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May the Burger be with You!

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May is here and we can see summer around the bend. The trees are budding, flowers are popping out, and the grass needs to be mowed. It’s time to fill the propane tanks because it’s grilling season. I know there are a few diehard grillers out there who will forge through the snow and cold to light up the grill, but most prefer to wait until the weather is a more inviting.

We have a couple of recipes to ignite that urge to light up the grill with some simple tips on an American classic: the burger. We are also entering asparagus season and learned a little secret weapon to take your asparagus to the next level. In addition, we will begin sharing kitchen shortcuts. We have been testing new items. When we find something we really like or think our readers will find the product useful, we will be sharing it with you. We have also found some great ways to make mealtime easier while keeping it delicious. Now, let’s get cooking!

Burgers on the grill are an all-American classic. They seem easy enough to make, and many grill masters have a secret burger recipe. This month we ask: what makes a burger good? It all depends on whom you ask. Some say grind your own burger mixture right before you cook. Others recommend a combination of chuck and sirloin. There are those who say you should only season with salt and pepper, or perhaps a pat of butter in the center to keep it moist. For some, a good burger is a work of art, a gastronomic science, but they can all agree on a few key things:

You want your beef to have 15-20% fat in the meat, so look for an 80/20 blend for optimum fat content. Leaner is not better in the case of burgers, as the meat tends to be dry and dense. As you cook the burger, you want the fat to slightly melt and keep your burger juicy, especially if you like to cook your burgers medium-well or well done. Leaner meat leads to a drier burger. A small percentage of fat is a burger’s best friend.

Making your own patties allows you some freedom; you can create different sizes, stuff them, or add ingredients to the ground beef before you form the patties. When making the patties, be sure everything is cold. If you are adding seasoning to the beef before making patties, you will want to remove the beef from the fridge, crumble it into a bowl, and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before mixing the seasoning into the beef. Mix gently until incorporated, make the patties, and cook immediately or refrigerate until ready to cook. Cold ground beef and wet, cold hands will make things a lot easier, as it helps keep the fat in the meat where it belongs. The more you work the meat, the more you warm the meat, the more fat ends up on your hands and not in the meat.

When ready to make the patties, dip hands under cold water and soak until cold. Work the burger meat quickly and delicately into a ball shape. Not pressing to hard, shape the burger meat into an inch thick patty (we recommend using a food scale to ensure even sized burgers for more even cooking). We have all experienced the “burger dome,” right? You know, the bulge in the center of the burger that pops up as it starts to cook. By gently pressing a dimple into the center of the patties, the burgers will cook more evenly and the center should pop up to the rest of the meat. Place the patties on a chilled plate or sheet pan.

If grilling immediately, be sure your grill is nice and hot, and don’t leave your tray of fresh burger patties out in the hot sun while your grill warms up. That will allow all of the fat to warm up in the patty and it will run out of the burger once it is put over open flames.

When ready to throw on the grill, grab your salt and pepper or your favorite burger seasoning blend. Bottom line, don’t season the meat too long before you throw it on the grill. Salt pulls moisture out of meat and we want to keep all that juicy goodness right in that patty and let the outside of the burger get that nice crusty sear.

Always start off with a hot, clean grill. Wipe the grates down with a little cooking oil and raise the heat to high to heat the grill. Add the burgers, dimpled side up, and cook over the high heat until a nice sear appears on one side, about a minute. Flip and sear the other side. Turn the heat down to medium-high and continue to flip occasionally or move the seared burgers to a cooler part of the grill to cook until desired temp is reached. Fight the urge to push the burger down with the spatula. It may help flatten your burger, but it also presses all of the wonderful juices out of the meat, not only causing flair ups, but also drying out your meat.

Cooking Properly
There are two ways to tell if your burgers are cooking properly: a thermometer or the finger test. I think we all know which is more accurate, so when in doubt, or if that really particular person wants their meat cooked a very specific way, the thermometer is your friend. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the burger. USDA considers a safe minimum on beef 160 degrees F. That is there standard, so it is important to let you all know it is what they recommend. Since most burger joints ask you how you want your burger cooked (clearly most people do not want a well-done burger), here are the guidelines temperature wise. Rare is 125 degrees, that is red or raw in the center. Medium-rare, my personal choice, is 130-135 degrees, which is a nice bright pink in the center. Medium is 135-140 degrees, leaving a touch of pink in the center. Medium-well is 140-150 degrees and should have an even color throughout the burger.

If adding cheese to your burger (or as we did, mushrooms, onions, and cheese), you want to add it when your burger is just about at the desired temperature. Have the sliced cheese (and/or sautéed mushrooms) ready to go so you can place the cheese on top, close the lid, and let the heat do it’s magic. Remove burgers from grill and place on platter. Try not to place too many burgers on top of each other, as the heat will continue to cook the burgers and also will press out the juices.

Now, you are ready to create your masterpiece.

Here is where cooking burgers gets to be an interactive sport. It is easy and fun to create a burger station to fit all needs. Always have your condiments out and at room temperature before the burgers are done. No one wants cold ketchup on a piping hot burger. Think outside of the box, adding mayonnaise and sriracha to your condiment station. Have the lettuce, pickle, onion, and tomato cut in advance. Store the sliced onions and lettuce leaves in the refrigerator until ready to use, but never refrigerate your tomatoes (we will talk more about that over the summer). Add some green chilies, guacamole, or pickled jalapeños for a spicy kick. Oh, and choose a good bun. We prefer a nice egg bun, big and fluffy, full coverage of meat and holds up to the LTOP (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle). Here are a couple of burger recipe for you to flex your burger savvy.

Mushroom Onion Swiss Burger
Makes four burgers
1 Yellow or white onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
8 oz. button mushroom or baby Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. butter
Salt and pepper
1 lb. 80/20 ground beef
1 packet McCormick Grill Mates Sweet Onion mix
1/2 sweet onion (Vidalia, sweet Maui), grated
4 thick slices of Swiss cheese

In a heavy saucepan or cast iron skillet, heat olive oil and butter until bubbly and add mushrooms and stir to coat. Sauté until mushrooms start to turn golden. Add onions and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Turn heat to medium and sauté mushrooms and onions, stirring occasionally until onions and mushroom are tender and golden. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Remove ground beef from refrigerator and gently crumble into a large bowl. Allow to sit, untouched, for about 15 minutes. While the ground beef is coming to room temperature, lay out the slices of Swiss cheese, the buns, lettuce, tomato, and any condiments you like, such as mustard, ketchup, or mayo.

Clean grill and wipe grates down with cooking oil, turn on grill and set to high. After burgers have set at room temperature for 15 minutes, add grated onion and the contents of the Grill Mates Sweet Onion Burger Mix. Wash hands thoroughly and gently mix together ground beef, onion, and mix until well combined. Avoid mashing the mixture. Separate mixture into four 1/4-pound mounds and gently form a patty, placing a small dimple into the center of the patty. Place on sheet pan and repeat with the other burgers.

When grill is hot, place burgers on the grill, dimple side up, and sear about one minute, flip and repeat. Turn heat down to medium high and flip burger occasionally (do not press down) to ensure even cooking and cook until just before desired temperature. Spoon mushroom and onion mix on top of the burger and cover with a slice of Swiss cheese. Repeat on all burgers and close the lid for a few minutes until the cheese just starts to melt. Transfer to a plate and loosely cover with foil and let rest for two minutes. Transfer to a bun and start building your burger.

Southwest Burger
Makes four burgers
1 lb. lean ground beef, venison, or bison meat
3 tsp. taco seasoning (make your own or choose your favorite. We use McCormick taco seasoning in a pinch)
1 1/2 tsp. Adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers
1⁄3 cup salsa (I prefer chunky medium heat salsa)
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Cooking spray
4 slices Jalapeño jack cheese
1/3 cup guacamole (fresh made is best)
1⁄3 cup sour cream
1 small can diced green chili
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
4 pieces of hearty Romaine lettuce
1 cup crispy fried onions
4 onion buns

Remove ground meat from the refrigerator and crumble into a bowl and let set at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, be sure grill is clean and wipe down the grates with cooking oil. Lean meat has very little fat, so to minimize sticking to the grates, wipe grates liberally with high heat cooking oil or nonstick foil may be useful as well.

When meat is ready, add taco seasoning and adobo sauce, gently mix together with clean hands, and split the mixture into four 1/4-pound patties. Season the outside of the patties with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper and place on hot grill. Cook about two minutes, or until you start to get a sear. Flip and continue to cook, flipping occasionally to ensure even cooking until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Place cheese on burgers and cook an additional minute or two until cheese begins to melt. Remove from grill and tent with foil for about two minutes.

While the burgers are cooking, in a medium size bowl mix guacamole, sour cream, green chilies, and diced tomato. Season with salt and set aside.

Lay buns out and place each burger on a bun. Top burger with a dollop of the sour cream guacamole mixture, sprinkle with fried onions, top with a leaf of lettuce, and place bun on top. Now that is a burger!

Portobello Mushroom Caprese Burger
Makes four burgers

Not everyone is into beef and we don’t want to leave our vegetarian and vegan friends out of the barbecue fun. So fear not friends, we have got you covered. Portobello mushrooms are a perfect burger replacement. Large Portobello mushroom caps are about the same size as a burger patty and are meaty and delicious. Whether you choose to marinate the mushroom first, or keep it simple with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper, you can grill up the mushroom caps, prior to the beef burgers, so the mushroom does not come in contact with the meat, and keep the mushroom cap warm while the rest of the burgers cook on the grill. With this recipe, we are going to take an Italian twist on a caprese burger.

4 large Portobello mushroom caps
4 slices of fresh mozzarella
4 nice sized basil leaves (more for garnish)
4 thick tomato slices
Balsamic vinaigrette (I am a huge fan of Newman’s Balsamic Dressing)
Salt and pepper

In shallow pan, lay out mushroom caps and remove the stem that may still be attached. With smooth side down, drizzle vinaigrette over the mushrooms, flip over and drizzle more on the smooth side. Let sit for about 30 minutes, flipping half way through to marinate.

Heat grill to medium-high heat and wipe down grates with cooking oil. Shake excess marinade from mushroom caps to avoid flair ups and place the mushrooms, smooth side down, on the grill and cook for 5-6 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until mushrooms are tender. Flip back to smooth side down, place a basil leaf on each mushroom, top with mozzarella and tomato slice, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and continue to cook until the cheese melts. Remove from grill, set on a plate, and cover to keep warm until the rest of the burgers are ready.

This caprese mushroom burger can be served on a bun, on a salad, or just by itself. Add more basil as garnish if desired.

Cured Farm Fresh Egg Yolks
(courtesy of Bon Appétit)

Makes four cured yolks

Now, let’s get to the best and most abundant veggie of May: asparagus! Now, we have a 40-foot patch of asparagus on our farm and I can say, we are up to our eyeballs with asparagus. Last year we came upon an article in Bon Appétit where a chef cured egg yolks. Of course, we were all over that and the end result is this golden nugget of yolk love, that when grated over grilled or steamed asparagus, created a creamy, dreamy, salty explosion of love! Now, this recipe is easier than it sounds and we promise it will not disappoint!

3/4 cups kosher salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 farm fresh egg yolks (it is really worth getting fresh farm eggs for this)
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Whisk salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Evenly spread out half of salt mixture in an 8×8″ glass baking dish. Using the back of a tablespoon, create 4 depressions in salt mixture, spacing evenly. Carefully place an egg yolk in each depression. Gently sprinkle remaining salt mixture over yolks and tightly wrap dish with plastic. Chill for four days.

Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Brush salt mixture off each yolk, then carefully rinse under cold water to remove any remaining salt (yolks will be semi-firm, bright, and translucent). Gently pat dry with paper towels.

Generously coat a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray; place yolks on the rack. Dry out in oven until opaque and texture is like a firm Gruyère cheese, 1 1/2-2 hours. Let cool. (Alternatively, if your oven doesn’t go that low, you can dry out eggs in an unheated oven for two days.)

Finely grate cured egg yolks over asparagus (or soups, pastas, and salads as you would a hard cheese).

Yolks can be cured one month ahead. Place in an airtight container and chill.

We hope you enjoy this month’s recipes. We will be back next month with a focus on what’s happening at farmers’ market, as well as strawberries, which will be abundant. Enjoy the warmer weather and as always, bring your appetite!

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Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield

After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients.
Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC.
Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page.
Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.

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