The Search For The Perfect Burger

Grass fed beef burger with cheddar cheese, mushrooms, and onions. Served with homemade french fries.

One of my favorite foods is the burger! If done right, it’s the perfect meal for your palate.  There is nothing like tender, juicy meat surrounded by the add-ons placed between the perfect bun.  I am always in search for the perfect burger.  The sad part is that I am disappointed more often than satisfied. The best burger I ever had was years ago at a restaurant in Providence RI in the Brown University area.  I can’t remember the name but I do remember the burger.  It was so juicy, that it got all over my new tie and white shirt.  I didn’t care because it was so awesome! I wish I could remember the name of the place.

There are several reasons why many restaurants don’t get it right.  Most of the time it starts with the beef.  To make a juicy burger  you need to start with a higher fat percentage.  It pisses me off when a store only sells 85% lean or higher.  Some stores will sell 80% but most don’t sell  70 or 75% which is better for a juicy burger.  Sometimes at home I will re-grind the burger  meat with other cuts to bump up the fat percentage. I know high fat burgers are bad for you, but you don’t eat a burger for health!

The other issue with ground beef is the handling of the  meat.  Don’t mess with it too much.  The more you handle, mix, pat, and touch the  meat, the tougher, less juicy it will be.  I never mix other ingredients into the ground meat.  If you want to do that, than make a  meatloaf.  Just quickly make your burger  paddy and stop.  Sprinkle with salt &  pepper or other seasons on the outside of the burger before cooking.

If you want other flavors, surround the  burger with them. For those who want to make a stuffed burger like a “Juicy Lucy”, the same applies.  Make two burgers, place the stuffed ingredients on top of one and top with the other burger. Again, less handling is best!

After you get the juicy burger perfected then you can dress them up with “other stuff”. This is where your food creativity comes in.  I believe you can add almost any combination of stuff to make it special.  Caramelized  onions, bacon, and mushrooms always work. But don’t stifle your creative food  side. Try adding really unique ingredients to the sandwich. The key is to bump  up the flavors that pair well with the meat.

Awesome Food In The Burbs!

Every summer my wife and I get two weeks where we have no kids as
they are off to summer camp. We use these two weeks to eat out. Last week we
had dinner at Maxwell’s 148 in Natick, MA. We are members of their email club.
Once a week they send out their last minute dinner special. In the past, we
have never been able to take advantage of these great deals. So last week we
finally did and it was awesome!

The best way to describe Maxwell’s is that it’s a Boston
restaurant in the burbs. The cuisine is an interesting mix of upscale
Italian/Asian. We have eaten at Maxwell’s several times and have never had a
bad meal. Each time we have tried to eat something different. The last minute
email special they sent us was a 1/2 Maine Lobster & Shrimp Skillet with
Spicy Fra Diavlo Sauce & Pasta. All this for the special price of $19.99
per person. It’s like getting the prize in the Cracker Jack box! It reminds me
of Boston’s Restaurant Week.

The bar at Maxwell’s is into creating new and exciting cocktails
to wet your palate and grab just a few more bucks from your wallet. One of
their exclusive drinks is the fig martini. Maxwell’s has created and now
distributes its own fig vodka. It’s really good! My wife was the first to try a
new drink they introduced that night that had a tropical feel. It included coconut
water and rum. It was not a Pina Colada!

For our appetizer we had the Moo Shi Duck. This was pulled duck on
a scallion pancake with a hoisin glaze. It made for a wonderful small plate
dish. Chef Mitchell Maxwell then sent us out another app for us to try. This
was a dumpling filled with chicken and other chef inspired stuff. At this point
we were already full and we hadn’t even had the main course yet.

The main course special of the half lobster and shrimp Fra Diavlo
skillet was a dish for your mouth. The several elements of the dish sent all
the flavors throughout the palate. Each flavor seemed to be on its own. It’s
like they got in line your mouth.

Half Lobster & Shrimp Skillet with Spicy Fra Diavlo Sauce & Pasta

After we finished off the main course, we could barely move.
However, we are not ones to pass up good desserts and I know they have those.
My wife and I agreed to share the Chocolate Espresso Terrine. This flourless,
very rich, chocolate delight put us over the edge. I didn’t know if I was going
to be able to get up from the table. Just when I was trying to get our waiter
to give us the check, Randy Nason (Mitchell’s biz partner) brings over another
new drink for us to try. This was a dessert drink. He called it a
“strawberry milkshake”. My wife and I spilt the drink (it came with 2
straws) and spent the time trying to figure out what was in it. We do know it
had strawberries and alcohol.

Once we got home, I had to take a nice long walk with the dogs. I
had not eaten that much in a long time. As a chef, you tend to not eat big
meals because you graze a lot. So my stomach can’t hold that much food.

Can you tell I really like this restaurant?

Spiedies Are Mad Good!

 

Unless you are from the Binghamton NY area, you may have never heard of the Spiedie.  I was first introduced to them way back in the mid 1980’s while marketing a touring show in Binghamton. My introduction came when the local billboard company owner took me to a bar.  He ordered up a batch of Spiedies to go along with our round of beer.  The server brought out a plate of skewered meat along with a plate of white Italian bread.  After just one bite, I was hooked and I still am today.

What exactly is a Spiedie?  It is cubed meat usually lamb, pork, or chicken that is marinated up to 24 hours in a special marinade that resembles Italian salad dressing but has a very unique taste.  After the marinade bath, they are placed on skewers and grilled on a charcoal grill.  Traditionally the skewered meat is then placed on top of a bread slice.  The skewer is then pulled away leaving the meat in the bread making a one slice of bread sandwich.  You can also put the meat in a sub roll or even place on a salad.

There are only two companies (that I know of) that makes the Spiedie marinade.  They are Salamida Original State Fair Spiedie Sauce www.spiedie.com or Lupo’s Spiedies www.spiedies.com. Both marinades are really good and both taste slightly different.  Whenever I am in upstate NY heading to Saratoga or Lake George, I make sure I stop at the grocery store to stock up.  Both companies also sell their marinades online. 

Once you have your first Spiedie sandwich you will want to make them a regular part of your grilling menu!

Real Chicken Stock Is Always Better!

Most home cooks today don’t make their own chicken stock.  This could be for several reasons including time, don’t know how, and you can buy stock in a store.  But making chicken stock is really easy.  Unless you do a lot of cooking, you don’t realize how many recipes ask for chicken stock. 

As for time, I get it.  It takes some hours to make it.  I wait for a day when I have the time.  For example a rainy weekend day when you are most likely going to do chores around the house. 

Yes, I do buy the box chicken stocks when I don’t have the good stuff.  When I buy stock, I always look for the all-natural and with the fewest added ingredients.  Personally, I never buy chicken broth.  Why broth, when stock has more flavor.  Some people think that stock has more salt in it.  If you make your own, leave the salt out. Add your salt to the recipe not the stock!

If you fall into the “I don’t know how” to make chicken stock group, I have your solution. 

I like to buy my chickens whole and cut them up myself.  This is good for a several reasons including; price and I know that all the parts came from the same chicken.  After I have cut up the chicken into parts, I save and freeze the carcass.  When I have 3 or more, I make stock.  I understand that most people don’t cut up their own chickens so you can also save the carcass from any roasted chicken and freeze it.  That goes for the Thanksgiving turkey carcass too.  Or buy a whole chicken just for stock.  But if you do that, don’t waste the meat.  Take the cooked meat and make chicken salad with it!

Chicken Stock

3 chicken carcasses

Add classic mirepoix – chopped onions, carrots, and celery

Bouquet garni – parsley stems, spring of thyme, and bay leaf

Put all of the above in a stock of other large pot and add just enough water to cover all of the chicken. Bring water to a high simmer then reduce heat to a low simmer.  Cook for about 3 hours.  The batch I made with this recipe actually made 20 cups of stock!

When stock is done, strain stock into another pot and allow to cool.  Once it’s cooled, I find containers to put all of it.  I like to store in 2 cup increments.  This way I have pre-measured amounts and prevent wasting any of the liquid gold. You can also chill overnight in fridge and skim off the fat the next morning before placing in containers.  Place all the filled containers in the freezer.  When you need some, just pull some out and melt out in a saucepan. 

Once you start cooking with real chicken stock, you will understand!

Gourmet Flatbread Pizza With Apples

While I was working at one of my many culinary jobs last week, a cook came into the kitchen with a flatbread pizza recipe.  This particular restaurant is changing its menu and we have been looking at new potential items.  Flatbread pizza is going on the new menu.  For his pizza he used ingredients that we had on hand in the kitchen.  It was really good but I knew I could kick it up to the next level!  My creation is a salute to the Normandy region of France while giving a shout out to Italy.

If you like to cook outside on the grill, this is a perfect treat when you have company and you want to grill to impress.  You can actually do all the steps on the grill.  Cook your onions on a pan on the grill.  Bake the assembled pizzas on the cool side of the grill with the top closed.

 

Gourmet Flatbread Pizza with Apples

4 Flatbread round

2 large sweet onions, julienned

3 TBS butter

4 TBS balsamic vinegar (more if needed)

8 slices of prosciutto

1 apples cored & sliced into thin wedges

2 cups grated gruyere cheese

12 pieces of brie cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

 Preheat oven to 400°

Caramelize the onions until they are very soft and have some really nice color to them.  Once they are caramelized, add the balsamic vinegar.  Stir until the onions have soaked up all the vinegar and have that wonderful color.  Add salt and pepper and set aside. 

For the flatbreads, you can use any kind you like or you can make your own.  I like to use the pocketless flatbreads from Kontos.  They are the perfect size and thickness. 

Brush a little olive oil on each flatbread and grill long enough to leave grill marks on both sides. 

Assemble:

1)   First add the gruyere cheese to one side of flatbread.  Use enough to cover it.

2)   Next add a few spoonful’s of the onions. Again, make sure they are evenly distributed on the flatbread.

3)   Now place the apple wedges, prosciutto, and brie anyway you like on each flatbread (be creative).  Make sure the brie is not covered so that it will melt correctly in the oven. 

Place pizzas in oven (pizza stone if you have it) and bake for about 8 – 10 minutes. 

Enjoy!!!

Now I’m Food Blogging Too!

Welcome to the first blog post of Mad Good Food!  Just when I thought I had an enough on my plate (pun intended) with the Event & Entertainment Marketing Blog, I started another blog.  I’m passionate about food, so I thought I should blog about it.

In the next several weeks I’m going to take this blog to the next level by not just adding pictures but video.  The plan is to create a video blog which turns into an internet TV show on cooking.  This could be really exciting!

Let’s get cooking!!!!

Pasta Risotto

Last week I found in the weekend section of the Wall Street Journal a recipe for Pasta Risotto.  Since I was classically trained in culinary school, I was questioning the whole concept of using pasta instead of rice.  But the recipe sounded interesting so I tried it.  The bottom line on this dish is it’s a really nice mac & cheese. 

The ingredients are simple.  They include onions cooked in butter until soft and translucent, chicken stock, pasta, heavy cream, parmesan, and mascarpone cheese.  What’s not to love about this? My daughter, who is usually finicky about her mac & cheese, really liked it.  She had a second helping!

This dish would be excellent as a small plate for a party or served as a main course when you are looking for comfort food.