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


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