Thursday, August 25, 2011

To those of you still making Hamburger Helper...

...just stop it! Stop it right now! You'll get cancer and die. Well, maybe not. But there are unpronounceable words in that stuff! Why would you want to eat that?

I know a topic like this isn't very "gourmet", but I had this epiphany when I was flying around like a mad woman trying to come up with something to make my fiance for dinner. I was running late (as usual) and had about 30 minutes to cook something, put it in a container, and send him on his way to work (3rd shift). I thought about burgers or some kind of pasta dish, because he enjoys both. And then the little light bulb in my head came on and I combined the ideas. It turned out to be my version of Hamburger Helper, which tastes way better and could possibly be slightly healthier. Healthier in the sense that you won't get cancer from the preservatives and weird chemicals. By eating my version, you may just have a heart attack. That's easier to come back from than cancer, obviously.*

Anyway, this is a quick meal that I was able to put together in just under 20 minutes. Add a salad or some sauteed veggies for a side dish to lessen the guilt factor.

Elle's [non-cancer causing] Hamburger Helper
1 bag of egg noodles (extra-wide)
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pint cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Boil the egg noodles in salty water until al dente; drain and set aside. In a large skillet, brown the ground beef on medium heat until just cooked through (do not over cook). Strain off any excess fat if necessary. With the skillet set to medium-high, add the cream to the ground beef. When the cream starts to bubble add the spices and stir thoroughly. Then, add the cheese. Continuously stir the mixture until the cheese has melted to make a creamy sauce. Turn the heat off and add in the parsley last.

Ta-da! Dinner :)

I added some frozen peas before I added the cream. You can add any kind of frozen vegetable if you so desire. Charlie just happened to ask for peas. You can also adjust the seasonings and spices as you see fit. Adding some chili powder and ground cumin along with the garlic powder will yield a more "taco" flavored version. Using ground turkey or chicken would be a good alternative to the ground beef, too. As always, I encourage you to play around with the spices and ingredients to suit your tastes.

Now, put down the box of sodium and preservatives and eat something really yummy instead!

*Just as an aside, I know that cancer and heart attacks aren't funny. Luckily, sarcasm can be hilarious. And in my own little world, I'm a hilarious, sarcastic person who happens to be a fabulous chef.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

When last we met...

...Our heroine was unemployed and had too much time on her hands. This allowed her to rant and rave about idiotic television shows. The reason you haven't heard from her since June? She got a job and has been fantastically busy trying to earn a living!

Alright, enough with the third person. It hurts my brain. But yes, I am now gainfully employed and I feel comfortable and settled enough in said job to talk about it with little fear of jinxing myself. And it all started with a message on Facebook.

I was working on a spreadsheet, re-organizing my job hunting processes when I realized I had a message on Facebook. It was from Matt, the former sous chef at Jax, the Bistro where I held my first official restaurant job. When Jax closed (two months after I began working there), we all went our separate ways and I really didn't keep in touch with anyone...with the exception of being "friends" with a few of them on that little social networking site we all love to hate. It's a good thing, too, because he offered me a position as a garde manger at the restaurant he is currently working at. I was surprised that he even remembered me. But after a few phone calls and in-person interviews with the general manager and the owner, I'm SO VERY glad he did remember me.

The restaurant is called Sullivan's Metropolitan Grill. It's in downtown Anderson, about two blocks away from Jax (which is now the Main Street Deli, I believe). The kitchen is small, but nice. I work with a great group of people and I have a pretty rockin' schedule. The schedule may change as the "busy season" gets closer, but for now I still have weekends off. And in this industry? That's dream worthy. My boss isn't a drunk or an uptight, shady European with jealousy issues. And let me tell you, that is a major plus.

I'll admit that I'm tired. Getting back into the swing of things has taken more time than I'd anticipated. But I'm happy to be employed. I'm happy to have an income again. I'm happy to be in a kitchen again. I'm just...happy. It's great!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From the exciting world of the unemployed

As you've noticed, I haven't written since February. I'd love to say that it's because I've been so terrifically busy at work that I just haven't had the time. Well I was terrifically busy at work from February to April. Then I got fired. Unfairly, I might add, but that's all water under the bridge. Am I still bitter? Sure. I legitimately feel like I got screwed. But I've moved on and am back on the prowl for something new. I'm volunteering at a local daycare until I can find someone willing to pay me for my services. It's the daycare I attended when I was little, oddly enough. That allows to me to keep something that resembles a schedule and it gets me out of the damn house. Plus, I get to work with kids again!

In other news, I've successfully made a beautiful paella for the first time since culinary school (which I've completed, by the way). I had my first experience at a gulf coast fish market- surprisingly less smelly than I anticipated. I've done a decent amount of traveling already this summer and am making good progress on my little black book*. I'm sure there are a lot of other things that have happened between February 3rd and now, but I sat down with the intention to write something. So, naturally, all of the things that I intended to write about flew out of my brain like buttered popcorn JellyBellies fly out of a car window.

*My little black book is what will eventually, some day, by the grace of God and a publisher, become my first cookbook.

Ah! I suppose there is one thing I can write/vent about. I mentioned on my Facebook page recently that I don't like the show "Chopped" on the Food Network. Actually, the original post had little to do with "Chopped". It's funny how the main point was barely noticed because many started jumping to the defense of "Chopped". Here-

"Just heard a guy on 'The Next Food Network Star' say that his head band redistributes his mojo through his epidermis. I hate this show more than 'Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade' and 'Chopped' COMBINED. I haven't seen more than 5 minutes of this entire season and I've already thrown things."

I'm sorry Sandra. It's not you, it's...okay yes. It's you. And Ted Allen, it is definitely not you. It's the idiots that participate in that show. I'm now going to add a disclaimer so that you all don't end up thinking I'm a complete bonehead who only hates the show because I "don't get it".

Disclaimer: No, really. I get it. The contestants are in a strange kitchen working next to strangers that they have to out do. They are also working right in front of the people who will decide their fate. They have cameras in their faces. They have time limits for each course. They are working with completely random ingredients that are a literal mystery to them until they open those stupid baskets. It's a lot of pressure and I don't know that I, myself, would be successful at that sorta thing. And yes, I've seen the challenges where the celebrity chefs and judges compete. Even they struggled and admitted how hard it was. But they still didn't make the mistakes that I consistently see from the general pool of contestants.

With that said and out of the way...I STILL REALLY HATE THAT SHOW! Way too often I see episodes with chefs that haven't worked with the simplest ingredients, like grits. Really?! Never even tasted grits? Okay, fine. But when in doubt, read the package directions. Other people do it all the time. There's no shame in that! I'm not a big fan (truth be told it bothers me more than it should) of the smack talk and the phrases that basically amount to, "I'm such an amazing chef, no one can touch me. And my poo doesn't stink, either!" The rookie mistakes are inexcusable. If you don't have time to devein shrimp, you might want to reevaluate your dish. Please! I also feel that there are entirely too many episodes where people cut themselves. And out of those episodes, there are entirely too many people who don't even bother to put a glove on! That kinda thing literally makes me gag. Finally, the excuse of "I'm not a pastry chef" that passes through a contestant's lips when their dessert has utterly failed, is a cop out of gargantuan proportions and I don't want to hear it any more.

I'm so glad that people like it. If you can put up with all of that and find that it still has entertainment value, more power to you! But those reasons I stated above (and many more) are why I get angry and yell at the television and irrationally throw things when it comes on. I don't know if they fear for my health or their safety, but at the request of my family, I've stopped watching.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adventures in Pasta Making!

One of my favorite cuisines to eat and to cook is regional Italian. Specifically, I adore fresh pasta. I think it's a great canvas for delicious, simple flavors that Italian cooks are known for. Recently I've been educating myself, trying to learn more about pasta. I've attempted to make fresh pasta from scratch several times over the last few years and I can't seem to get it quite right. But, a few nights ago, I ventured back into the world of fresh pasta. I think I'm coming a lot closer to getting it right. Well, I'm closer than I've ever been. I'll say that much.

I chose to make ravioli this time around. My dad prefers meat fillings, while my mother and I prefer cheese fillings. So I made some of each. I used sweet sausage, herbs and spices, and a bit of marscapone cheese for the meat filled ravioli. For the cheese filled ravioli I used ricotta, parmigiano reggiano, marscapone, herbs and spices, 1 egg, and a bit of seasoned breadcrumbs to thicken the mixture. For the dough, I tried to take a traditional approach so I followed the directions that came with my pasta machine (which is from Italy). The recipe called for 500 grams of flour and 5 whole eggs. I worked the dough and let it rest for about 30 minutes before rolling it out, cutting it, and filling it.

All-in-all, it was a great experience and the ravioli tasted awesome. I was very proud of myself! I know I'm giving you the "Cliff's Notes" version of my little adventure, but I'm not really prepared to share a recipe with you. I'll leave the pasta recipes to the professionals, for now. I'm still learning. BUT! I do have pictures to share, so here you go!

<3 Elle

Monday, January 31, 2011

Doot do-doot do do...

Not much to report, currently. I'm still waiting to hear back from the bakery- still holding out hope for that job opportunity. Beyond that, I will continue on in the hunt for gainful employment. It's proving difficult, but I won't give up. Someone out there wants to hire me. They just haven't met me yet.

Oh! Howie and I have started recording The Geeky Gourmet again. We're a bit out of sync, but a little practice will get us right back in to a rhythm. Unfortunately, Howie is having serious issues with his sound/recording equipment or possibly something else entirely. He's going to have to rewire his entire office tonight and hopefully fix the problem. With that said, we have yet to complete a new installment of our show. HOWEVER! Once his computer issues are resolved, we'll be back!

My apologies for not having anything fun or exciting to report. I will have something a bit more stimulating to write about next time, because I'm going on another wonderful adventure in the world of pasta making tonight! It is my intention to create delicious, homemade ravioli and marinara. I'll let you know just how delicious (or disastrous) this all turns out.



Elle's Adventures in Dining out (or eating in)

Central, South Carolina (another for the locals)
Taco Loco
This small, unassuming "dive" is located in an old strip mall. You most likely would not even notice it if someone didn't make you aware of it's presence next to the Dollar General. The owners are originally from California and they've brought with them some of the best burritos I've ever had. Of course it helps that they make their own tortillas and sauces in-house. Everything is fresh and cooked to order. If you want something a little different, try a torta- a Mexican sub sandwich. You'll love every bite!
Price range: $5 to $10
Dine in, carry out

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Beware of exploding potatoes!

This has happened to me before, so it's not a new experience. But I didn't have this blog then and therefore no one to share my wisdom with. Aren't you so lucky that this happened to me again?!

Potatoes explode. If you don't pierce the skin before putting them in the oven, they will eventually explode leaving a crispy skin hanging from the oven rack and bits of potato will cover the bottom of your oven.

I was getting my prep done for supper tonight- thawing the pork chops and chicken, figuring out what other vegetables to have, and baking the potatoes the first time for the twice-baked potatoes. I cleaned the potatoes well and dried them off. Then, I grabbed a fork and pierced each one a several times...or so I thought. I had six small potatoes and I could have sworn that I pierced all six before placing them in the oven. Apparently I missed one, because about 30 minutes later I smelled something burning. I opened the oven door and sure enough, one of my potatoes had burst leaving a crisp skin dangling from the rack while little bits of white and lightly brown flesh were scattered all of the bottom of the oven. I cleaned everything up, pulled the other potatoes out to cool, and then what did I do? I took pictures of the disaster, of course!

The moral of the story (though, I'm sure this is common knowledge): Potatoes, especially farm fresh potatoes or new potatoes, will explode if the skins have not been pierced or vented in some way. Don't let it happen to you!

Elle's Adventures in Dining Out (or eating in)

Clemson, SC (for the locals)
Little Pigs Bar-B-Q
A casual, quick-service restaurant serving Carolina style, pork BBQ. The chopped pork is flavorful, juicy, and tender and the homemade sauces are the perfect compliment. I prefer their signature mild sauce, which is savory and vinegar-based. They also offer a hot vinegar-based sauce (which is the staff favorite), a South Carolina mustard-based sauce, and a more traditional tomato-based sauce. Oh! And you have to try the apple sticks. You won't regret it.
Price range- $5 to $15
Eat in, carry out, bulk carry out, catering

Greenville, SC
Steak 'n Shake (nation-wide chain)
I know, I know. Yet another chain burger joint. But there's something about the burgers and those teeny, matchstick fries. Not to mention some fond memories I have that involve 15 people on a 3 am burger run in Ohio. I like my steakburger with American cheese and bacon, while my fiance prefers the cheesy cheddar steakburger. Most all of them are delicious and let's not forget the milkshakes. A meal at Steak 'n Shake wouldn't be complete without the "Shake" part.
Price Range- $5 to $10

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

About that job...

I went in for my interview today, and I think it went really well! The owner and I talked a lot about various concerns and expectations. With everything that we covered, she is sure to have a good idea of my culinary background and experience. She also knows what my goals are. I feel pretty confident about how the interview went, but I won't know whether or not I got the job until next week. There are a few people they called that haven't called back yet and there's one person that she won't get to interview until next week. There is also a possibility that I could have to preform an audition of sorts. So, we'll see. But I still feel really good about it. It's the longest interview I've ever had and I'm taking that as a good sign. She genuinely enjoyed talking with me.

I'm a little frustrated I have to wait until next week, but what can you do? Other than keep searching for other options, I'm going to keep cooking, keep eating, and keep blogging! I'm going to start incorporating a new element to my blog posts. It may not happen with every post, but I'd like to use this once a week. Now I should explain what it is, right? Right.

In Food & Wine magazine the editor-in-chief, Dana Cowin, starts everything off with a letter to her readers about that particular issue. In a small column on the side she tells us what restaurants she's eaten in lately in her "Where I'm Coming From" section. I'd like to do something similar. Now, I'm not a jet setting editor-in-chief in one of the most popular food periodicals out there, but I'm a budding chef and I do eat out at least once a week. So I will share where I'm coming from if I eat something or somewhere new, but I'll also share an ingredient or a dish that I've had or made recently. I suppose it's not a really big deal, but when I read my F&W every month, that little column is something I really looking forward to reading. And now, I'm looking forward to writing my own version.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I haven't had a proper kitchen job in longer than I care to admit. I've been job hunting for a good while and have gotten really discouraged lately. When they say it's rough out there in the real world, they mean it. But good things come to those who wait I suppose, because I HAVE AN INTERVIEW TOMORROW!

I applied to this bakery months ago, but they must have kept my resume and application on file. They called me this afternoon to let me know that there was a job opening and asked when I could come in for an interview. It's for a part-time line cook position at The Village Baker in Pendleton. I know, a line cook position at a bakery? They have an amazing breakfast and lunch menu. So I'll be preparing that.

I'm so excited! I'll find out more about it tomorrow, but it sounds like there is potential to move up. Maybe they'll let me learn some of the actual bakery things, too!

Wish me luck!


Sunday, January 9, 2011


I'm just going to be honest. Instead of saying, "Oh yeah! I'll make that up to you!" or some such, I'm going to say, "Oops!" I attempted to write the 12 Days of Christmas Cooking (which I still believe was an awesome idea) and failed miserably. At about day 3 or 4, my personal to-do list was inching closer and closer to floor length and I couldn't ignore it any longer. So, my apologies for not completing it. I'm a bit disappointed in myself, but I will likely try again next year. This year? Something. Some time in the future!

Now? Now it's a brand new year. 2011 came in fairly quietly. I spent New Year's Eve and Day with friends and family not doing much of anything. It's nice when things just slow down and you don't have any more presents to wrap or travel plans to arrange. I've already made a few decisions and changes that make me feel very adult and proud of myself. I've also made some...well, now how should I put this? I'm not one to make resolutions, because I feel like I'm setting myself up for failure. So I'll say that I've set some goals for myself (in a culinary aspect as well as a general life aspect) that I hope to achieve between now and whenever I reach them.

Culinary goals for now and later:
  • Improve my knife skills- practice precise knife cuts so that I can not only make my food appealing to the eye, but to prep faster.
  • Cook or bake something at least once a week that is not school, GG, or work related-I want to cook or bake something because I want to experiment. This is going to help me with the next goal.
  • Write more-I want to write and test more recipes of my own.
  • Work on plate design
Those are just a few. I'm sure I'll be adding to that list, but I think it's a good start.

There are also some new projects that I will continue and/or complete. Howie and I are attempting to gain momentum and start recording Geeky Gourmet shows. I'm looking forward to that. I feel like it was another great idea that got abandoned and I don't want that at all. I think we'll pick it back up and set a more realistic schedule that allows us to create a great program without scrambling around like chickens with our heads cut off to make sure we get it posted.

I'm doing a 365 project as well and am hoping to share that here! I took the lead from my wonderful Aunts on this one. The idea is to create the same object in a different medium every day for a year. It should be a small craft or small daily project to ensure that you can get it done no matter how crazy your day is. I chose to create a new whisk every day. It seemed very fitting for me. I've had a lot of fun with it so far!

365 "Whisk Me Away" project day 6
Elle with a whisk
Photo taken by Charlie Figel with a Nikon D70

I hope that everyone's 2011 is off to a great start! I am optimistic about a great year and I hope y'all are, too.