June 22, 2012

New Page: Foodie Travel Guide

There is a new page on The Nerdy Chef! I have compiled all of my favorite restaurants, cooking stores, and markets all on one map for your travel planning enjoyment. I hope you visit them and love them as much as I do!

View Foodie Travel Guide in a larger map

June 18, 2012

Blueberry Coffee Cake

It's almost the first day of summer, and that means a lot of things. The days get shorter, the weather gets hotter, and berries get even better, so my family goes berry picking. It really makes me appreciate where food comes from, and it makes whatever I cook that much more special. This year, we picked 18 pounds of berries, so I decided to make this delicious treat bursting with fresh blueberries.

This recipe has three layers: a moist, light cake, a layer of sweet blueberries, and a crumbly topping. Well, it started out with three layers. I found that mine marbled together when the cake rose, but it made everything taste even better. Each bite had a little bit of everything, and the flavors complemented each other perfectly. If you are concerned about keeping the layers separate, let the cake cook part of the way before adding the blueberries and crumble topping. Either way, it will taste fantastic!

I have found that most of my favorite cakes have a liquid component that is thicker than just milk or water, like cream cheese or, in this case, sour cream. It adds texture and moisture in addition to a slight tang, so it really is a great ingredient.

Whenever I use add-ins like fruit, chocolate chips, or nuts, I like to toss them in flour or cornstarch. It coats whatever I mix in and prevents them from sinking too much. In this recipe, the blueberries would sink to the bottom of the cake instead of marbling throughout. The juices would also burst out of the berries while the cake bakes and turn the whole thing purple. I don't want all the berries at the bottom or a purple cake, so I make sure to toss it in some flour. In this recipe specifically, I use the flour mixture that I mix into the cake.

As for the streusel, I wanted it to have a slight cinnamon flavor, but not so much that it would overpower the berries or the cake. I add just enough to give the cake some warmth without being a primary flavor. After mixing the streusel together, I keep it chilled so that it crumbles more easily. When I break it into chunks, I try to keep them small so that I don't have lumps of streusel on top. It does melt together a bit so it's not a huge deal, but its so easy to do that I make the lumps small anyway.

I love this recipe because it is a great breakfast, snack, or dessert. It is so fresh, and it captures all the great flavors of summer.

3 Cups Flour
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 + 1/8 tsp Salt
7 T Butter, Melted
10 T Butter, Softened
1 1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1 3/4 Cups Fresh Blueberries
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
2 Eggs

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp salt. Add the melted butter and stir until crumbly. Chill.

Heat oven to 350F and line a 9" square pan with parchment; grease.

Whisk the remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Toss the berries with 2T of the mixture. Combine the sour cream and vanilla. Beat the butter and remaining sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs. Add the flour in three additions, alternating with the sour cream in two additions.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the blueberries on top, sprinkle with the crumb topping, and bake for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Alternatively, spread the batter into the prepared pan, bake for 10 minutes, top with the blueberries and crumb topping, and bake for 35 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 1 9" Square
Recipe Adapted from Tish Boyle

June 16, 2012

Creme Brûlée

Creme Brûlée is my dad's absolute favorite dessert, so I like to make it for him for Father's Day. For anyone who has never tried it, it is a creamy vanilla custard baked in individual ramekins and topped with crunchy caramelized sugar.

Ideally, the texture of the custard is somewhat gelatinous and springy (but not as firm as jello) and is topped with a thin, crispy, sugar shell. To achieve this caramel layer, most restaurants use a kitchen torch, but many people don't have one at home. I found that placing the ramekins on a rack as close to a broiler as possible caramelizes the sugar without overcooking the custard. I also use coarse, dark turbinado sugar instead of regular sugar to speed up the process. As for the custard, the recipe calls for vanilla extract, but you can use the seeds from half of a vanilla bean to make it even more special. If you use the vanilla extract, channel your inner Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and use the "good" vanilla.

There are a few tips to making this creme brûlée even better. First, make sure you don't scald the cream when you heat it up. If you do, you'll see little orange-brown particles floating in the liquid, anywhere from one or two to completely full of them. If there are only a few, you can remove them with your finger or a spoon, but I recommend starting over if there are a lot. When you pour the cream into the egg yolks, try not to cook the eggs because nobody wants scrambled eggs in their creme brûlée. All you have to do is pour the cream in very slowly after letting it cool a bit, whisking constantly. Don't pour the cream in all at once without whisking. Another thing to avoid is splashing water into the ramekins when you make the water bath. The water will prevent the custard from setting correctly and will ruin the dish. Luckily, it's not too hard to avoid if you pour the water in slowly and carefully.

I like this recipe specifically because it only makes two. However, if you need to make more, simply double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. This dessert is elegant and surprisingly simple; it is sure to be amazing!

1 Cup Cream
2 T Sugar
Pinch Salt
3 Egg Yolks
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 T Turbinado Sugar
Berries, Whipped Cream, etc. for Garnish, Optional

Heat oven to 300F and adjust rack to lower-middle position. Place a towel in a deep baking dish and put two ramekins on top.

Combine 1/2 cup cream, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring often. Stir in the remaining cream once cooled slightly. Combine the egg yolks, vanilla, and 1/4 cup cream mixture. Whisk in the remaining cream.

Strain the custard into the ramekins to remove any bits of cooked egg. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come two thirds of the way up the ramekins.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until barely set in the center. Cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic and chill for at least four hours or until cold.

Wipe off any condensation and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Brown with a kitchen torch or broiler until caramelized, then garnish with the berries or whipped cream if desired.

Makes 2
Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated