gourmet

Recipe: The Perfect Bacon Mushroom Burger

So recently the Cooking Channel held a contest for the best burger recipe in America as part of their new series The Perfect 3 hosted by Kelsey Nixon.  Tens of thousands submitted recipes and though my recipe did not win My Perfect Bacon Mushroom Burgerit was one of the top 3.  Below is the recipe as I submitted it to the Cooking Channel.  Included are both my picture (right) with burger cut in half and the burger that the Cooking Channel test kitchens made to make sure my recipe actually worked (below).

By putting the mushroom inside the beef patty, not in chunks mind you, but a whole portabella mushroom cap, I ensure you get a good bit of mushroom in every single bite. Instead of topping the burger with soggy strips of bacon, I use crispy lardons of pancetta then cover the whole thing with aged Swiss cheese on a properly griddled bun for the Perfect Bacon Mushroom Burger.

The Perfect Bacon Mushroom Burger
Recipe Type: Sandwich
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 small portabella mushroom caps, roughly 3-inches in diameter or trimmed to 3-inches in diameter
  • Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 pounds fresh ground 80-percent lean chuck
  • 1 (8-ounce) piece pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 Kaiser rolls, split
  • Unsalted butter, softened (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 slices aged Swiss cheese
Instructions
  1. Preheat a grill for direct heat cooking and preheat the broiler. Rub the mushroom caps with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on the grill and cook, turning once, until softened, about 5 minutes. Cool.
  2. Divide the beef into 4 equal amounts and working with one portion at a time, form into a very thin patty. Place the mushroom cap in the center and fold the beef up and around the mushroom pressing the beef around the edges of the cap until the mushroom is completely covered. Season the mushroom-beef patties generously with salt and pepper and place on the grill. Grill 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium rare.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pancetta in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crispy and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Generously spread the butter on both sides of each roll and place under the broiler until toasted.
  4. Place the cooked burgers on a rimmed cookie sheet and evenly top with the crispy pancetta bits and a slice of Swiss cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is just melted.
  5. Build the burger by putting the patty on the bottom of a toasted bun. Add your favorite toppings and condiments then add the top half of the bun. Enjoy.

Cooking Channel Burger Pic

7 Questions with Sarina Nicole

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

One common misconception among American diners is that all Latin American food is the same; it’s all Mexican food.  Well, dear reader, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Very few Americans have ever eaten real Mexican food.

First off, what most people think of as Mexican food is not.  Nachos?  American food.  Burritos?  American food.  Crunchy tacos?  American food.  Flour tortillas?  American food.  Yellow cheese?  English food.  Sure in Mexico they eat pinto beans and rice and tomatoes and chilies but so do the folks in New Orleans.  But that does not make gumbo Mexican food.

Few people understand this better than food blogger Sarina Nicole.  Nicole is a true Caribbean girl – half Trinidadian, half Jamaican.  She has dedicated her blog, TriniGourmet.com to educating people to the vast array of foods to be found in Trinidad and Tobago and how it differs from the cuisines of other Latin American countries.

According to her web site her, “. . . motivations are many, however the main impetus is that I feel that for too long now the cuisine of the Caribbean, and especially that of my native Trinidad has remained unexplored by the larger global market.”

Recently the foodie with the movie star smile was nice enough to answer 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Sarina Nicole of TriniGourmet.comI was definitely a late bloomer when it came to moving around a kitchen. Growing up, as an only child, I spent most of my time in the kitchen watching my mother cook. She was a prolific recipe collector with a passion for international cuisine, something that definitely rubbed off on me. However, the kitchen was very much her domain and the message was clear that though I was free to watch, I was also expected to stay out of her way. As a result I never really developed any clear understanding of how to handle ingredients, knives, or even a flame/oven! By the time I entered college, I was in the peculiar position of being familiar with a wide range of recipes, influences, and culinary approaches without actually being able to prepare anything more complex than a grilled cheese sandwich!

It wasn’t until my junior year, during an off-campus summer internship, and no college kitchen staff in sight, that I finally came to the realization at the ripe old age of 20 that one can not subsist indefinitely on frosted flakes, ramen and mac ‘n cheese!  For the first time I had access to the Food Network and Emeril Live! was just becoming a phenomenon. His enthusiasm and ‘plain speak’ made me feel that I too could do this. My landlady also had a subscription to Cooking Light magazine that she no longer was interested in. Somehow between the two a light went off in my head and I vividly remember making my first real shopping list, taking a taxi to the nearest Stop ‘n Shop and heading pack to my sublet with a backpack full of ingredients. Needless to say however the first few products of those efforts were pretty near inedible! An exceptionally gritty spinach salad comes to mind :)

2. Can you describe the unique characteristics of Trini food?

Trini food is especially unique because of the diversity of nationalities which have contributed to our culinary vocabulary. Demographically Africans and East Indians make up the majority of the population and those heritages are probably the most immediately recognizable on any menu, however the Chinese, Syrian-Lebanese, and Portugese communities have also made their mark on our gastronomic lexicon. Centuries of Spanish, French and English occupation have also influenced our technical approach to creating traditional fare. Put it all together and we have a cuisine which is unlike any other in the region and one which can present different faces to the visitor depending on the time of the year in which they visit, and the community in which they stay.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?

Without a doubt Mario Batali has probably had the greatest influence on my culinary point of view. His seasonal approach to using the freshest ingredients, and his emphasis on allowing the essence of a main ingredient to shine in as unmasked a form as possible has really shaped my improvisational abilities, as well as how I interpret and re-interpret the dishes that I have grown up with.

4. What would you tell someone who thinks that every Latin American country eats the same food?

It’s a common misconception that the foods of the Caribbean and Latin American are fairly homogeneous. Some of this is because of the narrow range that gets commercialized overseas, the other is the sparsity of actual local content in terms of what tourists get served at the most common hotels around the region. Adding even more confusion for the casual visitor is the fact that many times the same names are used across countries for dishes/ingredients that can vary quite widely!  To really understand each country’s cuisine is to take a dip into its history, both agricultural and political. Geographic and trade differences often determine whether the primary starches will be corn, root vegetables or rice and whether key proteins are fish, chicken, or beef. Migration and colonization also affect the approaches and spices which play a prominent role.

The following links provide more detail than I can get into here :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_American_cuisine

5. In your opinion, what are the signature flavors of Trinidadian food?

Like Guyana, (and unlike the rest of the Caribbean islands) we have a very strong East Indian demographic. This has shaped and contributed to our own appreciation and desires for intensely seasoned and spiced fare (cumin or “geera” is particularly important). The African contribution for me is especially prevalent in our stewing and ‘browning’ (caramelization) of meats in sugar. This is a step that has always intrigued my Jamaican mother, but it is integral to getting the key flavors of many of our meat-based Creole dishes. Also notable is our propensity towards garlic-based marinades and sauces as well a liberal love of ‘chadon beni’ or ‘bandhania  (also known as culantro) for both seasoning meats and enhancing the final taste of a dish.

6. If you could have dinner with anyone in history, what would you have for dessert?

Oh, that’s an interesting one! There is a small bunch of eclectic historical figures whose stories intrigue me. Anna Pavlova, Olaudah Equiano, Napoleon Hill, Booker T Washington, Hildegard von Bingen. However for dinner I think I would want to sit with the person who is probably the newest (and much belated addition) to my list, Julia Child. We could swap memories of Smith College over croquembouche and turkish coffee and I could find out what/if anything she knew about Caribbean/Trinidad cuisine. Nice dream I think! :)

7. What’s next for Sarina Nicole?

I’ve been running Trinigourmet since 2006 and it really is a labor of love. In the past year I have gotten more involved in the social media side of connecting with readers and other food bloggers and I’ve really been inspired by the support it has received. Emails and interactions with Trinidadians and those of Trinidadian descent who now live all over the world has made me realize that food is an integral part of our connection to our families, and a shared historical/cultural identity that is highly emotional and powerfully healing at times. The site has evolved since its inception and no doubt it will continue to do so. There is a greater emphasis now on meat-free, as well as gluten-free, dishes now because of food allergies and other dietary restrictions in my home. At first I thought this would cause a huge revolt among my readership but I have been surprised and moved by the response of local residents who also have dietary restrictions (either because of religious or health constraints) and often felt invisible/dismissed in terms of local options and accommodation both by friends, family and eating establishments.

Moving into 2011 I would like to present and offer more recipe options for these people (who are no less passionate or patriotic). I also am considering the creation of more multimedia content (something I dabbled with this year for the first time). I have also started receiving inquiries for books so I definitely will be looking into some product launches as well. The sky is the limit and the more Caribbean voices that join the conversation, the more the true variety of the region will become clear to all :)

I’ve been running Trinigourmet since 2006 and it really is a labour of love. In the past year I have gotten more involved in the social media side of connecting with readers and other food bloggers and I’ve really been inspired by the support it has received. Emails and interactions with Trinidadians and those of Trinidadian descent who now live all over the world has made me realize that food is an integral part of our connection to our families, and a shared historical/cultural identity that is highly emotional and powerfully healing at times. The site has evolved since its inception and no doubt it will continue to do so. There is a greater emphasis now on meat-free, as well as gluten-free, dishes now because of food allergies and other dietary restrictions in my home. At first I thought this would cause a huge revolt among my readership but I have been surprised and moved by the response of local residents who also have dietary restrictions (either because of religious or health contstraints) and often felt invisible/dismissed in terms of local options and accommodation both by friends, family and eating establishments.

Moving into 2011 I would like to present and offer more recipe options for these people (who are no less passionate or patriotic). I also am considering the creation of more multimedia content (something I dabbled with this year for the first time). I have also started receiving inquiries for books so I definitely will be looking into some product launches as well. The sky is the limit and the more Caribbean voices that join the conversation, the more the true variety of the region will become clear to all :)

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 7

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Chef de Casserole

I had been working as a sous chef for this national chain restaurant for about four months when I read the ad in the local newspaper. It went something like, “Sous chefs needed for new gourmet market and cafe.” The new market was being opened by Mobile’s top (i.e. only) celebrity chef. This was a fantastic opportunity. The concept of the new market was intriguing – locally grown organic produce, seasonings and spices from around the world, fine wines and imported beers, and the most creative thing was frozen dinners made in house.

The other side of the building was an amazing hot bar and deli. The menu featured Southern staples like ribs and fried catfish at the country bar, Panko encrusted halibut and bourbon braised beef tenderloin at the gourmet bar, and fantastic sandwiches like the Southern style BLT made with romaine, apple wood smoked bacon, and fried green tomatoes.

I began my career at the market working in the hot bar making whatever the executive chef or the owner decided we would make that day. I preferred working on the gourmet bar because its menu changed everyday while the country bar never changed. The gourmet bar was where all of the action was. Sometimes these recipes were written down and were followed without derivation. Sometimes they were improvised on the spot like a Myles Davis trumpet solo. A jazz musician in another life I am drawn to improvisatory cooking. The gourmet bar often featured specials from the produce guy or the fish monger therefore we kind of just looked at what we had and made something up from there. It was a blast. What made it better was that I was no longer poor.

There was a job that the executive chef and the owner had been looking to fill. This person would at first work in the cafe kitchen preparing casseroles and such for the freezer department at the market next door. Once the holiday party and Mardi Gras ball seasons ended this person would then move to an off campus kitchen that they would run with a team of people to mass produce the frozen dinners and casseroles. We jokingly called this person the chef de casserole. We thought it was clever. Before too long my experience as a manager came to my new employer’s attention. Within six weeks of being hired I was being promoted.  I would be the chef de casserole.

I worked through the holidays cracking out as many casseroles and frozen dinners as I could. The problem is that I was usually lucky to have four square feet to work with. The cramped kitchen was simply too small to get any real production done. Finally I was moved to the spare kitchen that had been purchased to aide in Katrina relief meals. This kitchen was huge. A bank of convection ovens and three 100 gallon steam kettles. There were no stoves yet, so sautéeing was out of the question but I did learn how to roast my mirepoix and Creole trinity.

Before long I was given two production cooks and a dishwasher. I began setting up schedules for casserole production and teaching recipes to the new staff. Things were going well or so it seemed.

One Friday afternoon the culinary manager for the company stopped by to let me know that the accountant had said that we could no longer afford to keep my kitchen open.  The market was doing okay, but was not yet at a level to support the start up on my project.  It had to be put on hold.  Six weeks after having been promoted and just three months after being hired, my entire staff, myself included, were laid off.

To make matters worse I got laid off three days before my birthday. Happy birthday, huh? It was a bad time for the restaurant market in Mobile and I ended up taking a part time job as a line cook for a national BBQ chain. It paid little and was easily the worst restaurant job of my life. I spent my hours there thinking of how I could get out of the place. I went through the paper religiously looking for better jobs.

A few things looked iinteresting: oyster shucker down on the bayou, a temp job with a caterer making box lunches, and running the galley on an offshore oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico – during hurricane season. All of them sounded better than what I was doing but they were even worse paying.

It was at this lowly point in my career that I would once again have a newspaper ad dramatically change my life.

Me Doing Gourmet Tuna Salad on WKRG

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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