May 25, 2007

Big Burger Ballyhoo 2007

Hello out there,

I am ashamed to admit it, but I have been absent for over a month now from Roasting Rambler, but I'm glad to say that I am back from my unplanned vacation from the blogging world (really I returned with the post a few days ago, but that was written before I went on hiatus, I was just waiting on some recipe field testing). However, I have not been absent from my kitchen, and I have a few postings incubating in the background, but to kick off my return I have a shout out to the amazing kitchen duo, Paul and Freya (Freya was the first person to ever leave a comment on my blog). Paul has announced the Big Burger Ballyhoo 2007 over at Writing at the Kitchen Table, and I couldn't stop myself from ensuring that a pork entry made it into the running.

I am an unabashed champion of nearly all things pork (save Italian sausage, which usually is brimming with fennel - yuck!). If it has pork in it, I'll try it. I seem to have textural issues with most forms of ground meat and find myself to be extremely picky when it comes to beef patties, but give me a pork patty and I'll eat it every time. Sadly, however, too many pork patties are over handled and overcooked leading to pork burger's undeserved reputation as dry and tasteless. Treated gently and heated until just barely cooked, pork burgers can be a juicy, tasty alternative to beef.

I love a good pork burger with just a touch of salt and black pepper served on a simple bun with ketchup, but since the goal is to find the best burger I thought I should turn up the flavor. I picked up some local, organic red leaf lettuce, black krim tomatoes, and red onion. I usually go for multi-grain buns, but I was at my second grocery stop and they were out, so I went for a white whole wheat bun instead. I also grabbed some smoked bacon to go with the pork burger.

Unlike a beef patty, I feel that cheese on a pork burger would be superfluous. I wrote the recipe for one, scale as necessary.

Before I get to the recipe I want to say a few things about grills. I am blessed to possess a heavy duty (overkill for one person) grill. It has enambled cast iron grates (which apparently are available as an aftermarket add-on for many grills - I recommend spending the cash if you can because it does make a difference) which stay extremely hot long after the flame has gone out. My grill also has 4 burners so I usually turn the burner immediately under my burgers off to reduce the chance of a flare up. I did follow the direction below when preparing the burger and that is when I got the low end of the time spectrum. When turning the burner off, it takes the burger a little bit longer to cook. I endorse either method, the most important thing is to look at the burger when you flip it. If it has good solid grill marks, and doesn't show any pink then it only needs a couple of minutes more to finish cooking after you flip it. Good luck and let me know what toppings you think are crucial to the perfect pork burger.

Here's my entry for Big Burger Ballyhoo 2007:

Pork Burger for One

1/2 lb very cold ground pork (what I have available is 80% lean)
2 ounces smoked bacon (about 3 slices)
1 thick slice of flavorful tomato (slice up a tomato and taste it, if it doesn't taste great, don't put it on your burger)
1 thin slice of red onion
1 large red lettuce leaf
1 large bun (I recommend whole grain or muligrain - you may want to brush it with a little bacon grease or melted butter before grilling)
course salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat your grill on high for at least 15 minutes before cooking.

Keep the meat as cold as possible as you handle it. Set up near a sink and run your hands under very cold water and then take 1/2 lb of pork, shape it into a rough ball shape and then flatten it (gently) until it is an even thickness (keep your hands cool by running them under the water. Keeping your hands wet will also prevent the meat from sticking to your hands). Your patty should be about 1 inch wider than your bun. Immediately rewrap and gently return to the refrigerator.

Cook the bacon until crispy and then drain on paper towels.

Mix the salt and pepper (about 1 teaspoons each in a small bowl). Take your meat out to the grill with the salt and pepper. Unwrap the meat and sprinkle about half the salt and pepper on one side of the meat. Place that side down on the hot grill and immediately season the other side.

Close the grill and allow to cook for about 3-5 minutes.

Place each bun half face down on the grill (if the bun is over direct heat it may only need a minute before you have nice grill marks, remove before it starts burning). Using a metal spatula, loosen the burger from the grill and then flip it. Close the grill again. This side will only need about 2-3 minutes.

Open the grill and remove the bun. Loosen the burger and then remove to a plate. Let rest for about 2 minutes to finish cooking and soak up the tasty juices. Don't ever push down on a burger - you'll only push out all the moisture.

Place your burger on the bottom bun, top with onion, tomato, bacon, and lettuce. Squirt a good amount of ketchup on the top bun and then sit down to dinner. Enjoy!

*Looking over this recipe as I get ready to post it, I am realizing that this recipe would probably qualify for my "Easy does it" feature, but I haven't done the testing I did with the first feature recipe, so I'll only consider it unofficially a member of the new feature.

May 22, 2007

Easy does it

Recently, I received a request to showcase easy (for the average person) recipes, which was seconded by several friends. This also happened to coincide with Heidi's posting of an Englishman's request for "easy-to-prepare fresh food." I find that my definition of "easy-to-prepare" differs drastically from that of most of my friends, so it is with them in mind that I set out some ground rules (to which I will attempt to adhere) for this recurring feature.

  1. I will list all ingredients, including salt and pepper, and attempt to provide easy to use, concise measurements for them all.
  2. Each recipe will use no more than 10 total ingredients, and I will provide brand suggestions for unique ingredients (and maybe some suggestions for making homemade versions of store bought ingredients).
  3. I will try to present the recipe in a scalable form, i.e. the recipe is 2 servings as written, but can be doubled, tripled, etc. as necessary.
  4. I will only use ingredients that I can pick up in one grocery store visit.
  5. There should be minimum amount of active time and effort involved in getting from the start to the finish.
The homemade variations will be for people like me that cannot help, but attempt to make nearly everything from scratch (even if it is just once). I think the culinary adventure that cemented my (according to my friends) crazy dedication to cooking was when I produced lard at home (something I plan to continue doing by the way).

For the first installment of this feature I made a verde tortilla soup. Just to ensure that everyone gets off to a good start, there are a few points I want to make. First, verde means "green" in Spanish, and instead of a tomato-based salsa, salsa verde is (usually) based on tomatillos. There are many salsa options available in grocery stores that are not tomatillo-based. If you can't find the brand I suggested or would like to try other brands, check the ingredient list for tomatillos, or "green tomatoes" as they are sometimes called. They should be one of the first ingredients.

That said, try this recipe with your favorite salsa no matter what color, or main ingredient it is based on. One of my friends made it with red, tomato-based salsa with great success.

Chicken Verde Soup
Serves 4-6
Cooking time: Less than one hour

I find that I don't add salt as I cook with this recipe because the ingredients themselves are often heavy on sodium since you are using commercial products, but you may want to add salt and/or pepper at the table.

32 ounces Chicken Broth (I like Swanson Certified Organic)
1 cup frozen corn kernels (lately I've really enjoyed the Bird's Eye Baby Gold and White - it comes in a 1 lb. bag)
1 16-ounce jar salsa verde (I used La Victoria Salsa Verde Medium)
1 15-ounce can black beans (I used Bush's)
1 cup fresh salsa (from a 16 ounce container from the produce section - I'd suggest using mild)
1 rotisserie chicken (don't go for something strongly flavored, like bbq or lemon pepper, instead buy something like "savory') or left over chicken or turkey from another dinner - think Thanksgiving leftovers or leftover grilled chicken, just shred or slice (you'll want about 1 lb of meat).

Toppings (optional, but I would recommend using at least a few of these)
1 Avocado, sliced
Tortilla Chips, crumbled or tortilla strips (see instructions below)
More fresh salsa (using leftovers from above)
Sour Cream (add it by the spoonful on top of the soup)
Mozzarella, or Queso Blanco, or Feta (or your favorite white cheese), shredded or chopped into small cubes


1. Pour the chicken broth into a large pot. Place the pot on the stove and turn on to medium. You want the broth to come to a simmer (just a few large bubbles coming consistently to the surface and breaking - not a cascade of tiny bubbles frothing at the top of the liquid, if that happens turn the heat down to low). Add the corn, beans, salsa verde, and 1-cup of fresh salsa.

2. Pull the skin off of the chicken and throw away. Pull the meat from the bones and place in a bowl (you will have a lot of meat). If you just brought the chicken home it may be a little warm still so be careful.

3. When all the meat is removed and the skin and bones have been discarded pull out your serving bowls. Place about 1/3 cup of meat in each bowl.

4. To serve ladle some of the broth and vegetables over the chicken until the bowl is almost full.

5. Top with your favorite toppings and enjoy! (Do try the corn strips - they thicken the soup and give it some real body and texture - I like an equal amount of corn strips and chicken).

Corn Strips

Buy a package or soft corn tortillas (usually near the dairy section). Count on 1-2 tortillas per person.
You can use either lard, shortening, or vegetable oil.

Take about 1 teaspoon of one of the above fats and rub over each side of each tortilla. Then stack all the tortillas and slice with a sharp knife into strips (about 1/4 inch thick). Spread the strips out on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated (400 F) oven for 5-10 minutes, until just beginning to brown and crisp.

If you add them to the hot soup right as they come out of the oven you will hear them sizzle.

If you have a deep fat fryer you could also just cut the tortillas into strips and fry in batches until crispy - I don't have a deep fat fryer and find the oven method the easiest to handle.