Monday, July 27, 2009

The Perfect Burger?

Tonight I gave the Perfect Burger a shot. Here's a recap of the little things that make the "Perfect Burger" stand above the competition, according to the New York Times.

1. A 70-30 meat/fat content ground beef (I could only find as high as 80-20)
2. Sear the meat on the grill or in a skillet, finish in the oven on 375.
3. Don't handle the meat too much, shape it, and put it in the fridge to chill.
4. Make a small dimple in the center of the meat to avoid the "puff up" effect.
5. Salt just before cooking.
6. Have a warm, crispy, not totally in the background, not totally in the foreground, bun.
7. Homemade Pickles, cucumber slices soaked in rice wine.
8. Grate the cheese, then shape it to the burger for superior melting properties.
9. Cold, crisp lettuce and ripe tomatoes.

So, here goes. The choice of a higher fat content burger is not only cheaper on the wallet, but tastier to the pallet. Probably not as good for the body though (Soul and Mind, perhaps...) Searing the meat on the grill and then finishing in the oven makes for an incredibly juicy burger. Also, this method allows cooking large volumes of burgers to be ready at the same time. That I didn't overpack the meat helped but I can't say I really noticed an improvement from my previous "meat handling" technique. Make a dimple in the center, whole new world. This burger actually came out the shape I wanted it to, making it cook more evenly and also much easier to eat. Wow, who would have thought such a simple thing could make such a difference. Salt just before cooking? No noticeable improvement. Warm crispy bun? I'm still looking for the right bun, not that these were bad they just weren't that good either, and I still vote English muffins as the best burger bun. Homemade pickles? Maybe if I had let them soak a little longer or cut them a little thicker but overall, not the crazy "Wow!" you would hope for in something handcrafted. Grating the cheese and then shaping it absolutely makes a difference in both even meltingness and cheese stabilty. I always use crisp lettuce and ripe tomatoes, who doesn't?

Perfect? Not by a long shot, but a few key tips that will definately set these burgers above the rest. For now though, I'll keep looking for that perfect recipe.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Red, White and Blueberry

I don't think I can fully explain how excited I was to pick blueberries on my way home from the shore over the Fourth of July with LL and turn them into pancakes 24 hours later. Something about pick-your-own anything makes me happy. Giddy, silly, deeply little kid happy. It capped a perfectly July Fourth-y kind of weekend of beach, clams, food.

The house I grew up in until I was 18 was across the street from a huge pick-your-own operations in VT. Strawberries gave way to blueberries which in turn bowed to make room for raspberries. And there were orchards all over town that offered the same option for apples when the weather turned in September.

I remember long, hot summer days in the strawberry patch with my mother picking what seemed to me at the time like hundreds of pounds of berries to freeze for winter (or at least the ones that didn't get stuffed directly into our mouths). I remember cool wet falls days punctuated by fresh cider doughnuts spent pickng the apples for crisps and pies. For the record, apple picking was usually deemed the more "fun" of the two when we were kids because it offered an excuse to climb trees. Strawberries taste amazing when still warm from the sun, but picking berries off all those squat plants in long endlessly straight rows was much less fun than climbing gnarled old trees to toss apples down.

In both instances, and again last weekend as a grown up gathering blueberries in N.J. half the fun lies in eating oneself sick on the just picked fruit. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend a pick-your-own excursion.

The nostalgia was pushed even higher by coming home and making pancakes for dinner. It should be said here that LL and I spent a good portion of our picking time plotting out what to do with all the blueberries, I'm already wishing we'd doubled our haul.

But back to the pancakes. There's something so quintessentially comforting about breakfast foods, but I don't always have the craving early in the a.m. Breakfast for dinner isn't a tradition from my childhood, I think it's a habit I've acquired in adulthood. It must stem in some way from the discovery of brunch in college--we ate brunch like it's what we were studying to do. Although usually we ate out, cooking brunch in evolved later.

I've come further in my culinary wanderings as I've gotten older--I'm pretty sure that brunches and dinners I cooked in college never consisted of homemade blueberry buttermilk pancakes with a side of brown sugar and cayenne carmelized bacon. The college variety would have been more likely to include Bisquick and frozen veggie sausage patties (still a go to favorite prepared food if I'm being honest, but only Morningstar Farm's). Both meals would be smothered in real maple syrup, for Vermonters nothing else exists.

Regardless, I'm excited that pick-your-own berry patches have survived long enough for my culinary proclivities to catch up and give their fruit it's just dues.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Perfect Burger

Rather than summarize I'll just include the link to the article here. It has some great ideas on small changes to your burger technique that can make a big impact on the final product, solving the "puffy burger", holding the juice in, meat choice etc. It made me, after eating a hearty spinach, basil, garlic, cheddar scramble with fresh tomatoes and avocado, want to immediately start making a burger.