Monday, June 28, 2010

Anthony Bourdain, Sandra Lee and a Really Good Burger

Anthony Bourdain was on the Today show a couple of weeks ago. I have to admit I find him hot in an old guy, bad boy sort of way. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a chef and a dad which earns him my respect as well as my affection. During his interview with Matt Lauer he won me over further by not only bashing Sandra Lee for the dumbing down of American cooking, but also talking about his sadness at the disappearance of the great American hamburger. No wonder I love you Anthony, I feel the same way.

When I was a girl, you were absolutely spoilt for choice with burger joints on every corner, and I’m not talking about McDonald’s or Burger King. I’m talking about the south Texas kind of burger joint. Prince’s Drive In, Britton’s Broiler Burger and my favorite of all time, the now defunct Lang’s Pharmacy (the best burger on the south side of Houston). Things have changed a bit since then; most of these places have gone the way of most things from my childhood and disappeared into extinction or worse...turned into a franchise. I will admit that when I travel back to Texas, a trip to Whataburger is still a must but it just doesn’t have that fresh, homemade taste with the ever sought after crispy and golden brown bun. I don’t know about you Mr. Bourdain, but in my opinion a buttered and toasted bun is just as important as the meat in the make up of a good burger. I am pleased to report that after much exhaustive research over the last few years, a great burger can still be found at the Citizen’s Hospital cafeteria in Victoria, Texas. So if you are lucky enough to have a friend or relative land up here, pop down to the first floor cafeteria for a quick bite in between visiting hours.

I tell you what else makes me sad, the demise of the fried pie. On the menu at most of the aforementioned burger joints were these wonderful sugary blobs of gelatinous fruit and goo which were wrapped in dough and drowned in sizzling fat until they were fried to a crispy golden brown; ummmm, delicious. Those were the days boy, when no one worried about fat, calories or the health dangers of hydrogenated oils. We could all just dig in without worrying about the “Eat This Not That” guy sucking the fun out of it on the Today show. Oh sure, you can still find the odd fruit pie around. McDonalds used to have a pretty decent fried pie but in doing scientific research for this blog, I ordered one of the ones they are selling now and I can tell you without reservation, save your dollar and pass on these. They are now baked for our health and culinary disappointment. Come on Mc Donald’s, embrace who you are! Don’t let the food police bully you into baking your pies and removing your toys from your kids’ meals. If “they” don’t like it, they don’t have to pull into to your drive-in lanes.

With summer here the good news is that a great hamburger for most us is just a hot barbeque grill away. Even though I love burgers that are prepared indoors just as much, we just seem to make more of them during the summer. I guess that it’s a combination of the easy clean up and the smoky flavor that just means summer to me. I have a few of my own hamburger secrets that I will pass on to you here:

1. The first is when making your patties, don’t worry about making them perfectly round, the less perfect the better to give them that homemade appearance.
2. Use meat with a little fat. When making burgers, I prefer using 80/20 ground beef. While using super lean meat is healthier, it also makes for a dry burger.
3. Don’t make your burgers too thick. The perfect meat to bun and veg ratio is essential to a great burger. I like to press out my patties then push a few holes in the center of the meat with my fingers to facilitate more even cooking. Try it once, you’ll be a believer.
4. If at all possible, butter the buns and place them in a hot skillet until they are crispy and golden brown on the inside before flipping over and heating up for just a few seconds on the outside.
5. Finally, if you are making your burgers in advance or cooking a bunch for a crowd, place them in a warm oven in a covered baking dish filled with a couple of cups of beef broth to keep them from drying out.
6. For something different, instead of salt use a teaspoon of beef bouillon granules per pound when spicing up the meat.
7. Offer super fresh toppings. Personally, I love to run my burger “through the garden,” add a slice of room temperature American cheese and some mayo and mustard but burger toppings are personal so I’m leaving that up to you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The New Car Monkey and My Giveaway Winner

Thanks so much to all of my "old" and new followers who participated in my CSN giveaway! chose Leslie (#51) as my winner. Please check back for more recipes and giveaways in the near future.

I’ve been thinking about buying a new car for sometime now. My car has 96,000 miles on the odometer and a creaking noise when I hit a bump. It still looks great with its shiny paint and comfy leather seats but something tells me it’s just time to say goodbye. Since we live in the frozen tundra in the winter months, my husband and I decided that I would buy the much needed four wheel drive and he could sell his gas guzzler and buy some tiny little petrol stingy chick car that he could drive to and from work. In anticipation of this big purchase, I’ve been saving every dollar in hopes of making the big check a little easier to write. I’ve been cooking at home more, staying away from the mall and my biggest sacrifice of all, doing my own pedicures. The latter has really been the most challenging since I have gotten a bit more, uh, shall we say, “mature.” Between my failing eyesight and the growing spare tire that I wear around my middle, my flip flops are the only things getting up close and personal with my toes these days.

Last weekend, after many test drives and tire kicking, my husband and I got serious and sat down with the lovely saleswoman I had been working with and got a price on the new SUV of my choice. I had done my homework and looked up the Blue Book value of the creaky old battle axe that I was trading in. I’m not na├»ve, so I was totally prepared for the fact that these car lot bandits were going to try to steal my car, but I was in no way prepared for the sexual assault (to put it nicely) that they planned on committing against us. Imagine they wanted to walk away with my beautiful old friend for pennies on the dollar. During our negotiations the once sweet young woman that had been helping me with my purchase began a metamorphosis that I can only describe as startling. Her blue eyes began to turn a devilish red, her fair skin took on a bluish tint and her long blonde hair now looked like thousands of tiny snakes (I’m not kidding). With tears in my eyes (well, almost), I grabbed my purse and we got out of there. Once in the comfort of my old car, I began to see the old girl in a whole new light. She isn’t the old jalopy that car lot Medusa had portrayed her to be. She has character, and like a bottle of fine wine she has been aged to perfection. She has wrapped her arms around my family and carried us safely to our destination on innumerable family trips. How could I abandon her in this hostile environment after all we have meant to each other? Oh sure, she has let me down a time or two like the time her transmission went out after that lacrosse game but we let that one go a long time ago. I’ve changed my mind for now, I’m keeping her.

Now that I’ve made this huge decision, my life is back on! Yesterday my daughter and I visited T. J. Maxx, the mall and the nail salon all in one fell swoop. The pedicure I got was one of the best I’ve ever had and God bless the young girl who did it. I deserved everything that she said about me to her coworkers in Vietnamese. I couldn’t understand a word but I can only imagine: “You think you’re having a bad day, at least you’re not having to reconstruct this old cow’s feet. I’d hate to see what her car looks like if she has feet like this!”

Since I got the new car monkey off my back I’m going to treat my family to a nice piece of beef on the grill. The following recipe is for a killer marinade that is based on a favorite of mine from one of Southern Living’s fantastic cookbooks. I have shared this recipe with almost everyone I know and they’ve all loved it. It is really meant to be used to marinate beef tenderloin but it is great for any cut of beef or pork. Vanity won't allow me to show photos of my pedicure, but I hope this photo of my perfectly grilled medium rare tri tip will do. I paired it with a cheesy poblano twice baked potato and some fresh sweetcorn for a perfect summer supper.

Spicy Port Wine Marinade

1/2 cup Port wine
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup light olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (depending on your taste for spice)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 pounds beef tenderloin or other favorite thick cut of beef

Place all of the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake well before pouring over beef in a zipper seal bag or bowl; seal bag and shake to coat or turn over a few times in the bowl to coat before covering with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator and marinate for 8 or up to 24 hours, turning several times.

Remove the meat from the bag and grill or barbeque to desired doneness.

Cheesy Poblano Twice Baked Potatoes

This is a really easy recipe so don’t try and make it difficult by measuring the ingredients as it should be made by personal preference and taste. Just remember to put the phrase “A bunch of” before every ingredient.

1 large baking potato for every 2 people to be served
1 large poblano pepper or any other mild or spicy green pepper, outsides charred and skin peeled, seeded and chopped
Soured cream
Medium shredded cheddar cheese
Cooked bacon, chopped
Green onion, chopped
Garlic powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, 180 C.

Bake or microwave potatoes until done; cut in half lengthwise and cool until you are able to hold them. Scoop out the inside leaving enough potato around the inside edge as to give the peel a bit of stability and structure; set the potato skins aside until ready to use.

In a large bowl, combine the potato insides, chopped pepper, butter, soured cream, cheese, bacon, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine leaving the mixture chunky.

Spoon equal amounts of the potato mixture into the potato skins; leaving uneven peaks on top (this will produce a delicious crunchy topping). Place on a baking sheet and bake uncovered in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 40 - 45 minutes or until they are heated through and the poblano pepper bits are soft. Cover with foil if the tops become too dark during heating.

CSN Gift Card Giveaway

CSN has offered me the opportunity to once again give my followers the chance to win one of their generous prizes. Since my last giveaway with them went so well, I jumped on the chance to do another. This time CSN is giving a $60.00 gift card that can be spent at any of their sites including my favorite, If you’d like a chance to win, please leave me a comment stating so, or if you aren’t a follower already, just sign up to follow publicly then leave me a comment. One comment per follower please as multiple entries will be deleted. This giveaway is only open to my followers residing in the U.S. and Canada. I can’t wait to hear your comments. I will be choosing a winner on June 25th. Good luck!