Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Sunday Dinner Burger

It's no secret that I love hamburgers (see my previous post) but sometimes you want the FEEL of a burger, but not really a burger. If that makes sense. It might not, so stick with me. Anyway, I also love chicken, and chicken makes a really tasty burger. The other night, though, I didn't really feel like making a regular chicken burger, and had a taste for something a bit different. What I came up with is a unique mishmash of a number of things, and the result is certainly greater than the sum of its parts.

In happier days

I started with an ordinary rotisserie chicken from Kroger. It was the "savory" variety, but I would imagine that you can use whichever flavor you'd like. I removed all of the meat and skin from the chicken and put it into my food processor. If you've never just picked up a rotisserie chicken and tore it apart, it's a very...visceral? experience. 

Along with the chicken, I put in about 1/2 of a bunch of green onions. If for nothing else, it would break up the color of the chicken. In actuality, it added a nice hint of onion flavor. After the chicken was done in the food processor, I started making a packet of generic stove top stuffing (chicken flavored). When it was finished, I had to let it cool in the fridge for a while. The way I was going to use it necessitated that.

While the stuffing cooled, I made a small pan of chicken gravy, using chicken bullion and corn starch. Again, nothing fancy, just very basic.

Chicken and stuffing

Now that the stuffing had cooled, I combined it with the ground up rotisserie chicken, and mixed until they were fully incorporated. This was going to be the first big test of what I was hoping would happen. I grabbed a handfull of the mixture and started to form it into a patty. It was a little soft at first, but tossing it between hands really kept it all together really well. I put the first patty into the skillet. I repeated this a few more times (even making a small one for Calvin!) added a bit of olive oil, and turned on the stove.

Meet Patty!

So part one of my experiment was a success- I was able to form the mixture into actual patties. Then came part two, and certainly the most important part- would they hold together during cooking? I wasn't sure that they would, since both parts were already cooked. Sure, raw chicken will hold it's form when cooked, but this wasn't raw. I held my breath as I flipped the first patty...

Hear me baby, hold together.

Success! Not only did it hold together, but it got a nice bit of burn on it! I was confident that this was going to work out. Then I added some cheese to the top, and began toasting the bun.

Adding the gravy

Once the patty was finished cooking and the cheese was melted, I placed it on the bun and drizzled some gravy over the top of it. I had originally wanted to top the burger with a couple of slices of fried potato, but decided against it for this go around. Next time, though.

Calvin's Mini-Meal

The "burger" was finished. It smelled as amazing as it looked. The smell reminded me of the kind of meal that you'd have on a Sunday evening with your family- chicken, stuffing, I decided to call this the Sunday Dinner Burger. 

Did it pass the taste test? You be the judge!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Episode VI: Return to the Kitchen (A Guest Blog)

Hello Impulsive Chef readers!  Brian, my brother-in-law, was kind enough to allow me a guest spot on his blog.  He's cool like that. 

I'm glad to have a chance to provide a little bit of contrast for you all - I am not an impulsive chef, almost laughably so.  I think I used to be one, but after going through a tough time in life that changed my relationship with food and thus with the kitchen, I am now a planner, a recipe follower (gasp!).  
Yep, that's a book.
I won't bore you with my life story - all you really need to know is that I almost completely stopped cooking and lost almost all interest in being creative with it.  I stuck to the few things I knew how to cook or bake well, like chicken breast, pasta, banana nut bread and really over-microwaved frozen vegetables.  Recently, my boyfriend gently complained to me that he was hurt that I hadn't cooked a meal at home in months.  I'm lucky enough to have a great boyfriend who enjoys cooking, so I couldn't ignore his plea or worm my way out of picking up some slack, nor did I even want to do so.

How'd that happen?
Thus, my attempt at culinary success.  After my boyfriend's complaint, I began to try to imagine what I could cook that wasn't the same old thing, that would impress him.  A meal plan began to take shape based around portobello mushrooms - so savory, so subtle, so versatile.  I'm used to the baby bellas, but I didn't know where to go with those, so I thought about the bigger ones.  I decided on stuffed portobellos, but didn't know with what they should be stuffed.  I didn't want it to be too complicated as I was afraid of making a terrible meal, so I picked fresh mozzarella and cubed pancetta (an Italian version of bacon, essentially).  Following internet recipe advice, after scooping out about a quarter of the underside of the mushrooms, I baked them open-side down with a very light olive oil coating at 350° for ten minutes, then flipped them, laid in a thick slice of the fresh mozzarella and the cubed pancetta, the latter of which I fried separately in a pan on the stove on medium high heat for about seven minutes.  The now-stuffed mushrooms went back in the oven for another 7-8 minutes, just enough time to start melting the mozzarella.  Two tips: two of my mushrooms ended up collapsing around the rims - it didn't make them any less edible, but if you want to avoid that, I would say to only precook them before the stuffing for five minutes instead of ten.  Also, be aware that mushrooms will shrink a bit when baked.

To go with this, I skillet-fried some asparagus in olive oil and freshly-minced garlic, again on medium high heat, just long enough that portions of each stalk had that browned look.  You would want to make sure to turn those over once or twice so your cooking evenly on both sides.

I also prepared a white wine pasta sauce to serve on the penne I was making.  I was worried that it would be bitter or sour, but it worked beautifully.  I looked on the internet at four or five different recipes before picking one that was pretty simple.  I combined half a cup of dry white wine (super cheap pinot grigio) and 4-5 Tbsp of butter (actual butter, not margarine) with some freshly-minced garlic and a sprinkling of Italian seasoning sauteed for about 2 minutes in a quarter cup of olive oil (I would recommend a little less oil, personally).  As I let this simmer for about 7 minutes, I decided it would be too wet, so I dashed in a teensy bit of flour, probably only about a quarter or half a teaspoon, and it thickened up nicely, but not too much.  At the last minute, literally about 2 minutes before everything was ready, I decided to throw in the portobello mushroom meat that I had scooped out earlier.  

The white wine sauce ended up being my favorite thing.  My boyfriend loved the stuffed mushrooms and was very impressed with the whole meal, which was all I was going for, but I'm happy to say that I impressed myself too.  

So, if you're more like me than Brian and cooking seems like a scary world of too many choices, I guess I would say this: take a chance.  Think about the food that appeals to you and why.  Follow your flavor palette, because if there's a food you just adore, it's likely you've eaten it a number of times and have thought about its ingredients - that you understand what makes it good.  Try making a meal you've liked before that someone else cooked or you had in a restaurant.  Don't worry about strictly following the recipes you may look at - throwing the mushroom meat in my wine sauce really made the sauce special.  

Alright, that's it for me.  Shameless plug: I am a licensed massage therapist at the American Institute of Alternative Medicine on Schrock Road in Columbus, near Westerville.  I'm really good - book an appointment! or 614-825-6255.

I wish you gustatorial delight!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fen you make a burger, fenugreek!

The hamburger has been perfected hundreds of times- no matter what your personal tastes are, there's a burger out there that is exactly the way you like it. For me, that's a Max and Erma's Garbage Burger. If you don't know what it is, it's basically a burger with 3 kinds of cheese, marinara, guacamole, mushrooms, onions, tomato, lettuce and god only knows what else. In short, it's amazing. I've never even tried to recreate it at home, because that's one of the things I don't think that I could improve on. However, that doesn't stop me from trying different things with my burgers!

And it actually looks like this.

After buying a bunch of different spices at Whole Foods a few weeks ago (see my turmeric soup post) I wanted to use one of the spices in a burger, but which? Checking the aroma of each one, I decided that the most interesting one was going to be fenugreek. For Lisa, I decided to use the Chipotle Chili Powder.

Fenugreek is an interesting spice. Used primarily in Middle-Eastern and Indian cuisine, it's similar to but totally different than curry. The smell is very sweet, but the taste is more on the savory end of the spectrum. The color is a dark mustard yellow, and in my case, it was ground up into a very fine powder.
Aromatic as hell.
I had a couple small top round steaks that I was going to grind up, so I sliced them up and put them in, and topped it off with about two tablespoons of fenugreek and started to grind it up. The smell immediately hits you, and it is absolutely amazing. Because the meat was relatively well marbled, I didn't add any egg, breadcrumbs, or any other filler. The meat and spice made a very malleable and easily-formed mixture. I set mine aside and cleaned out the food processor to work on Lisa's.

The idea that I had for hers was to make a spicy burger, top it with smoked cheddar and sauteed onions, then smother it in some of my leftover homemade chili. I put the beef into the processor, then added some chipotle chili powder, cayenne pepper powder, onion powder, and seasoned salt. After letting it all meld together in the food processor, I opened it up to inspect, and the results caught me by surprise. It smelled Exactly. Like. Chili. Cheese. Fritos. I'm not talking "similar to" or "reminds me of." I'm talking about having a bag of them right in front of you. She was going to LOVE it.

Being the middle of winter in Ohio, grilling outside was not part of the equation. I used a regular pan on the stove top and brought the meat up to temperature very, very slowly. I like my burgers on the rare side, so the last thing I wanted to do was get them to medium, or *gasp*, medium-well. They take longer, sure, but cooking them on the stove top lets have absolute control over how they cook, and as an added benefit, you can get a little bit of a crunchy exterior to the burger, which is both unexpected and incredibly yummy.

After getting the burgers to the right done-ness, I put them each onto a bun, topped mine with sauteed mushrooms, a tomato, then some buttermilk ranch dressing (side note: the buttermilk ranch from Aldi is one of the best i've ever had, and I would certainly call myself a Ranch Connoisseur) then Lisa's was topped with sauteed onions and a generous portion of chili.

Judging by how Lisa ate her burger with the quickness, I could only surmise that she was a fan. Mine was delicious- the fenugreek was a perfect compliment to the meat, and really made a regular burger feel exotic. I think that fenugreek will find it's way into my regular rotation- there are so many other things that I could see using this on, especially seafood.

What I learned from this was to experiment- I had never had fenugreek before and bought it based on smell. Go and explore spices, smell them, buy something that smells good, and use something you've never tried before! The only way to expand your horizons is to go where you've never gone.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Like The Impulsive Chef on Facebook and win!

Like The Impulsive Chef on Facebook and be entered to win kitchen essentials! This time we've got a choice between a set of kitchen knives and cutting board or sauteing pan. Just "like" the Facebook page by February 14th and be entered! Two winners will be selected!