Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 144 - The Very Best Burgers and Caramelized Figs

My dear friend, Michael (actor/director extraordinaire) thought he was coming over just to see my apartment and maybe have a "nosh." Little did he know the calories that awaited him....

The Very Best Burgers (p. 277)

When Ms. S names something "The Very Best ___" or "Perfect ___" in this book, you can pretty much count on them being the very best or perfect versions of those things.

But, as with these burgers, sometimes there are mitigating circumstances.

Specifically, what I'm talking about is fat. Yes, these are the juiciest, tastiest very best burgers, but at what price? And I don't mean money. I mean heart disease and obesity. I must have shoved about a pound pure, chunked fat through that grinder, along with a tiny amount of beef. When I was done cooking those burgers, they were positively swimming in their own oil. And yes, they were the very best burgers we'd ever eaten, but they were also the most lethal burgers we had ever eaten. I think one of the benefits of grinding your own meat is that you can achieve a LEANER ground meat than is available at the butcher or supermarket. But Martha says that's not the way to the very best burger. And I'm sure she's right. But I'm glad I'm not having my blood drawn today - that's all I'm saying....

Something you should know before you try to make these is: there's a lot of freezing and refrigerating happening throughout. This isn't a quick 1-2-3 on the table in minutes burger. You have to put the grinder in the freezer for an hour before you start, so plan ahead. And once you've cubed the meat, that too goes in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then you grind it, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, make patties, put them in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes. Get the idea? I guess everything REALLY needs to be cold, every step of the way.

For some reason, I couldn't find my finer grating plate (it comes with two, one coarse and one finer), so I couldn't do the two different kinds of grind that Martha recommends. What I did do was I put half of the meat through the grinder a second time, and it did change the consistency of the meat, but not as significantly as I'm sure the other plate would have.

It's very Play Doh to see the beef come through the holes. At one point, the holes got clogged with sinew, and the meat was oozing through the outside of the grinding plate. That was interesting.... I just had to clean out the plate, and then it was fine after that.

For accompaniments, I sautéed a nice big sweet onion for the occasion. We also had tomato slices and Gruyère on there for good measure. Michael chose an English muffin for his bread, I went with sourdough. And indeed, these were the very best burgers, amazing taste, juicy and greasy and delicious. But I fear we might have taken a week off our lives by eating it.

Jeff: A
Martha: A-
(I took a little off for health reasons...)

This episode was sponsored by my BFF Tracy Paladini (who just scored again as "Little Red" in Into the Woods at Sacramento Music Circus). For my birthday present this year, she consulted my Amazon wish list and gave me the much-coveted and needed KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment! This is the first time I've used it, and I love it! It works great! Thanks Tray!

(I owe another shout-out to Shirley Shulimson, Adinah's mom, who was so kind to give me her Food Grinder Attachment from her original KitchenAid mixer. Unfortunately, there were some pieces missing, and I wasn't able to use it, but I really appreciated the thought!)

Caramelized Figs (p. 491)

O - M - G... This is my new favorite dessert. I didn't see this coming.

I've always loved figs - fresh figs, dried figs, Fig Newtons, those figbars in cellophane at the corner deli. But these cooked figs were absolutely crazy great. Plus, it takes no time at all. This is a dessert you can whip up on the spot to dazzle your dinner guests.

Cut figs, press into sugar/salt mixture, brown, hit with port, deglaze, swirl butter, splash of lemon juice. Roughly a 3 minute prep, and a 5 minute cooking time. Whizz bang - dessert!

And it is totally deluxe. The figs, which didn't look that great to begin with (not quite ripe enough), bloom in the cooking process. The sugar browns in that weird process of caramelization, and then once you add the port, it starts to get syrupy. The butter takes it to a new level of smoothness and richness, and the lemon juice... actually, I'm not sure what the lemon juice contributes, but it must do something because this dish comes out perfectly.

So delicious! Michael said it reminded him of something his French grandmother might have made. As I added the port, I thought of my grandmother's raisins and walnuts with some flaming Benedictine. This dish never goes on fire, but it does make for a dazzling end of a meal. I licked my plate (and the pan) clean.

FYI, I now weigh four million pounds.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Michael, about to finger paint with caramelized fig syrup

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