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Monday, June 29, 2009

Burger Bonanza

Ohh, there's nothing as American as a burger...grilled over charcoal...on a warm summer day. And since Fourth of July is right around the corner, I think I'll share my two, all-time-favorite recipes for the best 'weird' burgers you'll ever make. Go ahead and mock me -- these are not the standard, good ol' ground chuck burgers you salt and pepper, shape into patties and throw on a grill. I'll admit it. Yuppie burgers. Quirky burgers. Call them whatever you like. They are simply DELICIOUS and you're going to love them.

*The photo above is a burger from a local institution--Taylor's Refresher. If you can't make your own, this is the next best thing.

First up, we have the finest turkey burgers known to man. Trust me on this. I have been making these since my days at Oprah, where Art Smith taught me how to make them early one morning, in a tent we had set up out front of our studio to do a Summer Entertaining show. Art says the key to keeping a turkey (or ground chicken) burger moist and flavorful is in the veg and the man knows what he is talking about. The main trick here is a beautiful confetti of finely chopped vegetables--mushrooms, tomato, shredded carrot, etc...) that create the most deliciously moist and flavorful turkey burger you'll ever come across. Some breadcrumbs in the mix help keep the juices in. Top it with some peppery arugula, a nice cabbage slaw and/or melt a little blue cheese on these burgers and you're in business.

Next, is a recipe I am now officially addicted to -- lamb burgers.

My dear friend, K, gave me my current most favorite cookbook--Big Small Plates--by SF area chef, Cindy Pawlcyn as a birthday gift last year. It's one of those beautiful books where you flip through the recipes, drooling and planning to make everything. K and I had a Sunday cooking date last fall, where we chose several recipes to make from the book and then had a fun evening of cooking together, chatting and drinking wine before sitting down to an extraordinary feast. The lamb burgers from that night were my absolute favorite and I've been making them ever since. They are so wonderfully bright tasting with some Asian ingredients that give them a light, almost exotic quality. Spring them on any one you know that may not be a fan of lamb -- and they will be converted, I guarantee it. The burgers are accompanied by a refreshing herb salad, drizzled with a vibrant tamarind vinaigrette. It's a fantastic combination unlike any I have ever come across. I serve the burgers on top of the herb salad--hold the bun--and toast up some store-bought naan on the side.

The burger -- it can be anything you want it to be. So, American, isn't it?

1. I would recommend grilling over charcoal, but hey, I spent the past ten years living in an apartment with no outdoor space, so broiling is okay too, or a ridged, cast iron pan accompanied by an extremely powerful exhaust fan. If no exhaust fan, disconnect those smoke detectors and open up the windows!

2. All burgers benefit from a 'rest' -- a couple hours in the fridge before cooking for the flavors to meld.

Grilled Turkey (or Chicken) Burgers
adapted from Art Smith
Makes 6 servings

1 small red onion (or half a large red onion), finely chopped
1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
4 oz white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 ripe plum tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 cup seasoned dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken or turkey

For serving:
6 soft hamburger buns
blue cheese or Swiss cheese, optional
arugula leaves
avocado slices

Spray a large, non-stick skillet with oil, or heat a teaspoon of olive oil,, and heat over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and mushrooms and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and garlic and stir, uncovered for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool completely.

Add the breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, salt and pepper and mix well. Add the ground chicken or turkey and mix just until combined. (Do not overwork the mix.) Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Meanwhile, build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill and let coals burn down until medium hot, or preheat a gas grill on high, and then turn to medium. The key is not to grill at super high heat.

Shape the chicken/turkey mixture into six 4-inch wide patties. Lightly oil the grill. Grill the burgers, turning once, just until they feel firm when pressed in the centers, about 12 minutes.
Add cheese, if you're into that, for last minute or two of cooking.

Spicy Lamb Burgers with Vietnamese Herb Salad and Tamarind Vinaigrette
Serves 6

Tamarind paste and oyster sauce are some of those interesting ingredients one can easily find in Asian markets, but are more and more commonly available in the ethnic food section of certain larger grocery stores. I've had various adventures searching for tamarind paste and let me just advise you not to buy the tamarind pods that come in a brick -- keep looking until you find the paste. You'll be glad you did.

Tamarind Vinaigrette
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 tablespoons olive oil

Lamb Burgers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 Serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and minced (and you know the drill...where gloves or make some makeshift ones like I do, with a small plastic baggie, or go barehanded and DO NOT rub your eyes right after chopping)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1/2 sweet onion, minced
juice of 1/2 lime
1 pound ground lamb

Vietnamese Herb Salad
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut into 1 1/2 inch julienne ( a pain, I know, but it looks really nice)
2 Thai or Serrano chiles, seeded and julienned
1/2 bunch basil, any kind, small leaves only
1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1/4 bunch mint, small leaves only
1/2 bunch chives, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bunch watercress, leaves only, or arugula

To make the vinaigrette:
combine the sugar and water in a small saute pan. cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tamarind and soy sauce, and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the olive oil. Reserve until needed.

To make the lamb burgers:
First combine the garlic, oyster sauce, chile, mint, cilantro onion and lime juice in a large bowl and mix well. Then mix in the ground lamb meat, making sure everything is well combined. Divide the mixture into 6 equal parts, or 12 if you want to make mini patties. Moisten your hands with water before forming the patties--makes things easier. Shape the patties and make them flat, but not too thin. You don't want them to over cook before they have a chance to caramelize on the outside. Regular patties should be 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

Cook the burgers about 2 minutes per side for medium. combine all the ingredients for the salad and toss it with just enough of the vinaigrette to coat. Serve the dish with the salad piled on a platter and the lamb burgers placed on top, with an extra drizzle of vinaigrette over all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sunday Morning Biscuits

Here's the thing. When you grow up believing that biscuits spring forth from a cardboard tube your mother buys in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, and then whacks on the edge of the kitchen counter to open, it's a seriously profound moment when you realize this is simply one way...not the only way...of 'making' biscuits.

Years ago, when I discovered that biscuits are even better when they don't come out of a tube, I went through a bit of a biscuit-making phase, seeking out any and all kinds of variations on the standard. There were very involved dill biscuits that topped a labor intensive chicken pot pie and then little cheddar-and-bacon biscuits I served with brunch. Variations on biscuit dough that became shortcakes. I made my way through the biscuit genre. Recently, I realized that I rarely, if ever, made a simple biscuit.

A couple weeks ago when I was surfing some of my favorite food blogs, I came across Dorie Greenspan's mention of her easy buttermilk biscuit recipe which then haunted me for most of the week. (Crazy, I know. Haunted by Biscuits. I am ridiculous.) That following Sunday morning, after a cup of coffee and some leisurely perusal of the paper, I made my way into the kitchen. was Biscuit Time.

Within thirty minutes, the kitchen was filled with the cozy, warm smell of baking and we were diving into golden, flaky and tender biscuits with our scrambled eggs. I try to keep a quart of buttermilk in the refrigerator most of the time, and that's what gives these biscuits their delicious tang. A simple list of ingredients and no fancy tools required -- just your hands. It could not have been easier. And, get cardboard tube necessary.

Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from Dorie Greenspan PARADE magazine
makes 16 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (make sure it's fresh)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
3/4 cup cold buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Whisk the flour, baking powder, soda, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. Drop in the butter and, with your fingers, rub it into the flour until you’ve got crumbs—some the size of flakes, some like baby peas. Add the buttermilk and stir; the mixture will be very sticky.
2. Reach into the bowl and knead the dough gently 3 or 4 times. Turn it onto a floured surface and roll or pat it into a circle about 1/2-inch thick. Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can; gather the scraps, re-roll, and cut out more biscuits.

3. Transfer the biscuits to a foil-lined baking sheet and bake 15 to 18 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool 5 minutes.

Mmmm -- delicious with a bit of raspberry jam.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Time flies

Where does the time go?!
A couple months have slid by, and I'm simply mortified by how easily I slipped into a vortex of work and regular old everyday life that did not include telling you about the things I am cooking, and eating!

So, here's a little catching up...

A family wedding in LA. The day after, a bunch of us went out for a delicious dinner in Thai Town at a completely nondescript restaurant (in fact I can't even remember what it was called). This confirmed how much I love Thai food and that the search continues for a great Thai place to call our own here in San Francisco. We were regulars at our favorite in Chicago, Opart Thai House, and have not really discovered an SF spot to put 'on the circuit' yet.

April included a continuation of the crazed work schedule that had enveloped me since March, but it was also about two key spring vegetables that make me very happy:
asparagus and artichokes.
I typically rotate through multiple preparations of asparagus...Roasted Asparagus, Asparagus Risotto (with, and without shrimp) and Blanched Asparagus Salad.
The roasted asparagus is the real keeper here. (I know -- I'm telling you this now that asparagus season is pretty much over in much of the land.) Pan roasted in a super-hot oven, then tossed with minced shallots towards the end and then drizzled with a squirt of fresh lemon juice--Meyer Lemon if you're lucky like me and have friends with Meyer Lemon trees in their back yards--and, if you want to get fancy... toasted sesame seeds. One taste and you'll never boil or steam asparagus again. Keep it in mind for next year. (Recipe below.)

And, speaking of roasting, my new favorite method for preparing artichokes? You guessed it.
Roasting! First, a quick boil, then, sear them in olive oil, along with the lemons boiled alongside, on the stove, and finally into a very hot oven to finish. Incredibly delicious.

Easter weekend included a wacky, late-in-the-game decision to make ourselves an Indian feast. Not sure exactly what prompted this, but I seem to recall some discussion and reminiscing about some wonderful friends who gave us what is an excellent guide when cooking Indian food -- Curried Favors -- an incredible cookbook which focuses on the food of southern India. So that Sunday afternoon, we threw ourselves into making the following:
Spicy Dhal with Tomatoes, a dry, golden curry of Cauliflower, Potatoes and Peas, another dry curry of Stir-Fried Shrimp, and a Raita. The meal was incredible...the shrimp were a snap to make, the cauliflower-potato combination was a perfect balance of spice and vegetables, and well... I've never met a dhal I didn't love.

Needless to say, we ate Indian food leftovers for roughly a week. Um...let me rephrase. Steve ate Indian food leftovers for a week, and I went to New York.

A bit of entertaining -- including a paella for Steve's cousin and her husband. Everyone needs to know how totally excellent this dish is for having people over! It can be anything you want, really...any combination of shellfish, chicken, chorizo (or not) and it always seems to turn out beautifully. I never use the same recipe twice, bouncing between the Food Network and Epicurious websites. This last time, we used clams, chicken and shrimp and the paella (thank you Tyler Florence) was gorgeous. Serving paella also gives you a wonderful reason to bring out the Spanish wines. In the past four or five years, we have really grown to love Spanish wines, in particular the wines of Ribera del Duero.
End of May included a short visit to Chicago. The magnificent new modern art wing at the Art Institute is worth the trip alone, but in my case, there were also plenty of friends and family to see. We grilled turkey burgers one evening with my extended family (those turkey burgers are worth another post devoted just to them!). I also had an incredible breakfast with dear friends at a new-ish restaurant in Bucktown called The Bristol which included the most delicious brunch concoction using smoked salmon -- Salmon Soldiers. Toasted, buttery sticks of bread, wrapped with smoked salmon sitting alongside a perfectly poached egg, some frisee, and a lovely bearnaise-like sauce, not to mention the incredible Egg with Biscuits and Gravy that followed. Oh my! If you are in Chicago any time soon, I urge you to check it out.

That's a quick rundown of the past couple months. In addition to all of the above, there have been banana breads baked (both regular and chocolate!), an attempt to re-create the legendary Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken (success!!!) herbs grown in pots (they don't call me Mrs. Blackthumb for nothing!), the purchase of one, long-awaited and dreamed about dutch oven (Le Creuset, and it is dreamy...), Bolognese prepared in said Le Creuset (yum) and, of course, more than a few visits to Trader Joe's (? you'll have to wait and see), there's more to come.

Be back again soon...but in the meantime, if you come across any asparagus...

Roasted Asparagus
(adapted from an ancient Gourmet magazine, from the late 70s? early 80s?)
serves 4

12-16 stalks of asparagus, trimmed and bottoms peeled
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon of finely minced shallots
1 tablespoon of lightly toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Toss asparagus with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper in a baking dish or shallow oven-proof pan.

Roast for approximately eight to ten minutes -- depending on the thickness of the stalks you may need to adjust roasting time more or less.

While asparagus is roasting, toast sesame seeds in a dry, small skillet over medium flame. Keep on eye on the little fellas -- they burn fast.

Sprinkle asparagus with minced shallot and toss well before returning to oven for another several minutes, until shallots soften.

Remove from oven, douse with squeeze of lemon and sprinkling of sesame seeds and serve.