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.

Awesome pasta recipe (Warning: Not health food!)

Sunday, we had another bacon, cheese and chocolate potluck at the house.  It was a huge success. Of course, I forgot to take pictures but some of my friends did and I’ll grab them as soon as I can.

I have to share my recipe with you because it was a huge hit and was super simple to make. I actually had everything on hand to make it! I adapted my recipe from this Taste of Home recipe. I know it’s not authentic pasta carbonara, I would actually rate it more an alfredo than a carbonara, so I’ll name mine that instead!

Bacon mushroom alfredo

  • 1 lb short cut pasta (I used bowties)
  • 1 lb of bacon
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 to 4 cloves of garlic (I used 4)
  • 2 4oz cans of sliced mushrooms or 80z package fresh sliced mushrooms
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 1/2 cups of half and half (I think fat free would work just fine)
  • 1 T dried parsley
  • 6 to 8 drops of hot sauce
  • black pepper to taste
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Heavily salt the water and add pasta. Cook until al dente. You want to undercook the pasta a bit because it will cook a bit when you mix everything together. Drain the pasta when done and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, dice the pound of bacon. Cook in a large skillet or wok until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain. Drain the bacon grease reserving about 2 tablespoons in the pan. Add the onion and mushrooms to the pan. Mince or grate the garlic and add that as well. Cook until the onions are translucent and the whole thing is fragrant. Remove the mushroom mixture to a bowl.

In the same pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the remaining ingredients  to the butter. Raise heat to medium high and simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens. Add the mushroom mixture and the bacon back to the pan. Mix thoroughly, then add the pasta. Mix it all up and serve.

I know this is not the most diet friendly recipe, but you could use turkey bacon, a butter substitute and fat-free half and half. Plus, this recipe is enough to feed a good sized crew. Add a salad and some bread and you’ve got an awesome meal.

Check out Pork Tenderloin

The key to making quick dinners is selecting the right cut of meat. A lot of quick dinners around here involve broiling or grilling meat. One of my favorite go-to dinners is the pork tenderloin.

If you’ve never had pork tenderloin, it’s like the filet of pork. The meat is juicy and tender. You really don’t even need a knife to cut it when cooked properly. Tenderloins are generally small (1/2 to 1 lb) and the perfect size to feed two or four people. Don’t confuse tenderloin with a pork loin roast. Pork loin roast is much larger and will therefore take a lot longer to cook.

Last week, pork tenderloin was on sale for $2.99 a lb. At my store, they are generally sold in packs of two.

Here’s how I prepare it:

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and place your tenderloin on the sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and your choice of seasoning. I’ve used a number of different things:

Herbes de Provence
Garlic powder and dried minced onion
Pork rub (omit salt and pepper if using this one)
Lemon pepper (omit pepper if using this one)
Seasoning salt (omit salt and pepper if using this one)
Italian herbs

You can be really creative with this. Last night, I used Herbes de Provence.

I used the instructions in my Betty Crocker Cookbook (which is my go-to cook book for meat). Bake the tenderloin at 450 degrees for 20 minutes per lb. I’ve found that 20 minutes is the minimum even for a small tenderloin. You know it’s ready when the internal temperature is about 155-160 degrees and then poked with a fork, the juices run clear. If you don’t have a thermometer, make sure to fork test the center of the loin. Now take the foil and wrap it around the loin like a little pouch, sealing the ends tightly.

Let the loin rest for 5 minutes before slicing. If you generally have trouble with your meat drying it, it may be because you aren’t letting it rest. By letting it rest after baking, the juices redistribute into the meat. If you cut it immediately, you are going to have a lot of liquid on your cutting board and not much left in your meat.

I slice my tenderloin in one inch slices, but you can slice it however you like. I think Jeff would be perfectly happy if I just hacked off a slab for him. You can serve this with whatever you like for sides. It goes well with a lot of different things.

If your tired of the same old chicken, I’d invite you to give this a try. It’s great for a change and so easy to make.


Frugal Friday 11/20/09

I have to admit, last night I was completely unprepared for dinner. I was getting things ready for my class and answering emails so I never go anything together for dinner. On my way home from class, I stopped at the grocery store. I had two dinners in mind. I had two different dinners in mind. I could make chicken cordon bleu, I had everything but the chicken. Well, when I went into the store, chicken was $4.99 a lb. There is no way I’m going to pay $4.99 a lb for chicken. The other thought was to make Beef stroganoff. Beef was running over $6.00 per pound. So instead of beef stroganoff, I decided to make mushroom stroganoff. I was going to put mushrooms in the dish anyways so I would just omit the meat. I was very pleased with how it turned out. It was quick and hearty. I actually had the sauce finished before the noodles. The only thing I would do differently next time is to buy two packages of mushrooms.

Mushroom stroganoff

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
2 – 10 oz packages of sliced mushrooms
1 small onion
1 T minced garlic
1 t ground marjoram
1 – 15 oz can of low sodium beef broth
1/2 cup of milk
1 packet of brown gravy mix (I used 1/4 cup from a container of brown gravy mix)
1 cup of sour cream

Add the butter and olive oil to a large sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Add onions, mushrooms and garlic to the pan. Increase the heat to medium high, stirring constantly until the mushrooms are fully cooked and the onions are soft. Add the marjoram and stir into the veggies. Now add the broth, milk and gravy mix to the pan. Bring to a simmer until sauce is thickened. Turn off the heat and stir in the sour cream.

Serve over egg noodles. Some bread or rolls might be good, too. This sauce is great for sopping. This much sauce was more than enough for the entire bag of noodles. You might be able to get two bags of noodles out of it. It really does make a good amount of sauce.

How were you frugal this week? Share your posts with us. Coupons, deals, stories. Let’s see what you’ve got!

Meal plan and lasagna recipe

We’ll, I’ve already changed the meal plan that I set up this  month. We had some friends over for dinner tonight so things got moved around a bit from the plan I posted last week.

Sunday: Build-your-own-casserole with ground turkey
Monday: Pork chops, stuffing and veggies
Tuesday: Hot dogs, baked beans and veggie sticks
Wednesday: Chicken Parm, pasta, salad
Thursday: Pancakes and sausage
Friday: Mac and Cheese, veggies
Saturday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn

Sunday and Tuesday got switched. I haven’t made it to the grocery store yet, but I don’t need much this week. Just a few veggies and some mac and cheese. Not bad. Not bad at all. I’m hoping to come in way under budget this month.

Saturday, I made lasagna. I have three or four different ways I make lasagna. Sometimes I make sauce from scratch. Sometimes I use ricotta cheese and sometimes I make a bechamel  sauce instead. It really depends on how much time and money I have to spend on the endeavour. This week was quick and cheap lasagna.

What you’ll need:

1 box of lasagna noodles (not the not bake ones but the real ones)
2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce
1 lb of hamburger
minced garlic to taste (I use about 1 – 2 tablespoons)
teaspoon of dried basil
teaspoon of dried oregano
a pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons of butter
a drizzle of olive oil
teaspoon of garlic powder or granulated garlic
teaspoon of onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup of flour
2 – 3 cups of milk
Parmesan cheese (optional)
2 cups of mozzarella cheese

You can boil your lasagna noodles if you want but I think it’s a pain and the noodles tend to get overcooked. Instead, I fill my lasagna pan with hot water (boiling if you got it) and soak the noodles in the water until everything else is ready to go. The noodles start to soften and you don’t have to dirty another pan. You’re already making enough dirty dishes, don’t need any more. Plus the noodles will finish cooking in the oven and they won’t be mushy.

If you have precooked hamburger in the freezer, defrost it. Add a bit of oil to a pan that’s large enough for all this sauce we are going to make. Heat the oil on medium low and add your garlic. Cook the garlic for a minute or two, until you can smell it. Don’t let it burn. Then add your ground beef (cooked or raw). Cook until no longer pink. Add the basil, oregano, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Then add the jars of sauce. Move this to the back burner on medium heat so just make friends for a few minutes.

Time for bechamel. A bechamel is just a white sauce. It’s the foundation for a ton of other awesome sauces, like alfredo and sausage gravy. In a sauce pan, add a bit of olive oil and your butter. Let it melt on medium so it doesn’t burn. Adding the oil will help to prevent the butter from burning. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and a bit of fresh ground nutmeg. I know it sounds odd, but just a touch makes it so good. Stir into the butter. Now add the flour and stir constantly for a few minutes until the flour takes on a bit of color. Cooking the flour helps to get rid of all the raw flour taste and just leaves the thickening goodness behind. Now slowly add the milk and raise the heat a bit. Start with two cups and bring the sauce to a simmer until thickened. You may need to add more milk if it’s too thick. You can always add more but you can’t fix it if it gets too thin. At this point you can add some Parmesan cheese to your sauce to give it some more kick.

Now we can start layering. Drain your noodles and dry off your lasagna pan. Spray the pan with nonstick cooking spray or grease your pan. Put a layer of noodles on the bottom of the pan, making sure they overlap a bit. Now put a layer of the bechamel. I smooth it out with a spatula or a frosting spreader. Now add a layer of your red sauce on top of that. Repeat your layers until you are out of pasta. I try to finish with a layer of bechamel, then a layer of red sauce. Top with cheese and bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes depending on how dark you like the cheese on top.

You can substitute the bechamel for a ricotta mixture. I add an egg, some garlic powder, dried parsley and some Parmesan and mozzarella to the ricotta and chill it until I’m ready to assemble. I’ll make this before the sauce to let the flavors get friendly.

Chocolate Peanut Squares

Last night I brought these Chocolate Peanut Squares to my knitting group and they were a huge hit. The thing I love: they are no bake! Perfect for summer snacking when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen. That hasn’t been a huge issue around here since I probably could have worn a sweater to my knitting group last night. At least it’s not raining!