Best Cheeseburgers Ever

Getting this post ready reminded me of the first time I grilled burgers.  It was early summer and my wife and I had only been married a month or two.  I had bought one of those table-top grills that you see popping up everywhere in late spring.  My family had been using them for years.  My grandfather even kept one on his boat for making burgers while he was fishing.  I decided I wanted the model that used charcoal rather than propane because I knew that I liked the results from charcoal better.  I’d never actually cooked with briquettes before, but I figured it couldn’t be too hard.  I had charcoal and lighter fluid, what else could I need?  Patience, apparently.  And unfortunately, that was not something I had at that point in my life. Continue reading

Roasted Mashed Cauliflower with Rosemary and Lemon


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There aren’t many foods that I don’t like.  My rule of thumb is that I’ll eat anything that doesn’t run from me.  Cauliflower though, is an exception.  I’ve never really cared for it.  Granted, I’ve only had it made a couple different ways which were enough to turn me off for life.  Raw, its flavor is too sharp for my taste – not to mention its relatively dry for a vegetable, leaving me no choice but to wash it down with glass after glass of water, which then takes up valuable real estate in my stomach. The other method I’ve unfortunately experienced is cauliflower that’s been boiled to death, which leaves it waterlogged, disintegrating  and sulfuric.  In the decade-and-a-half that we’ve been married, I think we’ve bought it twice.

I’m not sure why I decided to give it another whirl, but I did.  This time I decided to use a method that I knew can transform the flavors of vegetables into something new, removing any harsh bitterness and replacing it  with a rich, mellow flavor with a hint of caramelization.  Roasting is something I’ve used in the past to cook vegetables that I otherwise wasn’t fond of.  Uncooked, I can take or leave radishes and turnips.  But if they’re roasted until they start to turn a deep golden brown and the interior is as soft as a boiled potato, they give up their bite in favor of a relaxed sweetness that could actually be at home in a comfort food recipe.  I figured why not see what roasting does for cauliflower.

I was really pleased with how it turned out.  I was aiming for something similar to mashed potatoes (I like mine lumpy) in texture but was totally surprised at how light the cauliflower turned out.  It was very delicate, yet a little coarser than a true puree.  It was similar to a fresh ricotta in texture.  Very light and not gluey at all.  We enjoyed the flavor as well.  None of the pungency that I’m accustomed to.  I had decided to use Italian flavors, choosing rosemary, lemon, hazelnuts for crunch and of course, parmigiano-regiano.  I was trying to turn my least favorite veggie into something I could conceivably eat as a comfort food; and anything Italian is my go-to for comfort food despite the fact though I’m not Italian.  The additions worked well, with the rosemary and lemon brightening the flavor, the cheese adding a soft richness, and the crunch of the hazelnuts contrasting nicely with the tender creaminess of the mashed vegetable.  This dish may just be enough to convert me to a cauliflower fan.

Roasted Mashed Cauliflower with Rosemary and Lemon

1/4 cup hazelnuts
2 heads cauliflower
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced
zest of 1 lemon
salt
ground white pepper
olive oil
2 tablespoons water
1 cup micro-planed parmigiano-regiano (use slightly less if grated or shredded)

Begin by roasting the hazelnuts.  Put them on a baking sheet or in an oven-safe skillet and placing them in a 325 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan every couple of minutes or so.  The skins should start splitting and the nuts should begin to darken.  Don’t let them get too dark, though.  You’ll be putting the finished dish back into the oven later for a little more browning and if you let the hazelnuts get too dark, they’ll turn bitter.  When they’re done, take them out and increase the oven temperature to 400.  Let them cool, then roll in a kitchen towel and rub them together to get most of the skins off.  If some of it doesn’t come off, it’s not a big deal.

Next, cut the heads of cauliflower into florets.

Florets should be about 1-1/2″ or so across.

Place them on a baking sheet or in a large skillet then add the garlic, rosemary and lemon zest, and season with salt and a few grinds of white pepper.  Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and mix to evenly distribute everything.

Aim to keep the florets in a single layer.

Place in the oven and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.  They’re ready when they’re tender and starting to brown on the edges.  Remove from the oven and turn the temperature up to 425.  Place the cauliflower in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes to let the residual heat continue to steam them.

At the end of the 10 minutes, mash the cauliflower slightly with a fork and place it in the bowl of your food processor along with a couple tablespoons of water.  Process until smooth, adding olive oil until the desired texture is reached.  Add the parmigiano and process just until incorporated.  Transfer to a baking dish or individual ramekins, top with a little cheese and the chopped hazelnuts and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until starting to brown.  If you’re having trouble getting it to brown, you can always put it under the broiler, but watch it carefully because the nuts will brown quickly.  Let cool for a few minutes and serve.

Serves 4-6

Printable recipe

Homemade Hamburger Buns

 

The unseasonably nice weather we’ve been experiencing got to us and we decided to get a jump on the outdoor cooking season last weekend and invited some friends over for a barbecue.  I recently made my own bacon for the first time and was blown away by the elevated flavor, texture and overall quality when compared to what I’m used to buying at the store.  I wanted to share that experience with our guests  and while bacon wasn’t on the menu, burgers were.  Standard hamburgers are the epitome of processed fare.  Both the patties and the buns have become pale excuses for food.  I knew I could do better.

I wasn’t worried about grinding my own beef; I’ve been doing that for about 10 years.  My old supervisor had a cattle ranch and educated me on how ground beef was made.  From then on, I’ve ground my own.  But the buns – those were going to be my challenge this time.  I’ve been baking bread since grade school – my mother loves baking and taught me how.  While I’m confident in making breads, I’m not ready to make my own bread recipe yet.  So I started googling and found several recipes for homemade burger buns, but the one that sounded the best was from Foodie With Family.  The recipe is amazing.  It’s not always the case that when you attempt a new bread recipe that it turns out correctly the first time.  However, these babies turned out better than I hoped.  The texture was soft and pillowy yet substantial enough to stand up to a good-sized patty.  And while definitely tasting like something made by hand, there was not an overpowering yeastiness that some breads have.  Typically I’m a fan of a yeasty flavor in bread but I wanted the buns to frame the patty, not mask it or overpower it.

My only dissatisfaction was that they were a bit too small for the size hamburger I like to make.  I wanted them about the same diameter as the store-bought ones.  So I increased the size by half and tried again.  Perfect!  I don’t think that there was much room for improvement on her recipe, so the only real changes I made were the size of the buns and the order of mixing the ingredients – mix dry, then mix wet, then mix together as opposed to mix all at once.

The recipe calls for vital wheat gluten, which you may not have on hand.  Check for it in the bulk section of your grocery store.  At ours, it was less than half the price of the packaged stuff.

I’ll describe how I made the patties in a second post to keep this one from getting too lengthy.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

6 cups bread flour
1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten flour
3 teaspoons instant yeast (sold also as rapid rise, quick rise, or bread maker yeast)
1/4 cup plus 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
4-1/2 tablespoons unflavored instant mashed potatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
9 tablespoons butter, softened
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm milk
2 large eggs, beaten
sesame seeds

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small chunks that are roughly a teaspoon and add to the dry ingredients.  Reserve 1/4 of the beaten eggs in a separate bowl for glazing the top of the buns.  Mix together the milk and remaining eggs in a small bowl, then add to the flour mixture.  Stir with a wooden spoon until everything is mostly incorporated, 1-2 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 3-4 minutes.  Let the dough rest for about 5 minutes while you wash out and grease the mixing bowl.  Resume kneading for 8-10 minutes until the dough is pretty smooth and elastic – don’t worry if it’s not perfectly smooth, this will go away when shaping the buns.  Don’t knead in any more flour than you have to.  At first, it will be pretty sticky until the butter distributes through the dough.  You want to definitely feel and hear the dough lightly stick to the counter and your hands as you knead, but you don’t want it to leave anything behind.  After kneading, put the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat all sides lightly with the oil, cover and let sit in a warm place to rise for 1-1/2 hours, or till roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.  Gather into a shape easy for you to divide into 12 pieces and do so.  Form the individual pieces of dough into a rough ball and place in the circle formed between you thumb and finger with the smoothest side away from your palm.  Gather the bottom and poke inside once or twice as shown in the picture to stretch and smooth the top.

 

Flatten gently into a disk by squeezing between your fingers and the heel of your hand repeatedly as shown below turning the dough slightly after each squeeze.  When the dough is about 3 inches across, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, six to a sheet, evenly spaced.  Cover and let rise for about a half hour in a warm place.  Preheat oven to 375.

 

Brush the tops of the buns with the reserved beaten egg.  Try to get all the way down to the parchment.  Sprinkle from about 8 inches above with the sesame seeds.  Bake for about 16-18 minutes until the tops are a rich, golden brown, turning halfway through.  If your oven is big enough, bake both sheets at once.  If not, don’t worry about the extra rising time for the second batch.  They’ll be fine.

Once they’re done, let them cool before slicing.  Let them cool completely before storing them in a zipper bag or other airtight container and try to use within a few days which shouldn’t be too hard.  I wound up liking them enough to make toast out of the leftovers for breakfast.

Printable recipe

Bruschetta with Fiddleheads, Ramps and Bacon

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Like so many other people, I love farmers’ markets. Given that we live in a rural area, it’s ironic that we have to drive about 45 minutes to get to one for most of the year. Because of that, we only go about once a month until May when the one near us opens. Even still, it’s pretty small and doesn’t have a huge selection. Whichever market we go to, I’d have to say that foraged foods are probably my favorite finds there. Fiddleheads and ramps are two of my favorites. This is a recipe I came up with to use up some fiddleheads and ramps I got at the University District Farmers’ Market in Seattle a few weeks ago.

Bruschetta with Fiddleheads, Ramps, and Bacon

8 ounces bacon, diced
4 slices rustic bread, about 1/2″ thick
1 medium handful ramps
3 cups fiddleheads
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

To prep the fiddleheads, trim the ends and rinse off the chaff. There shouldn’t be more than an inch or two of straight stem on the. For the ramps, peel off the dry skin from the bulbs. Trim off the roots and wash well under running water. Cut off the green leaves, remove the vein, and set the remaining leaf halves aside. Thinly slice the remaining white / red parts of the ramps into rounds.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until it reaches your desired done-ness. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Discard the rendered fat, leaving a couple tablespoons in the skillet. Place the slices of bread in the skillet until they begin to toast and turn golden in the fat, then place on serving dish(es) toasted side up.

Sauté the ramps in the remaining bacon fat (add olive oil if necessary) and a pinch of salt until they soften, about 2 minutes. Add the fiddleheads and cook until heated through, but still crisp, about 5 minutes. Add oil if needed while cooking them to keep them from browning. Place the ramp leaves and bacon in the skillet with the fiddleheads and ramps and cook until the ramp leaves wilt, less than a minute.

Remove from the heat, add the butter allowing it to melt and season to taste. Place on top of the slices of toasted bread and serve.

Printable recipe

Now for the Bacon

Lately I’ve been trying to find new food blogs to pique my interest. I’ve come across a number that describe the art of sausage making and meat curing and smoking, known as charcuterie. A common thread among many of them is that the authors were inspired after reading Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyk’s book Charcuterie. I almost got the Kindle version of the book, but after checking it out I decided this is a beautiful book that I’d rather enjoy through the tactile experience of a traditional book. This is not just a recipe book. It’s easy and enjoyable to read cover to cover.

Like others before me, I’m inspired to try my hand at charcuterie. My typical M.O. is to start with the hardest project I can find. While it’s not usually a problem to do so, I decided to start with the first (and one of the easiest) project in the book – cured bacon.

I’m not going to reprint the recipe from the book, but I will tell you that I checked all over for a local (Seattle) source for the curing salt. I did find some at Williams Sonoma at University Village. Better deals can be found online, I’m sure, but I didn’t want to wait.

I picked up a 3-pound pork belly from BB Ranch at Pike Place Market for $15. They’re my favorite butcher around and a good place to get “happy meat”.

Below are pictures of the pork belly at the end of the seven-day cure after rinsing and drying. The twelve-year-old in me wants me to point out that yes, those are pig nipples.

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And here is a picture after roasting to an internal temp of 150 degrees.

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My thoughts on the whole process: incredibly easy; it took about 10 minutes to prep. Let it sit in the fridge for a week, flipping every other day, rinse and dry for a couple minutes, then roast for a few hours. I’ll definitely make this regularly. One thing I noted during the cure is that the belly didn’t release as much liquid as I would have thought, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. In the end, the taste was wonderful and there was a subtle “piggy” (in a good way) flavor that is sadly absent in the stuff from the grocery store.

My Motivation

So my first foray into the world of blogging begins with an attempt at curing my own bacon. Why not just buy bacon, you ask? It’s certainly more convenient. Well, I’ve always been an animal lover and not just because they taste good. I don’t hunt and could never bring myself to do so, although I don’t find fault with those who do hunt responsibly. I honestly could never bring myself to take the life of an animal except in the case of euthanasia or if it’s a fish; because frankly, I consider fish more like self-mobile vegetables than animals. I can’t even watch an ad on TV for the Humane Society without the images sticking with me for weeks. So I’ve always wrestled with the choice to eat meat or go vegetarian. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be eating anything with a face. On the other, meat tastes soooo good! So I came to rationalize my meat eating this way: If I buy it in the store, the animal is already dead, and if nobody ate it, then the animal would have given his life for nothing.

Time passes and there is a new development in my dilemma regarding carnivorous ethics. I like to learn new things. Learning can be a very enjoyable thing for me. Or, as has been for me regarding industrial meat production, it can be quite disturbing. Case in point: the documentary Food, Inc.. Talk about disturbing! I can no longer in conscience ignore the living conditions of the animals destined to my dinner plate.

After discussing with my wife, we decided that humanely raised meat ( we call it “happy meat”) is in and supermarket meat is out. We’ll finish up the supermarket meat in the freezer so as not to waste the lives of the animals they came from. After that, we buy only happy meat. When we can’t afford it (because let’s face it, happy meat is not cheap meat), we eat vegetarian. It’s not a flawless plan, for instance, when we’re out and about and my blood sugar drops, if we didn’t plan ahead I’m sorry to say we’ve hit the drive-through. But we’re getting there. It takes time to change decades of thinking.

I do have to say that we don’t push our feelings onto others. If someone has us over for dinner, they don’t get a sermon from us. We simply appreciate the hospitality.