Thursday, September 22, 2011

Now More Than Ever.... The Hamburger Is King!!!

Remember some time ago when the cholesterol scare was in the news and suddenly everyone began watching their fat intake and the meat producers had incredible losses? Health food began making a stronger appearance in everyday people's lives and we started paying attention to food labels and such..... for a while anyway.

We had other food scares along the way too, from Atkins to Vegetarian (Vegan wasn't mainstream until lately, now it's hip) to everything in between, yet the meat producers hit back and pretty soon it was: "Meat, it's what's for dinner...", plus they went stronger too with portion sizes being larger than ever. The US seems to be leading in this category, insisting that people eat more by serving you caveman like portions of steak and other heavy food fare.... and since we were all brought up with the "eat all your food, there are starving children in Africa...", being good children we gobbled it all up and still do.

In Europe, Americans complain of the portion sizes, I've heard them compare the food to what they get at home and yearn for American chains and familiar flavors (why, I don't know but they do...), usually preffering what they're used to of course. I'll never forget an American tourist that came into the restaurant we were having lunch in one day in Venice, as usual we were at an out of the way place and this lady seemed lost and walked in demanding: "white sauce, white sauce, white sauce!!!" and "fish sandwich"..... the owner greeted her and tried to get her to sit at a table and look at the menu (it was amazing!), but she wasn't having it, instead repeating her chant over and over and getting frustrated. The owner had no idea what she wanted, he not speaking English and her not speaking Italian, but we knew and laughed about it until we noticed an upset owner talking to the Chef who was sharpening his knives and we thought: "her goose is cooked for sure, she'll never make it out of here alive...". We still talk and laugh about it....

Recollections aside one of the biggest food trends on the market is for sure the availability and variety of burgers. Bigger and better than ever, to the point where even gourmet restaurants have paid attention and now feature what before would be unthinkable.... "the gourmet burger". Some have Kobe Beef or foie gras, truffles, gold leaf.... you name it, it's on there. Have you noticed that dress codes have also virtually disappeared from restaurants too? Now you see shorts, t-shirts and very casual wear all over the place- of course eating burgers! Fine dining Chefs have introduced their own versions of the ever popular burger into their fancy menu's and although much more expensive than burgers found at Burger King or your local Applebee's, they sell very well. You can bet these will not be taken off the menu anytime soon either.

Don't get me wrong, I like a good burger. I make burgers at home and a well made burger is a very cool thing and it doesn't matter if you're vegetarian or whatever, there's a burger out there for you! I do firmly believe that every now and then a burger is just what you need and when you eat it, it hits the spot, right?

So, what's your favorite burger? Basic All-American with tomato, lettuce, onion and pickle? Is cheese or bacon a must? What's your favorite Vegetarian Burger? I used to serve Shrimp Burgers which were awesome.... Chicken, Pork, Combo? My guys like half-pound burgers, how about you? Here are some that come to mind (some are really crazy good!):
1- The Cheddar Burger with Tarragon Russian Dressing from BLT Burger (Chef Laurent Tourondel)
2- The Lure Burger with caramelized onion and bacon jam at Lure Fishbar (Chef Josh Capon)
3- Beef Burger with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce from Chef Bobby Flay
4- The Lola Burger with fried egg, Gruyere and Bacon from Chef Michael Simon
5- Best Ever Vegetarian Burger from Northstar Cafe

You get the idea, burgers are old friends and everyone loves them.... why not have one today? In case you want to try something different, here's my take on the ever popular Best Vegetarian Burger (by popular acclaim and by meat eaters!)..... very tasty and interesting:

Best Vegetarian Burger Ever.- Looks like meat, eats like meat and is very yummy..... it captures everything you look for in a burger: taste, look and texture. Don't judge until you've tried these, have an open mind and give them a try....

1/2 cup brown rice (I've used more at times)
1 onion, diced small
3 large red beets (about 1 lb), diced small
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1- 1 1/2 cups black beans, cooked (or you can use 1 can)
the juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons parsley, minced fine
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1/2 teaspoon thyme, chopped fine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
Provolone or Monterey Jack Cheese (optional, your choice)

In a big pot, bring a good amount of water to a boil. Add plenty of salt and add the rice, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the rice until its cooked but not al dente. You want it a well cooked, but still firm. Check  after about 35-40 minutes. Drain the rice and set it aside.

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, then reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the onions are softened. Add in the beets. Now cover the pot and cook until the beets are completely tender, stirring occasionally, check them. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Deglaze the pan using the cider vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan. Let cook for about 5 minutes.

Empty the black beans into a large bowl and use a fork to mash them up a bit. Add the cooked rice, the beet/onion mixture, the lemon juice, olive oil, and all the spices. Stir to combine and then taste to adjust the seasonings. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once it tastes the way you like it, add the flour and stir until you see no more dry flour.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over the highest heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil - (the oil should coat the bottom of the pan). When you see the oil shimmer and become very liquid, the pan is ready to cook in. Now  using your hands, take a cup of the burger mixture and shape it into a patty between your palms. Set it in the pan, it should begin to sizzle immediately. (If it doesn't sizzle your pan isn't hot enough so wait a minute or two before adding any more burgers.) Shape and add as many more patties as will fit in your pan. Once all the patties are in the pan, reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook the burgers for 2 minutes, then flip to the other side. You should see a nice crust on the cooked side that's why having a hot pan is important. (If they break apart while flipping them, reshape with the spatula, they'll come together once the second side is cooked). If you're adding cheese, lay a slice over the burgers now. Cook the second side for another 2 minutes.

 Serve the veggie burgers on soft burger buns (we like Brioche) or a lightly toasted sandwich bread along with some fresh greens. Cooked burgers should be eaten right away but you can also save uncooked leftover burger mix in the fridge for up to a week and cook just one or two burgers as you want them. Top with your favorites.

Tomato Relish for Burgers.- Not spicy (but you can add heat if you want) and works well with all types of burgers and sandwiches.

6 cups of fresh chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons of celery seeds
2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

 To prepare the tomatoes peel them by soaking them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, the skin should peel off easier. Remove the seeds and chop them. Combine the sugar, vinegar, celery seeds, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Now add the chopped tomatoes, onion and green pepper. Store the relish in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.

Bacon Jam.- Don't knock it until you've tried it..... feel free to add Bourbon if you like... all good! Plus it's not just for burgers.....

1 lb smoked bacon (or use regular bacon and liquid smoke), cut in 1 inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium brown onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Tabasco sauce ( to taste)
1 cup coffee
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
Black pepper to taste
extra water

 In a non stick pan, fry the bacon in batches until lightly browned and beginning to crisp.  Add and fry the onion and garlic in the rendered bacon fat on medium heat until translucent. After 5 minutes of cooking transfer the bacon, onion and garlic into a heavy cast iron pot and add the rest of the ingredients except for the water.

Lower the heat and simmer for 2 hours adding 1/4 of a cup of water every 25-30 minutes or so and stirring. Keep checking and scrapping the bottom. When ready and a deep brown color turn off the heat and cool for about 15-20 minutes before placing in a food processor. Pulse for 2-3 seconds so that you leave some texture to the “jam” but you can leave it smoother by continuing to process until you get the texture you like.
Place in airtight glass jar and keep in refrigerator.

Phew!.... I'm tired just from the workout my taste buds got.... hope you try these, Enjoy!

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