Burger Fancy

I am one of those people who inevitably gets attached to a really smart, funny, indi-flavored show that the FOX executives are smart enough to give a first season, and dumb enough to cancel after two. (Think: early Family Guy, Arrested Development, Futurama, etc etc). I fear this is the fate of one of my new favorite shows, Bob’s Burgers. It constantly amazes me that these shows don’t get the viewership required to stay on the air. I guess everyone is too busy watching The Bachelor or something where people vote on who gets to push someone off a cliff or something. Anyways, this show is hilarious and comes on Sunday nights on Fox. It’s about a little burger restaurant and the family who owns and operates it. It’s great and has a bunch of great comedians doing the voices including Jon Benjamin, John Roberts, and Kristin Schaal. I love shows about food that don’t make food disgusting. This guy Bob, he really loves his burgers. He takes it seriously and he has a burger special everyday that always has a great, clever name:

If Looks Could Kale Burger. Brilliant.

If Looks Could Kale Burger. Brilliant.

So this weekend I got inspired to make my own fancy burger. For Christmas this year my in-laws got me a cast-iron stove top griddle. One of the ones that sits on top two of your stove burner at the same time – one side is a flat top and the other is a grill. It’s awesome. It also weighs about 30 lbs. Seriously. I LOVE cast-iron, as you may remember from my last blog and my Le Creuset spiel.  I love it because it lasts forever, is easy to take care of, you can take it camping and use it over an open fire, and did you know that cooking on cast iron is actually a good way to get trace iron minerals in your system? I used to be anemic, so I look for ways to make sure I’m getting enough iron on a daily basis, and this is a no brainer way to do it. Anyways, back to the burgers . . .

It’s like 20 degrees outside, so grilling on the outdoor grill is out of the question. (Hyperbole alert: this is southeastern Virginia. It is rarely ever 20. It’s more like 52, but that’s still too cold for me to spend significant amounts of time outside). So making burgers was a perfect opportunity to test out the stove top grill. I’m going to make a pretty significant confession now. Jeremy and I were craving a burger the other night, so we rolled through the Wendy’s drive thru hoping to get one of the mushroom Swiss burgers they had been advertising (hold your fire!), but apparently they had stopped selling them like the day before or something, so we never got our fix. Obviously, that was what I had to make.

A Shroom of One’s Own Burger

(a little joke for you literary fans out there)

A Shroom of Ones Own Burger

Ingredients:

Burger:
1 lb 80/20 ground beef (local and grass-fed when and if possible)
1 egg (again, local and pasture-raised when and if possible)
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. onion, minced
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Accouterments:
1/4 cup of mayo
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Garlic Powder, Pepper and Salt to taste
4 Toasted Burger Buns
1 onion, sliced into thin rings
1/2 cup of mushrooms (fresh or jarred), sliced
4 slices of Swiss cheese

Method:

  1. Combine all of your burger ingredients in a medium bowl. I put on my surgeon gloves and combine it all with my hands.
  2. Divide the meat in half, then in half again so that you have four 1/4 lb pieces (you could also use a food scale). Shape each 1/4 lb into a large, flat patty. Set on a plate and refrigerate while you prep everything else.
  3. In a small bowl combine mayo, Worcestershire, garlic, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Spread generously on both sides of toasted burger buns. Set aside.
  4. Heat up your grill to medium-high. Put your burger and onion slices on. Flip burgers after about 3 minutes, or longer depending on how well done you want them. We like ours about medium (140-150 degrees). Flip your onions every minute or so until they become tender and have visible grill marks. In the last minute or two, add your mushrooms to the griddle and move them constantly until cooked, but not burned.
  5. While the burger is still on the grill, and after it has been flipped and only needs a minute or so, add a slice of cheese to each patty and let the cheese melt onto the burger for 30 seconds – 1 minute.
  6. Add burger, onions and mushroom to your sauced and prepped buns. Enjoy.

This burger was awesome. Juicy, flavorful, generously topped but not impossible to eat. Burgers like this makes me want to open a burger joint. Seriously, they were real yummy. We had them with “fried” (really baked) pickles dipped in home made ranch. I’m not even getting in to all that here. It’s just too much for one blog. So do me a favor, watch Bob’s Burgers (especially if you are a Nielsen family), and make these burgers. Then read Virginia Woolf. I feel like that is not too much to ask of you, dear readers.

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To meat or not to meat

I realize that all my posts so far have probably given the impression that I am a vegetarian, which I’m not.  I was for several years in college and then I got married and this is how that story goes: We got back from our honeymoon and the next morning Jeremy fried bacon in our newly-shared apartment. End of story. If you can resist the smell of bacon after 7 days of eating Jamaican food, you should probably see a doctor, cause something is wrong with your olfactory system.

Although I do eat meat now, I still try to reduce my meat consumption as much as possible for several reasons including health, cost and the impact meat has on the environment. This is nothing new – there’s a whole “Meatless Monday” movement, in fact.
Most of the meat we do eat is locally raised – Hampton Roads has several wonderful farms producing high-quality, ethically-raised, pastured and free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats including beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, rabbit, and turkeys. Seriously. Although none of that matters much for this post, which is yet another vegetarian meal. One day, I promise, I will share a meat recipe.

This recipe came from a Rachael Ray inspiration. I don’t generally watch her show (or any daytime television) and I have a huge grudge against her for making the whole world think that ALL RACHELS spell their name RACHAEL – which just isn’t true. But I was at the dentist one day, confined to a chair with a TV in front of it and her show was on. She was making a pasta dish where instead of a traditional sauce, she roasted an eggplant and used the eggplant-meat as a sauce. Then she slapped some real meat on top of it, but that seemed unnecessary, so a few nights ago with an over-abundance of vegetables from my co-op, including a beautiful eggplant, I decided to riff on this idea.

eggplant Rotini

roasted vegetable rotini with eggplant sauce

There is one thing I share in common with Rachael Ray, and that is a tendency to not really have a “recipe” but instead to use kind of general directions and measurements. I once saw her instruct in a recipe to use a “palm-full” of something, and that is definitely how I cook. Measuring and following directions takes precision and patience – two things that I do not possess. It’s why you’ll never see a baking recipe on this blog.
So below is my best re-construction of what I did here.

Eggplant Rotini with Roasted Vegetables

Serves: 2 hungry people. Double for your fam.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Eggplant
  • 1 small/medium zucchini
  • 1 smell/medium yellow squash
  • 1 large portobello cap
  • 1 small onion – red, yellow or white is fine
  • a handful of snap beans
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • a handful of fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • 8 oz (half a box) of whole wheat rotini or other curly pasta
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut the eggplant in half, lengthwise, brush the cut sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven at 375 F for about 30 mins.
  2. Take all of your veggies that you are putting in the pasta (I listed what I used above, but feel free to improvise or substitute here with whatever you have on hand), cut into pieces, mince one clove of garlic and dump it all into a bowl and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little Italian seasoning, if you’d like. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet. Stick in the oven with the eggplant for 25-30 mins of until they are done to your liking (I like mine to still have some bite, without tasting raw)
  3. When the veggies only have a few minutes left, start the pasta – cook according to package directions. Save half a cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. Take the eggplant out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes. The halves should look “deflated” and the inside should be runny and almost liquefied. Once they are cool enough to handle, scrape the insides of the eggplants out into a medium sized bowl and with the flat end of a wooden spoon, mash the eggplant. Stir in the other minced garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste, and Parmesan (a palm-full??), then stir in freshly torn or cut basil, stir until you have a nice paste going. (You can see a picture of this in the collage above, upper left-hand corner).
  5. Add the drained pasta to your eggplant paste and stir – adding in the reserved pasta water until the noodles are coated in a starchy sauce (you probably won’t need the whole half cup). Take the roasted veggies out of the oven and toss them into the pasta as well. Grate in some more Parmesan and mix. Top with fresh basil and little extra Parmesan.

We had this with some locally made hummus and whole wheat pita chips. This roasting and mixing method really takes the bitterness out of the eggplant that keeps a lot of people from eating this super-nutritious veggie. Eggplants are low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol; they’re also a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber. The fiber in the eggplant, the other veggies and also in the whole-wheat pasta (about 6 grams per cup) make this a super filling meal. Fiber is known for keeping you full for longer, so you don’t have to eat as much of it in the first place, and then you’ll be less tempted to have a midnight snack later.

So don’t get me wrong – meat is great. But when it’s mid-July and I’m looking at all those beautiful vegetables, I can’t help but go back to those pre-bacon days and let the produce steal the show.

What is your favorite meatless meal? Are you reducing your meat consumption or are you a vegetarian? If so, what are your tricks for making filling meatless meals? 

Hello. Is it beets you’re looking for?

For the past two years I have worked with a local nonprofit organization focused on promoting local food and supporting small, family farms. For the past twenty-ish years I have been obsessed with food. Not like the people you see on Discovery Health who have to be lifted via crane out of their living rooms, but like an eight year old girl with a subscription to Martha Stewart and a dream to be a food stylist before that was even a thing and there were horrible reality shows about it. The dream of Culinary School turned into an English degree, and then another English degree, and while food is my primary passion, I’ve learned that cooking it is better kept as a passion, rather than a job. This blog was just a matter of time.

I think it’s important that chefs (and cooks!) have a philosophy, or at least an end-goal in mind when they’re creating and cooking (besides ‘I’m hungry. I think this box of mac ‘n’ cheese will do it’). For me, it’s always local. I’ve learned through the years that local food is more nutritious, tastes better, supports small farms in my community and offers heirloom and heritage varieties that you can’t find in the grocery store. When I cook, I always like to look to the local ingredient first, and then build around that. This blog will be a glimpse into some of the dishes I create, try, maul, derange, re-try and finally share with you. They will not all be good, but we’ll learn some lessons, techniques and things you may not have known about the local food system. I encourage you to comment, make suggestions and share your own experiences with me. And most of all, I encourage you to seek out local food in your own area. Once you start to look for it, you will be amazed at what is out there.

To get us started and whet our appetite, I offer up my most recent “Friday Foodie Freestyling” – which is what I do on Friday nights when the husband and I stay in and I have nothing to do except open a bottle of wine, peruse my box of fresh produce, and create a three or four course meal made primarily from whatever I picked up from my Thursday afternoon co-op, Coastal Farms.

Friday Foodie Freestyling

Zucchini poppers with tzatziki, tempura fried snap beans, broccoli, and spring onions with ponzu, golden beet and white bean salad topped with VA goat feta.

Our first course was zucchini poppers or zucchini hush puppies. I made them with shredded zucchini (local, of course) and mixed that with a local egg, hushpuppy mix from Wade’s Mill in Raphine, VA where they still stone grind their wheat, some home-made pesto from my garden and a bit of Parmesan. I fried them in my deep fryer (my best friend and worst enemy) and served them over a bed of string-cut cucumbers and with tzatziki dipping sauce which I made from Greek yogurt, local cucumbers, dill from my garden and lemon zest.  They were OK. The Huz liked them more than I did, but despite my Southern roots, I’m not a huge hush puppy fan. I do love the tzatziki and consider anything that serves as a vehicle for it a bonus. (read: I can, and will, eat that stuff with a spoon and no shame).

Second course was golden beet (you know I ❤ them!) and white bean salad. My favorite method for cooking beets is to cut them off their stems, wash them, leave the skin on, wrap them individually in tin foil and then throw them in the oven – right on the rack – at 375 for about 45 mins. When they can be pierced all the way through easily with a knife, they are ready to roll. Take them out, let them cool a bit and then take a hand towel or paper towel and just rub the skin right off of them – it should slide off easily at this point. I diced the beets, mixed with the beans (canned) and heated it all up together along with an Italian vinaigrette, some fresh herbs from my garden then topped with VA made goat feta and cracked red and black peppercorns. This was yum and definitely worth repeating.

Finally the last course was tempura battered and fried fresh veggies. Tempura batter is literally one of the easiest things to make. There are four ingredients: flour, baking powder, water and egg. That’s it. Do NOT buy the pre-made tempura mixes at the grocery store for $4.50, it’s a total rip off. Once I made the batter, I dipped broccoli, snap beans and spring onion rings into it and then into the deep fryer (you see how I keep going back for more abuse…) and then out after a few minutes, served with ponzu dipping sauce (lighter and more citrusy than soy sauce – buy it pre-made in the International aisle at the grocery store). This is always good. I make tempura several times a year and it never disappoints.

So there you have it – that’s what I do and that’s how I do it. Keep checking back for more food pictures, recipes, tips and absurd failures. Thanks for reading!