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.

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.

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.

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

<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.


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


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