Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Smashing Burgers!

When I was a kid, I would love it when my mom would take me to Hamlin Pharmacy and Fountain in Corpus Christi, Texas. The thought of a pharmacy, a gift shop, and a soda fountain all-in-one made me giddy! Not only could you enjoy old-timey lunch counter cuisine, cooked right in front of you on a griddle, you could wash it down with a milkshake and buy yourself something new before you left! Great fun when you're a kid! While soda fountains and lunch counters are relics of a bygone era, I have always had an affinity for the greasy cuisine. In fact, this lead me to create a fantastic burger, not cooked on a grill, but on the stove, just like they did in the old days!

When my husband first saw me cook burgers this way, he shook his head and thought I was absolutely nuts. Why? Well, basically I ignored all the rules about how to cook a burger. I relied on my experience at Hamlin's, a vague memory of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin making burgers on TV, as well as what I observed in the plethora of diners that I frequented when I lived in the northeast. On first bite, my husband was shocked at how delicious and juicy the burgers were! Even today, I may suggest cooking burgers on my Weber grill, but am always met with resistance, "Make diner burgers!" (which they have become known), "You know they're always better!", and they always are.

The technique is really simple. In a large pan (see Gadgets for my favorite nonstick pan), melt a pat of butter topped with thinly sliced onions for each burger, shape the ground beef into individual balls, season generously with salt and pepper, and using a spatula, smash each ball down on each butter/onion mound. Bobby Flay would freak! By smashing them, you get the jagged edges that create a nice crispy texture. Once they begin to brown on the edges, flip them and smash them again! This creates the perfect meat to bun ratio. Top each burger with two slices of good old American cheese and cover until the cheese is melted and the burgers are done to your liking. For those of you who judge my smashing technique, how do you explain the wildly popular Denver-based burger chain Smashburger, or the fact that Hamlin's is still thriving today? Why not try my "Ultimate Diner Burger with Bacon and Egg?" Although they are a cardiologists nightmare, they are fantastic! Try it and you'll never make burgers the same again! 
Ultimate Diner Burger with Bacon and Egg

Serves 4


1 lb ground chuck
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick slices bacon 
1/4 cup very thinly sliced onion
8 slices American cheese (yes, Kraft!)
4 eggs
4 good quality burger buns, toasted
Mayonnaise, for the buns


Divide the beef into four and shape into round balls. Set aside.

Cook the bacon over medium heat in a large pan, drain on paper towels. In the pan that you cooked the bacon, raise the heat to high and make four even mounds of the onions. Season the balls generously with salt and pepper. When the onions are starting to sizzle, using a spatula, smash each ball down on each onion mound.

Once the edges begin to brown, a few minutes, flip them over and smash them again. (A splatter guard is recommended to control the mess.) After a minute, reduce the heat to medium and top each burger with two slices of the cheese, cover the pan until the cheese is melted and the burgers are done to your liking, just a minute or two.

Set the burgers on a platter. In the pan with the grease, cook two eggs at a time until the whites are set and the yolks are still soft, just a few minutes. (Covering the pan helps to cook the whites faster.) Set aside while cooking the remaining two eggs.

To serve, place each burger on the toasted and mayonnaised buns, top with the bacon (break the bacon in half so they fit well), and top with a fried egg. Fabulous!

*You may also be interested in my Green Chili Cheeseburgers.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Swiss Shepherds and T.J. Sochi!

In honor of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, I wanted to throw a party for the opening ceremony and began researching Russian cuisine. After an exhausted search, I concluded that meat jello, pickled everything, salted herring, salo (cured pork fat), beets, and vodka would not make a festive affair for my American comrades. While Russia does have some specialties, such as Salad Olivier and Veal Orloff, these were created by Belgium and French chefs who were hired by the Russian nobility, no doubt in search of better cuisine. After this horrifying picture, I gave up!

"A picture is worth a thousand words!"

So, with the weather as cold and snowy as I can ever remember, I decided to borrow from the Swiss. No, not fondue, but raclette! Raclette is a melted cheese dish that has been popular for many centuries and originated with the Swiss shepherds. The shepherds would move their herds into the mountains for grazing in the warm summer months. With limited supplies of potatoes, flour, gherkins, and a round of cheese, they would cut the wheel of cheese in half and place it on a rock near the fire's edge. As the cheese began to melt, they would scrape some off to a plate of potatoes and pickles. The word "raclette" comes from the French word "racler" meaning "to scrape off," and is the same name of the cheese that is traditionally used for this dish. 

So, I dusted off my Swissmar Raclette/Grill, purchased some Raclette cheese and some Apremont Vin De Savoie Blanc (which my cheesemonger said was authentic with raclette), made room on my luckily large-enough coffee table, set out some low stools and pillows, and let the party begin! This is a great party idea that can all be prepped ahead of time! Everyone had a great time, even my kids! In fact, it was so much fun that instead of packing my raclette away, I plan on having another party to watch the US Men's Hockey game, which I am currently recording! Go Blues!

How to Throw a Raclette Party

Ingredients (Pick and choose as you like!):

Traditional Raclette
1/4 lb Raclette cheese per person, sliced (e.g., 1 lb for 4) (Other Swiss cheeses can be used, such as Tilsit, Grey Alp Cheese, Appenzeller, etc.)
Sausage, such as smoked sausage like Kielbasa, etc., cut into slices (see package information for serving size)
Ham, sliced
Bacon, sliced and cut in half
Thinly sliced onions
1 lb boiled baby potatoes per 4 people
Baguette slices
Pickled pearl onions
Paprika (to sprinkle as desired)
Salt and white pepper

Contemporary Raclette
Vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, etc.)
Fruit, sliced (pineapple, apple, banana, etc.)
Chicken, Beef, or Pork (cut into small pieces or skewered)
Fish (cut into small pieces)
Seafood (such as shrimp)
Pizza sauce and pizza cheese
Tortillas and Monterrey jack


Set up
Place a large cutting board on a table large enough to hold all your ingredients, raclette/grill, and plates/utensils. Set raclette on large cutting board and make sure you have an outlet available. (You may have to use an extension cord.) Make separate platters to attractively arrange the meat(s), fish or shellfish, cheese(s), and vegetables, etc. Organize condiments with spoons and forks, as needed. Set aside enough wine glasses and napkins, as needed. 

Once everyone has arrived, turn on raclette. Once hot, place little slices of cheese in the nonstick dishes that slide in under the nonstick ribbed grill plate. Once the cheese is melted, using the plastic scrapers, slide cheese onto individual serving plates and eat with potatoes or bread (toasted on top grill plate and sprinkled with a little wine). Grill the sausage, bacon, or other meat or seafood on top, as you go. All the combinations are up to you and your guests. The sky's the limit! For my picky young ones, they like to make mini "pizzas," grill fruit, or make little quesadillas to their liking, with adult supervision, of course! Enjoy!