Poppy’s Honest Burger

HonestBurger1

Buckle in … somewhere in with a great bar story and some musing is a recipe.

Is there any food more American? The hot dog, apple pie … forget about it. The burger is debated, ranked, written about and fought over. Fast food empires have been built on the humble hamburger.

I was tempted to call this “Poppy’s All-American Burger.” But that seems a little pretentious and my glass-half-full personality wants to believe, despite the current crop of politicians, that there is still honesty to be had in this great country.

It seems so simple, right? It’s a slab of ground beef between a bun … how hard can it be?

Until recently, I made it hard, I added spices, secret sauces, an egg to bind everything together. I cooked them here, I cooked them there. Were they edible? Yes. Was it a great burger? No.

It got so bad my family steered me away from making, as they called them, “homemade burgers.”

At that point my pride kicked in. I experimented, I researched, and most importantly I thought about the places that served up good burgers.


My favorite bar story…

There was a bar and grill in my hometown of Ferguson, Missouri (yes that Ferguson) that served up a great burger. This was not a fern bar. There was nothing trendy going on here, the regulars were unpretentious, the drinks were strong, the décor was “early attic”, it got cleaned once a month whether it needed it or not, and it delivered great burgers.

The lady that worked the day shift (Let’s call her Brenda) tended bar and did a little cooking as the need arose. At the end of her shift she moved from one side of the bar to the other. She ceased being an employee and became a customer. This coincided with the time I would normally stop by to get some take-out burgers for the family.

I honestly couldn’t say how old Brenda was, but I could say with conviction, she had not had an easy life.

I was seated a few stools down from Brenda where she was regaling the regulars with a story of her abusive ex. She related the time he pushed her up against a wall, thrust the barrel of a pistol up against her forehead and pulled the trigger. Brenda was still with us, so either the pistol was unloaded or it misfired.

She paused for a moment, bringing back the memories of that day, then said quite calmly, “you know … the funny thing is, that was the same gun I shot him with.”

My to-go order arrived about that time and I left with some good burgers and an even better bar story.

That bar eventually got bought out and cleaned up. The menu was expanded and food prep efficiencies were put into place. Unfortunately, the quality of the burgers suffered. The bar had an old-fashioned walk-in freezer some distance from the kitchen. With the old bar, when more burgers were called for you would see one of the kitchen staff walk by with a platter containing a mound of ground beef. The burgers were formed by hand, the shape and even the size varied, but they were always good.

Today the burgers are cooked from pre-formed patties … they are consistent in shape, they are consistent in size, unfortunately they are not as tasty. Aaahh progress.


Ok enough reminiscing Poppy … out with the recipe!

Here is what I have learned. As with most things in life, the simpler the better.

Start with ground chuck, it has the right mixture of meat to fat. We don’t like to talk about fat these days, but without it your beef would be dry and tasteless.

Unless you have a commercial grade griddle like that old bar in Ferguson, you are going to need a good cast iron skillet.  I don’t try to fit more than two burgers in a skillet. I have two cast iron skillets, but if you just have one don’t despair. Done Poppy’s way these guys cook up so fast you can rotate burgers in and out of one skillet and keep everyone happy.

Speaking of fast make sure your beer is cold and your side dishes are ready to go because these burgers are done in minutes.

The trick here is heat and nothing delivers heat better than cast iron.

Coat your skillet with a thin layer of vegetable oil or any oil with a high smoke point, not butter. Then crank your burner up to high and turn on your exhaust fan.

I usually go for 1/3 pound burgers and create a simple ball of ground chuck in that size.

When your skillet starts to smoke drop those balls of ground chuck in and immediately flatten with a good sturdy metal spatula. I know this goes against many theories of burger cooking but give it a try!

When you see the browning start to creep up the sides of the patties flip them over. Even though you have oiled the skillet you may have to use a little force here.

As soon as the patties are flipped, sprinkle them with a 50/50 mixture of salt and coarse ground pepper. Nothing fancy here, just simple and honest.

At that point add cheese if desired. I use a slice of provolone and a slice of medium cheddar, but let your tastes be your guide.

Because cast iron retains heat so well, I go ahead and turn off the burners. When the cheese has softened, transfer them to the buns and let them rest for a couple of minutes. Add your condiments of choice and enjoy!

(Spend the extra buck and buy some good buns)

… shown with roasted potatoes, sweet onions and zucchini.

(and don’t forget the exhaust fan)

Enjoy!

Roasted Potato, Onion and Spinach

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I’ve been on a roasted potato kick lately, this is a variation of Poppy’s Cajun Roasted Potatoes. This time I’ve added sweet onions and wilted spinach.

It couldn’t get any simpler or more delicious. Cooking for three tonight (with planned leftovers) I cubed 4 scrubbed Yukon Gold potatoes (skins intact) into 3/4″ cubes. This was followed by dicing a medium-sized sweet onion into equally sized segments. While the oven was heating to 400°, the potatoes and onion were tossed with a couple of tablespoons of EVOO, then spread on a foiled lined baking sheet. The potato and onion chunks were then treated to a generous grid of coarse black pepper and a sprinkling of Cajun seasoning.

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Ready to go into the oven, I set the timer for 35 minutes. I had my oven set to roast with the convection turned on. Your mileage may vary, but don’t sweat it, an extra few minutes won’t hurt anything.

While the potatoes and onions were roasting (and sending a marvelous smell throughout the house), I chopped 4-5 ounces of baby spinach and tossed it in a skillet with a very slight drizzle of EVOO. Stir on your stove top with a medium to low setting until the spinach has wilted. remove from the heat and set aside.

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Once the potato and onion mixture is done (slightly browned), transfer them to the skillet with the wilted spinach, toss then sprinkle with some fresh ground grated Parmesan and you are good to go.

Tonight this served as a side to Poppy’s “Honest Burger”, but that’s a post for later.

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Cajun Roasted Taters

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I love this because it’s easy (read, I’m lazy), because it tastes great, and is at least semi-healthy.

Preheat your oven to 425°

Start with some medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes or similar. Scrub them  but leave the skins on. Quarter the spuds long ways and coat with olive oil. Place on a foiled lined baking sheet (for easy clean up … did I mention I was lazy?) Arrange them skin side down.

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Sprinkle the potato wedges with some Cajun seasoning and some coarse ground black pepper. In my convection oven they stay in for 30-35 minutes. They emerge with some delightfully browned crunchy parts with a soft center.

If you want to get fancy you could add some diced sweet onions about half-way through the roasting cycle or some fresh grated parmesan about 5 minutes before the potatoes are through roasting. These browned beauties don’t require any butter or sour cream. They are the perfect side dish to just about anything.

This is almost too easy, this post is less than 200 words and I can’t think of anything else to add.

Oh yeah, enjoy!

EasyTastyHealthy

Baked Potato Soup

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At Poppy’s house we eat soup all year round, at least twice a week. But there are days, like today, where the temperature won’t move up to freezing and will end in single digits. This type of weather doesn’t just suggest a hot hearty soup, it demands it!

This is Poppy’s version of “Baked Potato Soup.” No, you don’t have to bake the potatoes. This soup just contains all the good stuff you might use to top a baked potato (minus the sour cream and butter). It’s easy, but does take a little time. Turn on some good music, pour yourself a glass of wine and lets get cooking.

Ingrediants


Ingredients: 

  • 48 ozs. of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 6-7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 6-7 ozs. of grated sharp cheddar
  • 3/4’s of a large sweet onion
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1/4 pint cream
  • 3-4 dashes of Frank’s hot sauce
  • 4-5 slices crumbled peppered bacon
  • Bunch of green onions
  • Coarse ground black pepper to taste

I start by cooking the bacon. My preferred method is baking it in the oven, on a cookie sheet lined with foil. This makes the clean up incredibly easy and yields evenly cooked bacon. I set my convection oven at 350°, cook for 10 minutes, then flip and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Remove the bacon, sandwich it between several paper towels to soak up any excess grease then set aside.

Bacon

While the bacon is cooking, peel and dice 6-7 Yukon Gold potatoes or the equivalent. Toss the taters into the chicken broth and start them cooking. Dice the celery and onion and sauté in a mix of EVOO and butter, about two tablespoons apiece. Cook the onion celery mixture until the onions are translucent. Add the onion-celery mix to the potatoes and cook until the potatoes are tender.

I like my potato soup a little creamy and a little chunky. Tonight I used an immersion blender until I got that right balance (you can add the cream before or after blending). Once you have achieved the right balance between creamy and chunky add 3-4 slices of crumbled bacon, reserving some for topping. Same with the grated sharp cheddar. Add 5-6 ozs. of sharp cheddar, reserving some for topping. Toss in 3-4 dashes of hot sauce (trust Poppy, this will not burn your mouth, it just ups the flavor). Add at least a teaspoon of coarse black pepper (I add more).

Simmer for a few minutes to let all the ingredients and flavors become acquainted with each other, fill your soup bowls then top with a hefty pinch of crumbled bacon, grated cheddar and green onions … ahhh, heaven!

Parmesan Baby Potatoes with Sweet Onions

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I love a good trick … a shortcut, especially when it comes to cooking. This is one of my go-to side dishes that always gets rave reviews and best of all it’s easy if you know the trick!

Potatoes are perhaps the most ubiquitous of side dishes, we bake them, we fry them. we mash them, we cook them in almost every imaginable way … this is Poppy’s version.

It starts with baby potatoes, most of the time I just buy a 24 oz. bag of Klondike Gourmet petite potatoes from our local Shop N’ Save. If you calculate the cost per ounce, it’s not the cheapest option, but it is the easiest. It’s easy because they are small and except for the largest ones, don’t require any dicing. Most days, I’m all about easy!

More-taters


 

The trick, what’s this trick you speak of Poppy?


 

OK, it’s very simple, we want these little guys tasty, we want them buttery, we want them crispy, but we don’t want to have to deep fry them or cook them for a long time. So the trick is to … drum roll please … pre-cook them in the microwave!

Spread out our little potato friends on 2 or 3 folded wet paper towels on your microwave dish, top them with a few more layers of wet paper towels and cook them for 7-8 minutes.

While they are cooking melt 4 to 6 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and cut a medium size sweet onion into large chunks ( ⅜ to ½ inch ).

Since these potatoes are a side dish, chances are you have several other things going on. It doesn’t hurt to keep the potatoes in the microwave while you are multitasking. They will stay warm and not dry out sandwiched between the wet paper towels.

When it’s time to finish them, turn the heat up on your skillet, add the potatoes and onions, stirring occasionally. Since the potatoes are precooked, all we need to do now is make sure they get crispy skins and the onions get cooked. (Did I mention this smells delicious?)

When the potato skins start to crisped and the onions are cooked, add a little seasoned salt, some coarse ground black pepper, then grab your block of good parmesan cheese and grate it over the potatoes.

Badda Bing, Badda Boom … tasty, delicious potatoes!

Get a “wedgie”, Wedge Salad that is!

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True confession time… I love cooking, but I’m easily bored if I feel like I’m making the same thing over and over again. Poppy’s “go-to salad” is well received and lends itself to subtle variations, but I’ve made it at least a bazillion times. (OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration)

I was looking to do something a little different that would make a good presentation, quick to assemble and tasty.

This is Poppy’s take on the wedge salad –

First an editorial comment on lettuce … I’m sure there’s a more boring vegetable than iceberg lettuce, but I can’t think of one right now. Even our humble Ferguson Shop N’ Save has a good variety of lettuces to choose from … don’t be boring people!

For this salad I grabbed a head of green leaf lettuce. It was a good-sized head so quartering it yielded an ample serving for everyone.

I wanted a warm dressing for this salad. Bacon drippings are the common ingredient for warm dressings but I didn’t want to go to the trouble of cooking bacon. Fortunately I’ve been cooking bacon in the oven on a foiled-lined baking sheet for several years now and made it a practice to keep a ceramic bowl in the freezer to receive the hot drippings. The frozen bacon drippings come in handy for a lot of things.

With a sturdy knife I chiseled out a few good chunks of solid bacon drippings and started melting them in a small saucepan. To convince myself that I was eating healthy, I mixed in an equal amount of EVOO to dilute the fat content, without losing too much of the flavor.

Next in the saucepan went several tablespoons of Julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil.

I let them simmer for a few minutes and gave them time to get acquainted with the bacon drippings and olive oil.

While they were sharing secrets and flavors, I took the opportunity to grate some parmesan cheese.

After drizzling the lettuce with the warm dressing, I topped it with a little coarse ground black pepper and the grated parmesan.

Guaranteed  the best “wedgie” you’ve ever had!

EasyTastyHealthy

If you do have time to cook up some bacon, a little crumbled on top of this salad would be divine!

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

Grilled-Veggies

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) … The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; unnecessary complexity should be avoided. This principle works in most day-to day issues, and certainly in cooking!

This simple recipe combines two very basic (and simple) items … cast iron and fresh veggies.

I have come to love cast iron cooking utensils. There is much to love about cast iron … stovetop to oven, no problem … teflon and other mystery chemicals, not in cast iron … heat convection and retention, you bet … need to bonk a burglar or zombie over the head, look no further than a cast iron skillet!

My oldest cast iron skillet is handed down from my mother, who will turn 100 in four months. I have no idea how old the skillet is, she could have inherited it from her mother, yes it’s that durable!

Mom

The skillet I used for these grilled veggies is much newer, and ribbed. The ribbing has two main benefits, it gives your food a great restaurant quality seared appearance,  and keeps any fats away from the meat you are cooking.

Ribbed skillet

Tonight I wasn’t grilling meat, just yellow squash and zucchini. I sliced the squash on the diagonal about a ¼” inch thick, brushed the slices with EVOO and placed on the hot skillet. When the squash slices start to turn translucent, with a good sear on the bottom. its time to flip them over. I finished with a simple grind of black and red pepper and a little sea salt. Simple and delicious.

Tonight the grilled squash was paired with whole grain angel hair pasta with basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. (not shown because it tasted much better than it photographed)

Hey, keep it simple … stupid!