bolognese sauce comparison

(Anne Burrell’s recipe)

Have you ever had a traditional Bolognese sauce? Not just tomato sauce with ground meat mixed in, but one that involves milk and wine and hours of simmering. Just a few ingredients, but when they’re combined just right, the result is a complex, rich blend with incredible depth. Served over a bowl of creamy polenta with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a glass of good red wine on the side, there can be no more comforting, warming food.

The first Bolognese I made was Marcella Hazen’s recipe. She is to Italian food what Julia Child is to French food; certainly a trusted source. In her method, a class mirepoix (or, technically, “soffritto” in Italian) of carrots, celery and onions is lightly cooked in butter, then ground meat is added and cooked just until it loses its pink. Stir in milk and let it bubble until only its delicious fat is left in the pot, then pour over some wine and let it simmer away, and only then, finally, after an hour of slow simmering, are the tomatoes (whole, canned) added – and simmered for 3 more hours.

After all that, however, I found Hazan’s recipe to be a little too vegetably. But Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for classic Bolognese is identical except for a smaller amount of vegetables. With only a couple tablespoons each of onions, carrots, and celery, it almost seems like they’re not worth adding, but there isn’t a thing I would change about the recipe.

Bolognese sauce takes a lot of time, yes, but it isn’t a lot of work. It’s my favorite type of recipe, in that it’s undemanding, but if you do happen to be in the kitchen (and I always am) you can stir to your heart’s content. But I suppose the long simmering time intimidates people, because there are a crop of supposedly weeknight friendly Bolognese sauce recipes popping up. In general, I’m not a fan of these types of recipes, because what they save in cooking time they make up for in ingredient prep.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Bolognese)

Then I kept seeing another type of Bolognese with great reviews. This one uses only tomato paste as its source of tomato flavor. And if anything can be identified as authentic in a recipe like Bolognese, it’s the tomato paste version, with a heavier meat influence and just a hint of tomatoes.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Classic Bolognese)

Authenticity aside, I wanted to know which was best. So I baked up three batches – my favorite version from Cooks Illustrated, their weeknight version, and Anne Burrell’s annoying (please don’t yell at me in the recipe, thank you) but well-reviewed tomato paste-based recipe.


(Anne Burrell’s recipe)

The quicker “weeknight-friendly” recipe was, as I expected, the most work, with more ingredients and dishes necessary to mimic the slow-cooked flavor of the other two recipes. However, after all that and a shorter cooking time, its flavor did nicely mimic that of the other, more tomato-rich Cooks Illustrated recipe. I don’t believe Dave could tell the difference. My only complaint was that the meat was slightly tough.

Dave had a few interesting comments about Burrell’s Bolognese. The sauce is simply a classic mirepoix, beef, wine, tomato paste, and herbs, yet Dave detected flavors of mushrooms and possibly Worchestershire sauce in it – two ingredients high in umami, the fifth basic flavor that is best described by “meaty”. In fact, mushrooms are added to CI’s quick Bolognese to increase the meaty flavor that doesn’t have time to develop through a long simmer. One thing that was obvious to both me and Dave was the unusual texture of Burrell’s sauce; to me, it seemed slightly mealy, but Dave was kinder with “fine-grained”.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Weeknight Bolognese)

Dave couldn’t choose a favorite, with his usual “different but good” response, but I’m still stuck on my classic, tomato-heavy slow-simmered method. It’s intensely rich and meaty, but it has a bright balance from the tomatoes. Burrell’s meatier sauce was delicious too, and maybe all those tomatoes aren’t quite as traditional, but, frankly, I like tomatoes. And since Bolognese – any version – is one of those dishes that improves by being made in advance and will suffer no ill effects from being frozen, I see no reason to spend extra time cooking a supposedly quicker “weeknight-friendly” version. Besides, I like watching ingredients bubble away, increasing in intensity as they decrease in volume until they settle into something delicious.

left to right: CI Classic, CI Weeknight, Anne Burrell

One year ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Two years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Classic Bolognese (from Cooks Illustrated)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

If you double this recipe – and considering how well it freezes and reheats, you should – the simmering times will need to be extended.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck
table salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, packed in juice, chopped fine, with juice reserved

1. Heat butter in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, carrot, and celery and sautè until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add ground meat and ½ teaspoon salt; crumble meat with edge of wooden spoon to break apart into tiny pieces. Cook, continuing to crumble meat, just until it loses its raw color but has not yet browned, about 3 minutes.

2. Add milk and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until milk evaporates and only clear fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Add wine and bring to simmer; continue to simmer until wine evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Add tomatoes and their juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to low so that sauce continues to simmer just barely, with an occasional bubble or two at the surface, until liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours. Adjust seasonings with extra salt to taste and serve. (Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several days or frozen for several months. Warm over low heat before serving.)

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Bolognese Sauce (slightly rewritten to remove all of Anne Burrell’s vulgarity)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into ½-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
Kosher salt
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
Water
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle

1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. Heat a large pan over medium heat; add a slick of oil. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, 15-20 minutes, until browned.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Add water to the pan until water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 3½ to 4 hours. Adjust the seasoning with salt and serve immediately.

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Weeknight Bolognese (from Cooks Illustrated)

Enough to top 1 pound of dried pasta

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1¼ cup white wine (Riesling, gewürztraminer, white zinfandel, xx)
½ small carrot, peeled and chopped into rough 1/2-inch pieces
½ small onion, chopped into rough 1/2-inch pieces
3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
28 ounces whole tomatoes with juice
1½ tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small garlic clove, pressed through garlic press or minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1¼ pound meatloaf mix or equal amounts 80 percent lean ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork
1½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Cover porcini mushrooms with ½ cup water in small microwave-safe bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap, cut a few steam vents with paring knife, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until mushrooms have softened, about 5 minutes. Using fork, lift porcini from liquid and transfer to second small bowl; pour soaking liquid through mesh strainer lined with paper towel. Set porcini and strained liquid aside.

2. Bring wine to simmer in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; reduce heat to low and simmer until wine is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 20 minutes. Set reduced wine aside.

3. Meanwhile, pulse carrot in food processor until broken down into rough ¼-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Add onion; pulse until vegetables are broken down to ⅛-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer vegetables to small bowl. Process softened porcini until well ground, about 15 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary. Transfer porcini to bowl with onions and carrots. Process pancetta until pieces are no larger than ¼ inch, 30 to 35 seconds, scraping down bowl if necessary; transfer to small bowl. Pulse tomatoes with juice until chopped fine, 6 to 8 one-second pulses.

4. Heat butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat; when foaming subsides, add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 2 minutes. Add carrot, onion, and porcini; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and sugar; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add ground meats, breaking meat into 1- inch pieces with wooden spoon, about 1 minute. Add milk and stir to break meat into ½-inch bits; bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium, and continue to simmer, stirring to break up meat into small pieces, until most liquid has evaporated and meat begins to sizzle, 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until combined, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, reserved porcini soaking liquid, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper; bring to simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until liquid is reduced and sauce is thickened but still moist, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in reduced wine and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

(Cooks Illustrated’s Weeknight Bolognese)

devilish shortcakes

While I’m grateful to the recent Tuesdays with Dorie recipe choosers for picking seasonal recipes, I miss chocolate. It’s been months – almost four! – since chocolate has played a starring roll in a recipe – and December isn’t looking any better. A few chips here and there in cookies just isn’t going to cut it for the long term.

After Caitlin’s warning that these are “very subtly chocolate”, I decided that the solution was to add chunks of bittersweet chocolate into the biscuit dough. I considered filling the biscuits with ganache instead of whipped cream, but decided that after a holiday weekend dedicated largely to eating, I couldn’t afford either.

Greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds made the perfect compromise. But my favorite bites are still the ones that include bits of pure chocolate.  It’s just been too long.

Tania chose these chocolate shortcakes for the group, and she has the recipe posted. I made half the recipe using 1 whole egg yolk instead of ½ an egg. I split my halved recipe into 8 portions. I mixed 2 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate into the dry ingredients (but even more chocolate would have been welcome).

One year ago: All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake
Two years ago: Linzer Sablés

shredded beef tacos

The first few months when I moved out of my parents’ house and across the country were exciting and lonely and intense. I was lucky that I made some great friends right away. I remember the first time someone invited me over for dinner. I’d asked what he and his wife were serving, and I thought he said pea stew. I went, but I was so relieved when it was actually beef stew.

That meal turned into a weekly dinner tradition that lasted for as long as we all lived near each other. We took turns cooking and rarely made the same thing twice, but there was one favorite meal that was requested more than any other – tacos. My friend’s taco filling and accompaniments were good, but the real treat was the shells – freshly fried, still hot, and, frankly, a little greasy. I had never had home-fried taco shells before, and it was a revelation.

These days, tacos are still one of my favorite meals, but I can’t enjoy them as much without those fried shells. Even better is when they’re stuffed with this shredded beef. It’s marinated in vinegar, lime juice, and spices, then baked for hours until it falls into shreds. I’m thankful for those friends not just for helping me feel comfortable on my own, but for teaching me about the perfection of fried corn tortillas. Nothing else would be good enough accompany this intensely flavorful filling.

One year ago: Sandwich Rolls
Two years ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

Shredded Beef Tacos (slightly adapted from Use Real Butter who slightly adapted it from The Border Cookbook)

Jen discusses the cut of beef that is preferred for this recipe. Her recommended eye of chuck was not available, so I chose chuck steak. I have no complaints. Plus I didn’t need to slice it before marinating, which was a nice bonus.

You could always go with the classic cheddar-sour cream-lettuce combination for toppings, but I really love the queso fresco-avocado-salsa direction that Jen recommends.

6 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ tsps chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1½ pounds chuck steak
1 cup vegetable oil
24 corn tortillas
toppings: lettuce, queso fresco, salsa, guacamole, etc.

1. In a gallon-size zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt, spices and garlic. Add the meat and squish the bag around to make sure the meat is fully coated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Dump the contents of the bag into a baking dish just large enough to fit the meat in a single layer. Cover the pan with foil; bake until the meat is tender enough to shred easily, about 2 hours. Use two forks to pull the meat into shreds. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

3. Heat the oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Slide a tortilla into the oil; use tongs to fold the tortilla in half and hold it partially open. Flip after about 1 minute. Fry for an additional minute, until the tortilla is slightly crisp. Continue with the remaining tortillas, storing the fried tortillas in the warm oven. Serve with shredded meat and desired toppings.

red kidney bean curry

When my schedule picks up, I tend to fall into a weeknight dinner rut. I think we ate pasta with chopped tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ten times during the month or so of peak tomato season. Fish tacos are in no short supply around here year-round. Red beans and rice, salmon pesto pasta, braised white beans, jalapeno-baked fish

Surely there must be new recipes for me to try that fit my tough weeknight standards – quick, light, fully balanced, vegetarian or seafood-based. And yes! This is perfect. Plus I love my one other Indian curry standard and knew there must be similar-but-different dishes out there to try.

It’s such a basic recipe – sauté aromatics and spices, add beans and other flavorings, simmer, serve over starch. It makes me wonder how many other cuisines I could do this with. I suspect I’ll be trying a few, because you can never have enough quick healthy balanced vegetarian meal ideas.

One year ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Two years ago: Mulled Cider

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Red Kidney Bean Curry
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

This recipe has another trait I love – it takes well to freezing. Make a large batch, freeze in portions, and your next meal is that much easier!

The first time I made this, it seemed a little bland so I’ve increased the spices and added garam masala. I love garam masala. I’ve also changed the tomatoes around to something that makes more sense to me.

I know Deb’s looks like soup and mine looks like a paste. My only explanation is that this batch was frozen and defrosted, and I was too busy catching up on The Office episodes to see that it needed more liquid.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons garam masala
1½ teaspoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 3 cups cooked beans)
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown at the edges, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste and spices; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the beans, and the salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, taste for seasoning, and serve over rice or with naan.

penne alla vodka

People keep asking me how my recent vacation was, and I can’t think of any response other “so, so good.” How else do you sum up a week of playing in the waves, drinking margaritas, snorkeling, baking cookies, swimming with sea lions, watching shooting stars, eating shrimp tacos, and just basically everything that is good. I didn’t even get sunburned. I want to go back.

At least I had an easy meal planned for my first night at home. This is my ‘just got back from vacation’ dish. After traveling all day, I don’t want to spend much time cooking. There’s no time to defrost anything. We haven’t been home, so there isn’t a lot of fresh food around. I’ve been eating out all week on vacation, so I don’t want to get takeout.

This dish solves all those problems. It takes as long to make as it takes pasta to cook. There are only a couple ingredients to chop. It’s fairly healthy. And it uses ingredients that I can buy before I leave and trust that they’ll keep until I get back – pasta, canned tomatoes, onion. And of course, it tastes great.

I bet it would taste even better on vacation. Everything is better on vacation.

One year ago: Potato Tomato Tart
Two years ago: Banana Coconut Muffins

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Penne alla Vodka (from Cooks Illustrated)

You can never go wrong following a Cooks Illustrated recipe precisely. I, however, don’t, in this case. Because I almost always make this after a day of traveling, I simplify it wherever possible. Instead of pureeing half of the tomatoes and dicing the rest, I simply stick a pair of kitchen shears in the tomato can and snip away. I don’t separate the liquid and the tomatoes in order to measure a certain amount; I just pour all of the liquid in to the sauce. I like to use 2 shallots instead of half an onion. If I don’t have cream, I use milk. If I don’t have milk, I skip the dairy. If I don’t have basil, I use parsley. If I don’t have parsley, I skip the herbs or use dried. It’s tomatoes, pasta, and alcohol; it isn’t going to be bad.

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ small onion, minced (about ¼ cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
¼-½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
table salt
⅓ cup vodka
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
fresh parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Puree half of the tomatoes in a food processor until smooth. Dice the remaining tomatoes into ½-inch pieces, discarding cores. Combine the pureed and diced tomatoes in a liquid measuring cup (you should have about 1⅔ cups). Add reserved tomato liquid to equal 2 cups.

2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are light golden around the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka. Return the pan to medium-high heat and simmer briskly until the alcohol flavor is cooked off, 8 to 10 minutes; stir frequently and lower the heat to medium if the simmering becomes too vigorous. Stir in the cream and cook until hot, about 1 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook until just shy of al dente, then drain the pasta, reserving ¼ cup cooking water, and transfer the pasta back to the Dutch oven. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss over medium heat until the pasta absorbs some of the sauce, 1 to 2 minutes, adding reserved cooking water if sauce is too thick. Stir in the basil and adjust the seasoning with salt. Divide among pasta bowls and serve immediately, passing Parmesan separately.

croissants 3 (martha stewart)

I worked in a lab for years, but I never absolutely loved it. You’d think I would have, considering that I basically mixed up ingredients and baked them, but I guess without that crucial eating-the-batter – sorry, of course I mean that eating-the-result step, it just wasn’t as fun.

Plus I could never get the hang of keeping good records in the lab. My notebook seemed to be both unorganized and lacking crucial information. I took detailed notes on the amount and type of ingredients used and the baking temperature and time, but whenever I needed to look up details of the result, I was left with a few marginally descriptive words.

In the kitchen, it’s the opposite. The result, now that’s memorable, especially in this case – slightly sweet, intensely flaky, dark golden brown, impossible to resist, always leaving me wanting another.

The path to that result isn’t as memorable, particularly in the amount of instant dry yeast I used. Probably I should have written that down somewhere. I’m going to hypothesize – remember, hypothesizing is not the same thing as guessing! It’s an educated guess, which is to say, don’t skip out on this recipe just because the fresh yeast called for in the original recipe is dumb and I’m bad at note-taking, because the chances are very good that my estimate of the amount of yeast I used isn’t too terribly terrible, and anyway, it’s yeast and yeast always does its job eventually.

Anyway. I’m going to hypothesize that I used about one packet of yeast. Please accept my apologies for not taking thirty seconds to write it down. This must be why I now have an office job instead of a lab job.

One year ago: Anadama Bread
Two years ago: Baba Ghanoush and Falafel

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Croissants (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes 12

1 cup cold milk
1 tablespoon honey
14 ounces (about 3 cups) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2¼ teaspoons salt
2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt and a dribble of water or milk

1. Make the dough package: Pour the milk and honey into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and stir to combine; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, stir together 12 ounces (about 2¾ cups) of the flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt; stir to combine. Add the milk mixture and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; gently knead to form a smooth ball, about 45 seconds. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

3. Make the butter package: Lay the butter sticks side by side on a piece of plastic wrap, and sprinkle with the remaining 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) flour. Pound with a rolling pin until the flour is incorporated; roll into a 4- by 3-inch rectangle. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

4. Remove the dough package from the refrigerator; place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to an 8-by-10-inch rectangle, about ½ inch thick, with a short side facing you. Remove the butter package from the refrigerator; place on the bottom half of the dough; fold the top half of the dough over the butter, and pinch the edges to seal.

5. Roll out the dough to a 10-by-10-inch square about ½ inch thick; keep the corners as square as possible. Remove any excess flour with a dry pastry brush. Starting at the far end, fold the square in thirds, as you would a business letter. This completes the first of three turns. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

6. Repeat rolling and folding as above two more times, starting with the flap opening on the right, as if it were a book, and refrigerate at least 1 hour between turns. To help you remember how many turns have been completed, mark the dough after each: Make one mark for the first turn, two for the second, and three for the third. After the third, wrap the dough in plastic, and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.

7. Turn out the chilled dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a 30-by-8-inch rectangle. (If the dough becomes too elastic, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.) Using a pizza wheel, cut the dough into triangles, each with a 4-inch base (you will have scraps of dough at both ends). Cut a 1-inch slit in the center of the base of each triangle. Place triangles in a single layer on a clean work surface.

8. To shape the croissants, stretch the two lower points of each triangle to enlarge the slit slightly. Fold the inner corners formed by the slit toward the outer sides of the triangles, and press down to seal. Using your fingertips, roll the base of each triangle up and away from you, stretching the dough slightly outward as you roll; the tip should be tucked under the croissant. Pull the two ends toward you to form a crescent. Transfer the crescents to a parchment-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until very spongy and doubled in bulk, 45 to 60 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 400ºF, with a rack in the middle position. Lightly brush the crescents with the beaten egg. Bake until the croissants are puffed and golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

turkey burgers

Working full-time sure is…time-consuming, isn’t it? I haven’t figured out yet what has to give. (First choice – chores!) Cooking, blogging, photography, gardening, exercising…sleeping. It’s hard to balance everything. It’s possible that I should cut down on meals that require grinding your own meat, huh?

Well, I would consider that, except that these burgers were so perfect. I made beef burgers a week later (also with home-ground meat – stop the insanity!), and I enjoyed the turkey burgers so much more. And I love beef, so it wasn’t a prejudice.

But once you add good buns and your various toppings, the turkey burgers don’t taste significantly different from beef burgers. These have about half the fat of good beef burgers, so that’s another advantage, although what I mostly care about is that I thought their texture was smoother and more cohesive, and their taste was at least as good.

Grinding your own meat isn’t as hard as it might sound, and you almost definitely have the equipment. All you have to do is cut your meat into chunks, freeze it until it’s firm, and process it in the food processor. Then you mix in a few tasty additions, sear them up in a pan and enjoy a perfect burger. Make some extra to freeze, just in case Future You has a rough day at work and needs an easy meal.

One year ago: Croissants (Tartine)
Two years ago: Franks and Beans

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Turkey Burgers (not really adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Cooks Illustrated recommends 6 ounce burgers; I prefer mine significantly smaller. If you do too, don’t forget to reduce the cooking time.

2 pounds skin-on, bone-in turkey thighs or 1½ pounds skinless, boneless thighs
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1. If using skin-on, bone-in turkey thighs, remove the meat from from the skin and bones. Cut the thighs into 1-inch chunks and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze until somewhat firm, about 30 minutes.

2. Working in 3 batches, place the semifrozen turkey chunks in a food processor fitted with the steel blade; pulse until the largest pieces are no bigger than 1/8-inch, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses.

3. Transfer the ground meat to a medium bowl. Stir in the salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard until blended and divide the meat into 4 portions. Lightly toss one portion from hand to hand to form a ball, then lightly flatten the ball with your fingertips into a 1-inch-thick patty. Repeat with the remaining portions.

4. Heat a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast iron or stainless steel with an aluminum core) over medium heat until very hot, 4 to 5 minutes. Swirl the oil in the pan to coat the bottom. Add the burgers and cook over medium heat without moving them until the bottom of each is dark brown and crusted, about 5 minutes. Turn the burgers over; continue to cook until the bottom is light brown but not yet crusted, 4 to 5 minutes longer. Reduce the heat to low, position the cover slightly ajar on the pan to allow steam to escape, and continue to cook 5 to 6 minutes longer, or until the center is completely opaque yet still juicy or an instant-read thermometer inserted from the side of the burger into the center registers 160 degrees. Remove from the pan and serve immediately. (Alternatively, grill the burgers over a medium-low fire (you can hold your hand about 5 inches above the grill surface for 5 seconds) until dark spotty brown on the bottom, 7 to 9 minutes. Turn the burgers over; continue grilling 7 to 9 minutes longer.)

strawberry chocolate ice cream pie

The rest of the country (hemisphere, I suppose) is gearing up for summer. Here in the desert though, we’ve been there for a while. This weekend Dave and I hiked over seven miles in 90 degree weather. It’s a dry heat though! (Actually, the hike wasn’t bad at all – it was either shady or windy the whole time, so although we were hot, we weren’t dying. And the dry heat does make a difference.)


the beginning of homemade chocolate ice cream

Ice cream pie is perfect for the weather we’ve been having. The specific ingredients called for here aren’t perfect for me though. I eat so many bananas as snacks that the idea of adding them to chocolate ice cream for dessert didn’t sound appealing. Strawberries, however, can be added to most any dessert.

Oh, except maybe not one that’s going to be stored in the freezer like this. Sliced strawberries between the crust and the ice cream turned into ice cubes in the freezer; I should have given them a dip in vodka before freezing them to keep them from freezing so solidly. Other than that, what’s not to love about this dessert? I don’t need to tell you that chocolate ice cream and strawberries are a tempting combination – especially when it’s a hundred degrees out.

Spike chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted.

One year ago: Chipster-Topped Brownies
Two years ago: Pecan-Honey Sticky Buns

cheddar shortbread

You guys know I’m a major dough-eater, right? Okay, well, if not, there you go – cookie dough, cake batter, brownie batter, any of that – major weakness. As embarrassing as this story is, I will tell you that I have actually reached into the oven to take one more spoonful of pound cake batter from the pan. (Pound cake batter is even better than chocolate chip cookie dough, I’m not even kidding.)

So I was a little worried about these after I mixed up the dough. It…well, frankly, it wasn’t very good. It didn’t have enough flavor. But I don’t have a lot of experience baking savory cookies, so I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to taste.

After baking, they were pretty good actually. My students must be getting braver, because I got more feedback on this one – would be good with garlic, herbs, and, um, served with wine. (“I mean, I don’t know if you drink wine”, he said. I did not respond with, “Do I ever! But only on weekends.”)

In the end, I think they mostly taste like Cheez-Its. Which is an okay thing, I think. But hey, garlic, thyme, and a bit of salt couldn’t hurt. And what isn’t better served with wine? Just wait until they’re baked before you start eating them. (Oh, you do that with all cookies? Well, aren’t you the picture of self-restraint.)

One year ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Two years ago: Caesar Salad

Printer Friendly Recipe
Cheddar Shortbread (adapted from Whisk: a food blog)

Makes about 30 cookies

Despite the advice of my students, I’m not sure I’d add garlic, which sounds like it could easily become overpowering. I could go either way on herbs, and I definitely think some salt (maybe ¼ teaspoon to start) would be a nice addition.

I’m not sure I baked these this long; I think it’s more likely that I baked them about 10 minutes, just until they no longer looked wet on top and they were slightly browned around the edges.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. In a food processor, mix all of the ingredients with the metal blade until the dough forms a ball.

2. Roll the dough into a log. (You can freeze the logs by wrapping them in plastic wrap and put them in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking.) Slice into ¼-inch rounds and place on baking sheet. Chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator or 30 minutes in the freezer.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until light brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

sweet cream biscuits

I was all set to make the tiniest portion of this recipe and serve little bitty biscuits with salad for dinner. And then Dorie mentioned ham sandwiches in the headnote and I started thinking about adding eggs and cheese to that and suddenly I was making extra dough to freeze. Breakfast sandwiches are on my Favorite Foods Ever List. (Let us not discuss how long that list is.)

There are all sorts of biscuits – flaky from cutting in butter, layered from multiple pastry turns, tender from stirring in cream – and I love them all. And they all make one mean breakfast sandwich.

Melissa, who chose these biscuits for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted on her site. You might be able to tell from the photos that my tiny biscuits rose higher than my bigger biscuits. I mixed, cut, and rolled the dough at the same time; the only difference is that the larger ones were baked straight from the freezer instead of right after the dough was made like the smaller ones. Also, I brushed the larger biscuits with an egg wash because I happened to have eggs available. It makes for a pretty biscuit, but they’re great either way.

One year ago: Chocolate Bread Pudding
Two years ago: Carrot Cake