Recipe: My favorite hamburger

I love making hamburgers at home. Not those preformed, flavorless (sometimes frozen) hamburgers, but real hand formed burgers. Tonight, I needed a quick meal I could get on the table fast because I had a meeting to go to. Hamburgers won.

Making your own awesome hamburgers at home is easy. First, start with good ground beef. Tonight, I was using 90% naked (no hormones, no antibiotics) beef. The reason I’m willing to spend a bit more is because I want really good beef flavor in my burgers. Going out to get burgers is going to cost you at least $5.00 per burger, even if you go to McDonald’s. And my quarter pounders are WAY better than McDonald’s. Cost for the meat was $3.00.

For each burger, crumble a quarter pound of beef in a bowl.

For each burger add a a quarter teaspoon of salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried minced onion. I like using dried minced onion because it soaks up the beef juices and adds awesome flavor. I’ve experimented with all types of seasoning mixes and this is the one that my husband and I like the best.

Now, take off your rings and wash your hands, because we are going in with both hands! Lightly mix the spices into the meat then divide the mixture into quarter pound servings. Roll each serving into a ball and then start to flatten it. Use the palm of your hand to flatten the ball against your other hand. I make my hamburgers thin because they will shrink and fatten up as you cook them. I hold the patty with two hands and use my thumb to shape the patty into a kinda-sorta round shape. You don’t want the edges to be too much thinner than the center or else the edges will be dry by the time the center is done. Once they are shaped, use your index and middle fingers to put a divot in the center of the burger. Have you ever made burgers that looked like they were pregnant? The divot keeps the budget from bulging up in the center. In the picture below, you can see the little divot in the patty. Don’t make it too deep or your burger will have a crater.

There are a number of ways you can cook your burger. I’m using my trusty griddle/grill pan. I love this thing. I got it for $20 at Target. It’s flat on one side (great for pancakes) and has ridges on the other (great for grilling just about anything). I use this pan at least three times a week.

If you don’t have a griddle pan, you can use a regular frying pan or grill them outside. I use medium high heat to heat the pan (between 7 and 8 on my gas stove) to heat the pan for a good five minutes before placing the burgers on the pan. You want a hot pan or else the burgers will stick. You are looking for searing and you should hear sizzle when you put them down.

Cook the burgers on one side for about 4 minutes or until you see that they look cooked about halfway up the side. Flip the burgers. If they are sticking to the pan, they aren’t ready to be flipped yet. Don’t force them. You’ll rip your pretty little burgers.

Aren’t the grill marks pretty? They are delicious, too. At this point, I sprayed my bun with a bit of cooking spray (you can use spray butter or brush with olive oil instead) and placed it on the grill. Jeff doesn’t like grilled buns. Cook the burgers a few minutes longer until they are done to your liking. I’m terrible at getting them to the right temperature for the perfect medium or medium rare burger without using a thermometer. I cook them til the juices run clear if I don’t have a thermometer. If you use good beef, they will still be juicy even if they are medium well.

If you like your cheese a bit melted place cheese on the burgers about 30 seconds before you take them off the grill. I like my cheese a bit melted but Jeff just puts his cheese on the bun. Don’t be stingy with the cheese!

This was my burger with grilled bun and melted cheese. I like mayo and ketchup on my burger. Jeff likes yellow mustard on his. Did I mention he also likes yellow cheese? Yes, we buy white and yellow American cheese in our house. We are strange folks.

This dinner took me about 15 minutes to make from start to finish. Serve it up with some veggie sticks or some potato salad and you’ve got a great dinner that was a lot less expensive than a trip to the drive-thru and so much more delicious.

Bring back the sandwich!

People ask me all the time how I manage to eat at home almost every night, especially with tax season and teaching. People tell me they don’t have time to make extravagant dinners during the week. You know what? I don’t either. I think there are a lot of people out there who believe that food must be time consuming and require a knife in order to be considered dinner.

I very much disagree. Dinner must be a comforting way to end the way, as far as I am concerned.  Sometimes that comfort comes from getting something on the table fast so that you can enjoy time with your family. A lot of times during the winter, my husband and I will have soup and sandwiches for dinner. It’s hearty, quick and with lots of variety (well at least for me).

I’ll make tortellini soup (see Recipe page), or if I don’t have tortellini, I’ll add small pasta instead. Usually sandwiches for dinner are grilled. Grilled cheese, sometimes with a bit of ham, is a huge favorite in my house.

I worked at a large chain restaurant when I was in high school so I am a big fan of “the melt”. A melt is very easy to make and is great for using up leftovers.  Take two pieces of bread and butter them like you are going to make grilled cheese. Place both pieces of bread, butter side down on a hot grill pan. Put a slice of cheese on top of each piece. Now to consider the filling. You can put pretty much anything you between these two pieces of bread. By toasting it, you’ll have a good foundation for your sandwich:

Add a burger and grilled onions for a patty melt (I love swiss for this)

Add sliced meatballs or sausage and use mozzarella cheese

Add ham, turkey, corned beef or pastrami and some 1000 island dressing for a Ruben. You can add sour kraut too.

Add leftover chicken, tomato and basil

Add bacon, lettuce and tomato

Add leftover beef roast, onions, peppers and mushrooms

The possibilities are endless. Just heat up your filling separately then add it to the bread once it is toasted.  This is a great way to use up leftovers and still get a hearty dinner on the table FAST! If you need to add some veggies, serve with carrot and celery sticks or a small salad.

The potluck needs to make a comeback

My friend Allison has an interesting theory (actually it might be a law now in the scientific sense): Any food can be made better with the addition of bacon, cheese or chocolate. On January 2, 2010, we tested this theory by holding the 1st annual bacon, cheese and chocolate potluck at my house. Not only was I amazed by the shear number of friends who came to the event, but also by their creativity.

Aaron gets an A+ for making a dish with all three ingredients. He made stuffed french toast with bacon and drizzled with chocolate syrup. Jacie gets an A+ for making the most desserts (she brought 3, all of which had bacon in them). We had pizza with bacon, mac and cheese with bacon, Jacie’s apple pie with bacon, served with a slice of cheese. We had brussel sprouts, caramels, cupcakes, and brownies all containing bacon. It’s funny because you wouldn’t think it would work, but oh man, it worked. We even had chocolate covered bacon and bacon wrapped filet bites.

We had twenty people over for this event. Everyone brought food, drinks and paper supplies to share. We introduced a few people to the Wii for the first time.

It was a lovely party and the best part? It didn’t cost a small fortune. Since everyone helped out, we spread the cost around. What better way to share an evening with your friends than a potluck? The house was warm and full of good friends. We didn’t have to pay $20 per person for dinner and find a place that could hold us all. It was comfortable and relaxed. Everyone has asked me for the date for next year’s event. I believe it will be January 8.

So I challenge you during these cold winter months to invite your friends over for a nice pot luck dinner. Have a theme. Last night we were toying with the idea of having another pot luck soon, this time a maple theme since we were discussing maple syrup last night at my knitting group. I’m not sure I would recommend having a bacon, cheese and chocolate potluck unless you have two doctors and an EMT in attendance like we did.

Have you ever had a pot luck success? Maybe a cool themed potluck? Please share. We need more ideas!

Thanks to all my friends who made the bacon, cheese and chocolate potluck a smashing success. I can’t wait to do it again next year!