners in Greenville's premiere restaurants. Did I mention that Edwin McCain is originally from Greenville and he'll be there as well? I was so looking forward to Greenville getting publicity like this, but sad I wouldn't be able to go. Tickets aren't cheap and I'm a broke culinary student.

However, I'm incredibly spoiled by my aunts and lucky to have them. They paid for me to go to the Tasting Showcase on Saturday. This is the day where demonstrations are being held (hosted by all the star chefs), wine tastings, wine lectures from world class sommliers and food. Lots of food. I...oh man I can't wait! I'm going to take lots of pictures, hopefully get an autograph or 5 and I'll have lots of stories to share when I get back. Yay! I guess all of that homework I was planning on doing Saturday will just have to wait. What a shame.

I hope everyone else has a great weekend, too!
<3 Elle

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Glorious Butter!

Show #3 is here and we're talking about butter! We have some fun facts to share and some recipes, too. I hope you'll give us a listen and enjoy :)

In the first segment, I mention that I was at my Aunt's wedding a few weekends ago and that the theme was cows; Jerseys and Holsteins. It was all very adorable. And here's the cake!



(And also a cowbell...)


A few fun facts I forgot to mention on the show:
~It takes roughly 10 quarts (or 21 pounds) of whole milk to make 1 pound of butter.
~Food scientists have discovered over 120 unique flavor compounds in butter which contribute to it's flavor.
~The United States produces 1.2 billion pounds of butter each year.
~Butter (like *many* other things) was once used as currency. People would barter for merchandise at a town store or general store with butter.

Now to the really good stuff- the recipes!

Mason Jar Butter
1 pint of heavy cream*
1 large mason jar with lid and ring
cheese cloth

Let the cream come to room temperature. Pour it into the mason jar, put the lid on VERY tightly and shake it to your heart's content! It'll take 20-30 minutes to actually form the butter. I made this little project a family affair (because my arms was getting tired). My family took turns with me. I did manage to take a few pictures so you know what to expect.

Starting out with cream and a jar with a good, tight fitting lid.



After about 5-6 minutes, it should be a beautiful whipped cream consistency.


When you hit the 15-20 minute mark, you should start seeing something like this. The butter is starting to form, meaning the butter fat is separating from the buttermilk.


You can stop shaking when you see this- a big clump of butter in the middle of all that liquid.

Now comes the dirty work. You need to get a medium bowl and place a few layers of cheese cloth in the bottom. Pour all the contents (solid and liquid) on top of the cheese cloth. Strain the butter, then rinse it under cold water (while wrapped in the cheese cloth) until the water starts to run clear. Then dab the little bundle of joy with a paper towel to get rid of any excess water. Finally, put your butter into an air tight container and voila! Homemade butter. And let me tell you, it's worth the sore muscles. If you'd like to have salted butter, add about a half teaspoon of salt after the butter is made and rinsed. Mix it very well before storing. This makes just under a cup of butter.

Yay! Almost done. Just have to rinse and add salt. Then you have...


...glorious, fresh butter!

*It's best to use regular ole heavy cream. Avoid "whipping cream" as sometimes it contains a bit of a sweetner. It's also a good idea to avoid "Ultra-Pasteurized" cream. It's hard to come by around these parts, but the fresher and the less it's been processed, the better.

And now, death by cookies! Brought to you by the American Heart Association's list of things that will clog your arteries! Okay, not really. But these are definitely meant to be a treat and made every once in a while.

Buttery, buttery shortbread cookies
2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (F). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the butter with a hand mixer or a in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes. Then add the sugar and cream together for 2-3 minutes at medium speed. Add the cornstarch and flour. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated. Roll into 1 inch balls and flatten them on the cookie sheet slightly with your fingers or palm. Bake at 350 degrees (F) for about 15 to 18 minutes. The tops should be VERY light, golden brown. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. They are totally yummy while slightly warm, but they taste even better the next day. The recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies.




Compounds Butters
Apricot-chipotle butter:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Tbsp chipotle in adobo sauce (1 chipotle seeded and minced, plus sauce)
2-3 Tbsp of apricot preseves (depending on how sweet you'd like it)

Garden Butter:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp of the following (fresh or dried):
Basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, lemon zest
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove of garlic finely minced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cinnamon-honey butter:
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp honey

To make any of these, simply blend all ingredients well with a spatula, hand mixer, or in a stand mixer. You can serve these as just a spread or you can roll the butter into logs and freeze them. Then cut slices of the logs to top meat, potatoes, or soups for a last minute addition of flavor.

Hollandaise
Here is the best reference and set of recipes I could find for Hollandaise. I took a second look at Alton Brown's and realized that I only used his measurements, but everything else was different. So, here ya go. Happy sauce making!

Questions, comments, etc.? We want to hear them! Leave a comment here on the blog, on our Facebook page or at thegeekygourmet@gmail.com and we'll get back to you asap :)

<3 Elle

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fat Show Follow-Up

Just a few things to mention in regards to the Fat Show on The Geeky Gourmet:

  • Lemon confit using beef tallow? TERRIBLE idea. I'm going to give myself a little bit of credit for experimentation, but that's it. It's vile. Just don't do it.
  • Hot Doug's in Chicago- If you have the opportunity to go, DO IT! If I ever get the chance to visit Chicago, I know I'm going. And if you do go, report back. Please let us know how you liked it. (P.S. It has it's own theme song!)
  • The Chip Shop has 2 different locations and can be found online here. *site makes noise
  • To find out more about the Texas State Fair and all of it's fried food glory, check this out.
There are a few more recipes to come; I believe I still owe y'all a few fig recipes. So, keep watching and listening!

Elle

Friday, September 3, 2010

Respect the Fat!

Show #2 is here and ready to go! It's all about fat. More specifically, animal fats like lard, griebenscmalz, beef tallow...things like that. I had a lot of fun getting prepared for this show. I always learn something new from our research. I also tend to learn things from Howie. I mean, I might be the expert, but he's old. And with age comes knowledge of things from long ago. I'm totally going to get in trouble that statement.

As always, there is at least one recipe to go along with the show. And here it is!



Cracklin' Cornbread

1/4 cup butter or bacon grease

2 cups self-rising cornmeal

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups buttermilk*

2 large eggs, beaten

2 tsp. sugar or honey

1 cup cracklin's (the fresher, the better)



Heat a large cast-iron skillet** in a 425 degree oven for about 4 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the cornmeal, flour, buttermilk, and eggs just until combined. Try not to over mix. Lumps are ok. Gently fold in the cracklin's last. Carfeully take the pan out of the oven (please remember your oven mit!) and melt your butter or bacon grease in the hot pan- slightly tip and swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Pour the cornbread batter into the hot pan and place it back in the oven for about 25 minutes.



*You can use whole milk, however buttermilk is recommended; not only for it's flavor, but for moisture.

**If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, you can do the same steps with a glass or metal baking dish.



Now, I do have a little secret to share. If you're worried about your cornbread being dry you should try adding one small can of creamed corn. Trust me, the above recipe is fool proof. It's moist and the flavors are well balanced every time (as long as you don't over cook it). But if you like a creamier, more pudding-like consistancy, try this little trick.



Try the recipe ,if you are so inclined, and tell me what you think about it! Take a picture and send it in, send a comment or a suggestion for other recipes, send a recipe of yours...we'd love to hear from you! Send to thegeekygourmet@gmail.com



I hope y'all are enjoying the show and the blog and the recipes and...well, everything! thanks for the support and thanks for listening!



Elle

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Shocked and humbled


It's been 4 days since The Geeky Gourmet made it's debut. We now have 145 people who "like" us on Facebook and we've seen nearly 100 unique IP addresses download the show. That means that at least 145 people know we exist and almost 100 people have listened to some part of our show. Those are very exciting numbers! You'd think that those facts would inflate my ego. However, it's very humbling to know that many people care about me and Howie and what we're doing. The support from everyone is such a blessing. This gives me motivation to make improvements where needed, always keep our listeners interested, and to not let y'all down.

This experience has been a lot of fun. The facts that we come across through research, the funny blogs we read, or the things I see that inspire me...it's all such a pleasure! I'm even enjoying learning about the recording and radio business. And when we're actually recording the show? It's a blast! I couldn't ask for a better co-host (or producer). With that said, I'll admit that it is a bit of work. While I can honestly say I know a lot of this off the top of my head, I do want to be sure I get my facts straight before I claim to be "the expert" and tell our listeners all about it. I try to make sure I'm not leading anyone astray. There is lots of research done. There's also a good bit of planning involved.

The best part, for me, is sharing my passion with others. I love to cook and bake and basically be immersed in the culinary world. If I didn't I wouldn't have this blog and I certainly wouldn't be making this show. My personal goal for The Geeky Gourmet is to share the knowledge I have about one of the greatest passions in my life. If you're interested in something, you generally want to learn more about it, right? I want to help people with that. If you are interested in something that I know lots about, I'd love to share what I know with you. And if I don't know so much, then I'd like to learn more about it myself!

I have a good many things left to learn. I hope that I never stop learning, actually. And I'll always be able to make improvements. That is the case in many aspects of my life and career. My cooking skills and the food I create can always be made better. My relationships with friends and family can always be made just a little bit stronger. There will always be room for improvement in our show. The important thing is to have a strong foundation. And that's what I/we have. Now it's time to start moving forward and adding on to what we've already got.

I'm extremely proud of Howie and myself and the show we're producing. I appreciate all the support and feedback. It means more to me than I can convey in writing. I hope that you'll all keep reading, keep listening, and keep learning.

<3 Elle

P.S. We now have a gmail account! If you've got a recipe you'd like to submit, a story to share, or if you just want to say "Hi!", write us at thegeekygourmet@gmail.com. And as always, you can find us on our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Insert fanfare music here!

Y'all! It's here! My first show! And while the show is called "The Geeky Gourmet", you're going to find out why I am the Giggly Gourmet. There are a lot of giggles. But beyond that, there is good information and a show that I'm really proud of. Howie did an amazing job co-hosting and producing this. It is the first one, so there are always some glitches. The good news is that it only gets better from here.

I really hope you all enjoy this and of course I welcome constructive critiques, comments, and questions.

Show #1- Figs!

The show is split into 4 segments, basically so it makes it easier to download and/or e-mail.

Below are some of the recipes I talked about on the show. There will be more of them posted later this week. Some just need a little more testing before I feel comfortable enough to share them.

Fig Tart
10-inch pastry crust:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3-4 Tbsp cold water

In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until the particles are pea sized. Sprinkle in the water a little at a time moving the flour with your hands to try and work the mixture into a ball. If it's a little sticky, add a bit more flour. Wrap it in plastic and you'll want to refrigerate the dough ball for about an hour. After it's chilled, place the dough on a floured board and roll it out into a 12-inch circle. Place the dough in a 10-inch tart or pie pan and press it in gently so it clings to the sides. Trim any dough hanging off the sides of the baking pan and patch any holes or cracks with dough scraps. Using a fork, perforate the dough all over. This will help the air escape so the crust doesn't puff up. Pre-bake the crust in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or just until it is very lightly browned. Cool completely before filling.

Tart Filling:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp candied lemon peel, minced (or 1 tsp fresh lemon zest)
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
12-15 fresh figs, quartered

Combine all ingredients except for the figs. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell. Arrange the figs on top of the filling in an even, single layer. I chose to arrange them in a circular fashion. Bake the completed tart for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. The middle may be slightly gooey.

Cool completely, cut, and serve!



Figs "Foster"
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom (optional)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup dark rum
10 figs, halved
vanilla or brown sugar ice cream

Combine the butter, spices, and brown sugar in a skillet. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Carefully place the figs in the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. Then, add the rum and continue cooking the mixture until the rum is hot. VERY CAREFULLY set the rum aflame with a long stick lighter or long match. If you have a gas stove, you can gently tilt the pan to catch the flame that way, as well. When the flame subsides, lift the figs out of the pan and divide them evenly among portions of ice cream. Spoon the warm sauce over the figs and ice cream.dd

Serve immediately.

**The step in the recipe where you set it on fire is completely optional. I still recommend adding the rum for flavor, though. If you don't want to use rum, you can add about 1/3 cup of apple juice to thin the sauce.


Recipes coming soon:
Late Summer Salad with Roasted Figs
Thumbprint cookies with fig "jam"
Kelly's Fig preserves

Again, if you have any questions you can e-mail me (thegeekygourmet@gmail.com), leave a comment here, or find us on our Facebook page.

<3 Elle

Edit: I have a list of people I'd like to thank that I may have missed on the show (I know this isn't the Oscar's and I'm not Sally Field, but regardless...):

My parents for putting up with my nonsense, letting me ruin the kitchen, being my tech support, and being my guinea pigs.

My Aunts L and S for being wonderful foodies and full of ideas.

My Charlie for putting crazy ideas in my head, wanting me to cook, eating my food whether it's good or not, and for coming up with crazy food combinations that actually work.

Justin for his awesome artistic abilities and creating such a great logo.

My slores for keeping me calm and level headed when I get nervous about trying new things.

Howie for making me start this blog again, being my fantastic co-host, having enough faith in me to pull this show off, and for doing a rock awesome job editing and producing.

Publix of Anderson, SC for having figs and always being so nice!

And all of you! The people reading this now, listening to the show, and spreading the word. Thank you so much!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The delicious and grand world of sandwiches!

It is now what I consider to be the "dog days" of summer here in good ole South Kakalaki. Well, okay. Let's face it. It's been the "dog days" of summer since about June 1st. It's hot, muggy, sticky, buggy, and just all around unpleasant until about 11 o'clock at night. Who wants to heat up the oven and do serious cooking in that kind of weather? I know I don't. That's a sure-fire way to heat up the house and send your electric bill skyrocketing. I tend to use the stove as little as possible during the day. The grill is most definitely my friend in the summer. Sure it's hot outside, but I'll have a nice cool house to walk into when my steaks are done, provided I haven't used the oven. I also tend to make a lot of salads. Nice for a couple of reasons- I don't have to heat up the house and I use the fresh produce from my container garden. As much as I love to grill and as versatile as salads can be, there is still one thing meal that is my "go to" meal in the summer. A sandwich (which can be made using something grilled or can be paired with a yummy salad). To me, the sky is the limit when it comes to sandwiches. There are so many different categories and varieties and they are extremely customizable. You've got burgers, tortas, pitas, subs, panini, deli sandwiches, po' boys, breakfast sandwiches/biscuits, banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich)...so many wonderful options.

One of those options happens to be Charlie's favorite. He loves burgers. I compare him to Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon and comics for his love of hamburgers. "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." So for my dear boyfriend's birthday, he wanted burgers; and lots of them. I got a bit creative and decided to make him a sampler of sliders. The sliders turned out a little bigger than planned, but I can assure you that Charlie didn't mind. I made 2 of the burgers with fresh, lean bison. I made the other 4 with 80/20 ground chuck. That's right. 6 burgers in all! They each had a different kind of cheese and a strip of bacon on them. I used Maytag bleu, Ementalar, Provolone, Kerrigold white cheddar, gruyere, and regular cheddar cheeses. Between that and some sweet potato oven fries, he had a very happy birthday dinner!

I, personally, have been on a panini kick. I love the melty goodness of Provolone cheese over warm, sliced ham and turkey. Finish it with some crispy bacon and fresh, juicy tomato (from my garden). All of that gets piled between two crusty, buttery slices of toasted bread. I'll give you a minute to clean the drool off your keyboard. (Okay, ready now?) It's wonderful! Now, I don't have a fancy panini press. Who needs it! I'm sure it's a nice gadget to have if you have the counter space...just like that George Foreman grill that is now gathering dust and grease in kitchens across the country. Uh huh. There's no point in hiding it now. I'm talking to you! But honestly? I find that a cast-iron grill pan and another plain cast-iron pan do the trick very nicely. Cast-iron isn't necessary. Neither is a grill pan for that matter, though I do enjoy the lovely brown grill marks the sandwich gets. Basically you need two heavy duty pans. Build the sandwich, heat one pan to medium-high, add a touch of butter or cooking spray to the pan, place the sandwich in the pan, put the other pan (bottom side down) on top of the sandwich to weigh it down. Press gently or set a few cans of beans/fruit/tomatoes in the pan if necessary to add more weight. Your goal is to make a thinner, crispier version of the sandwich you initially built. If you like grilled cheese sandwiches, I highly recommend the panini method for those as well.




Burgers and panini are not the end-all-be-all of sandwiches. As I said, the sky truly is the limit. So if you're looking for something different to make for supper without heating up your kitchen, don't forget about sandwiches! They aren't just for lunch anymore.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The GEEKY Gourmet

I have some fantastic news! I am now the very proud host of a new podcast coming to an Internet portal near you! That's right. "The Geeky Gourmet" is a podcast hosted by myself and a very good friend of mine, Howie (who is also my producer). We're talking about all things food and not holding back. You'll hear us discuss cookbooks, produce, eating seasonally, kitchen gadgets, tailgating food, wine, coffee, pig milk, recipes, food trends, meat, grocery stores and markets...anything and everything in between. Our goal is to talk about food and have fun doing it. We want to encourage others to embrace the many aspects of the culinary world and maybe even teach them something new.

We just got done recording the inaugural show. It was a lot of fun and we're both extremely excited! At the moment, it's a fun side project, but the sky is the limit. Once we get a few shows under our belts, we'll see where it takes us. **IT WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE UNTIL AUGUST 27** Next Friday is our "grand opening".

I'll be posting a link to the weekly podcast here on my blog, on our Facebook page, our Twitter, and it will be available on the host site too. We are working on getting a phone number set up to a voice mail account, as well, where listeners will be able to call in and ask questions.

I will be updating with recipes that I mention on the show, more details of what we talked about, and lessons learned from that week. I'd also love to answer any questions that I didn't get to answer on the podcast. And yes. I will continue to update normally with new things that are going on, recipes, rants, etc. So fear not! The new media isn't going to my head ;-)

I honestly can't express how excited I am about this. I hope y'all are, too!

<3 Elle

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Great Lime Massacre of 2010

It's summer time and it is particularly hot this year. In order to cool off, I tend to drink tons of water and eat ice cream. But I've grown tired of ice cream. It's hard to believe, right? I mean, unless you don't care for it in the first place, who honestly gets sick of ice cream? I couldn't make sense of what I was saying until I thought about cool, creamy alternatives that are just as delicious in the summer. One of the first things that came to mind was Key Lime Pie.

Being the specific breed of Elle that I am, I often think things are more complicated than they really are and the recipe for Key Lime Pie was no exception. Here I was thinking that I'd have to make a curd filling and pray to goodness that it doesn't come out grainy. Uh huh. Turns out this is one of the easiest recipes on the planet. I got my recipe from epicurious.com and added my own twists (of course). The ingredients go something like this:

For crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice (if using bottled, preferably Manhattan brand)

For topping:
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
Super simple. Now, remember just a few minutes ago when I mentioned that I like to make things complicated? It's true! And I'll prove it.

While I was in the grocery store, it came time to make a decision- fresh squeezed or bottled? It was $6 for a bottle of key lime juice or $2.99 per pound of key limes. Like any glutton for punishment, I chose to pick up 2 lbs of key limes and squeeze them myself. I will say that it was totally worth it. That way I could also use the zest of the key limes as well as save a few for garnish. Admittedly, my hands hurt. I used a wooden reamer and a fine mesh strainer. I also discovered another way to dull my favorite chef's knife. This can be accomplished by slicing 2 lbs. of key limes in half. Oh! And did you know key limes have seeds? I didn't. Or at least I didn't remember them having seeds. I'm so used to our little seedless limes that it really threw me off.

Below are some pictures I took of the Great Key Lime Massacre of July 2010 and the end result:

2 pounds of key limes


Let the massacre begin!



The aftermath...

The recipe makes 1 pie. I doubled the recipe to make 2; one for dessert this week and one to be frozen for later use.

The end result!

A few suggestions:

I chose to simply spread the whipped cream on top of the pie. You can also pipe the whipped cream on and make it a little more decorative if you'd like.

I highly recommend adding about a teaspoon or two of the zest if you can. I personally feel that it brings out the actual lime flavor rather than just tartness.

These pies can easily be frozen and saved for a potluck, a welcome to the neighborhood gift, or just another nightly dessert.

There is no shame in eating it frozen!





The End.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Arroz Con Pollo


Arroz con Pollo, Pollo con Arroz...tomato, tomahto. It's a classic Latin dish meaning 'rice with chicken'. I made it for supper tonight and shared a picture of it. Within a few hours I've had numerous people (via facebook and e-mail) asking for the recipe. Admittedly, I sighed. I'm one of those annoying, budding chefs who doesn't really measure or do the exact same thing twice. While I love it when people take interest in my food, giving you a recipe isn't always easy. Never-the-less, I love you all and have really thought through what I was doing tonight. Yes, I have a recipe! I do things a little differently than that of the traditional dish. I like having more control over what the chicken tastes like separately from the rice/veg, so I chose to cook mine separately. There are a few differences in what spices I used as well.

Elle's Arroz con Pollo (serves 4)

Arroz/veg:
1 medium onion, diced small
1 poblano pepper, roughly chopped
8 fresh, plum or campari tomatoes, diced large
1 can original Ro*tel
2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (if you like it hotter, add more)
1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
4 C. chicken broth, low sodium is best
2 C. long grain white rice
1/4 C. fresh chopped cilantro

Pollo:
4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts or 8 tenders, thawed and trimmed as necessary
2 to 3 Tbsp Tabasco
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
The juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder

Extras:
Fresh lime wedges
Warm flour or corn tortillas
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Vegetable or Canola oil for cooking

Marinate the chicken about 2 hours in advance by combining all liquid ingredients with the spices and pour over the chicken. Cover and place in the refrigerator.

In a medium stock pot or dutch oven*, heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil on medium-high heat. Sweat the diced onion until translucent. Then, add the poblano peppers. Cook until tender. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Next, add the fresh tomatoes. Cook until the vegetables start to look saucy, stirring frequently.When the tomatoes start to give off their juices and form a sauce with the other vegetables, add the Ro*tel, all of the spices, and about half of the chopped cilantro. Stir to combine well and continue cooking for about 3 minutes. At this point, you should check for seasoning. Add salt, pepper, or more cayenne/red pepper if you'd like. Next, stir in the rice. Coat the rice well with the vegetable mixture. Then, add the chicken broth. You will need to bring this entire mixture to a low boil. When it's reached a low boil, turn the heat down to medium/medium-low, cover, and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. While the rice is simmering, grill or saute the marinated chicken. Combine the chicken and rice when both are done, or serve separately. Fresh lime wedges, a sprinkle of cilantro, and warm tortillas are good accompaniments.

Personally:
I grilled the chicken. I like the way it looks and prefer the char-grilled flavor for this time of year. Once both chicken and rice were done, I stacked the chicken on top of the rice and sprinkled the remaining cilantro over the dish. I served the rice in a bowl with 2 chicken tenders on top, along with warm corn tortillas on the side.

*I used a well-seasoned, cast-iron dutch oven. I know not everyone has one of these and that's just fine. A medium sized, heavy-weight stock pot will do nicely.

A few final things:
~I strayed from the traditional recipe in several ways, but I'm still confident that this is damn tasty and it's close enough to still be considered a classic Arroz con Pollo dish. I didn't use saffron, because I wanted a zestier flavor and I knew the heavier spices would completely over power the scent and flavor of saffron.
~There are a lot of ingredients and you can really tame down the spice list if you'd like. Just be sure to taste the dish along the way. Seasoning each layer is very important. Use a light hand when seasoning during each step. You can always add more, but it's a lot more difficult to reduce the amount of seasoning.


Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You're gonna love my nuts!


No, really. While I don't endorse this guy or his products, I think he's hilarious (and creepy). Plus, it's true. Nuts are delicious and I think they are under appreciated. I'll give you a minute to get your mind out of the gutter.

Done? Okay, good. I really think that nuts, specifically tree nuts, aren't utilized enough. True that they are in a lot of baked, sweet, and pastry items-breads, baklava, cookies, garnishes, candied, brittles, in spreads, etc. But in the savory side of cooking, not so much.

I just ate one of my favorite pasta dishes* for dinner and the superstar of the dish is pine nuts. It got me thinking of how little nuts are used in savory dishes. Now maybe many of you can come up with a million and one savory dishes that include nuts, but I really can't. I think of pesto, peanut butter sauces in some Asian cooking (Yeah, yeah. Peanuts are ground "nuts"), stuffing or dressing, crusts for meats, and garnishes for salads.

Now, part of this under-utilization is due to allergies. I get that. I can count about 20 people or more that I know that have some sort of nut allergy. Some allergies are very severe. It's tragic. I'm very fortunate to not have any known food allergies, so I can't relate. And honestly, more for me!

Nuts can add healthy oils that your body needs to your diet. Nut oils can add great flavor to a simple meat or vegetable dish. Tired of olive oil? Try using walnut oil. Just be mindful of your cooking temperature. Certain nut oils can burn fast and shouldn't be used for frying. Need some texture in your pasta or rice? Toast some pecans or almonds and toss them in for crunch. Take a few risks and play with your food. Pine nuts in a simple marinara sauce changes the flavor entirely. Roasted, chopped walnuts (and some golden raisins) in sauteed spinach is fantastic and adds a gourmet touch to what can be a boring green. And please, please, please use a different nut to make pesto. Traditional pesto is great, but have you tried using pistachios instead? You ought to. The next time you need a new idea, think about using some nuts in your savory recipe.

*My supper was linguini with prosciutto and pine nuts. Toast 3 Tbsp of pine nuts in a dry saute pan. Remove when just starting to turn golden and smell nutty; allow to cool. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in a pan. Add a serving of linguini or whatever pasta you have on hand, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Warm through. Add two slices of prosciutto cut into ribbons. Toss the pine nuts back in and finish with a few leaves of basil, torn. Top with parmagiano if you'd like (I, personally, do like). It's a great way to use up leftover pasta.

~Elle

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One for the ladies...

Ladies, I'd like to introduce you to a culinary dreamboat. He's tall, dark, and handsome. He has the most intense eyes that still have a softness to them. He's a tattooed bad-ass who rides a motorcycle. He's a big ole flirt. And more importantly, he is a world class pastry chef. I present, Johnny Iuzzini:



Isn't he just wonderful? So he might not be everyone's type, but he sure does it for me.

He has a book out called "Dessert Fourplay" (released in 2008). It is his first and long awaited cookbook. I will hopefully be adding it to my collection soon. In this collection of recipes, he shows us complimentary flavors and a variety of textures to create a quartet of mini desserts that are meant to be served together. I do have somewhat of an issue with "trendy food". However, he's the trend setter; always presenting the most cutting edge tastes and textures in the pastry world. One of many things I particularly enjoy about his desserts is that they are not overly sweet. He doesn't always add gobs and gobs of sugar. It's nice to see that, especially with the way the world is changing it's eating habits and becoming more health conscious. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a chocoholic and I love my sweets. But after a truly gourmet meal, I hate to ruin my palette with a ton of sugar. I find it's also easier to keep with the ideas of sustainability if you cut out white sugar. Again, I love my sweets and Dixie Crystals won't be getting thrown out of this house anytime soon, but it's a refreshing approach to the vast and eclectic world of pastries.

On the flip side of that, he does use some interesting things in his recipes. For example, Coco Puffs and candied rose petals. He'll take super sweet things and pair them with chiles and cinnamon. He plays with spicy and savory vs sugary and sweet. He also experiments with a variety of textures. He's not afraid to try new things and think outside the box. And that is what makes you a trend setter in this industry.

I hope I have the gumption to achieve the things he has. It just goes to show that playing with your food can really get you ahead of the game. Play with your food and think outside the box!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In a pickle!


Everything in my container garden is starting to take off. I've finally got tomatoes coming in. I've been using all of my herbs like crazy. There have been radishes and spinach and I even got my first zucchini. Then, there is the matter of my deck-eating cucumber plant. The same thing happened last year. If I never grow anything else in my life, I'm 99.9% sure I will always be able to grow cucumbers. This plant has a mind of it's own. I can usually harvest at least one cucumber a day. This will last for at least another month. I love cucumbers. Home-grown ones are like no other. But lately I've had so many that I haven't been able to use them before they go bad.

One obvious solution to this issue is to make pickles. However, I'm extremely picky about my pickles. I like them cold cured, never cooked. I prefer sour or savory over sweet flavored. I like thick cut round, whole, or spears. I'd rather they not be crinkle-cut or salad cubes. I'm not a big fan of the sandwich slices either. See? Picky about pickles. So I did a little research to find a good refrigerator pickle recipe that involves absolutely no cooking. I found one! Of course, I tweaked it to my preferences, but it was a great base recipe to start with. It goes something like this:

2 cups cold water
1/3 cup vinegar*
1 Tbsp Kosher or sea salt
2 tsp sugar
5 whole peppercorns
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 medium cucumbers, cut into 1/4 inch rounds or 3 inch long spears
1 large Mason jar with lid OR a sturdy zip-top bag

*The recipe calls for white wine vinegar. I used cider vinegar, personally. This is where personal preference comes into play. However, balsamic vinegar is not recommended.

Mix all ingredients except cucumbers until the salt and sugar are dissolved to create a quick brine. Place the cucumber pieces in the bag or jar, then add the brine. Place the new pickles in the refrigerator to cure. If you use a zip-top bag, you will need to turn the pickles twice a day. If you use a Mason jar, invert the jar a few times, once a day. These "light pickles" will take about 2 days to cure.

Chef's note: I also chose to add some chopped dill to my brine. For a spicy flavor, you could add some red pepper flakes. If you like an old-fashioned pickle taste, use a teaspoon or two of traditional pickling spice. These pickles will be lighter in flavor if you follow the above recipe. You can experiment with the amount of vinegar you use if you'd like a stronger or weaker flavor.

I just made my first batch tonight and have to wait a few days before they're ready. I'll let you know how the turn out. And if you try this, please let me know how it worked for you!

Original recipe credit: Instructables.com