Turkey Bacon Meatloaf

DSC_0022Back in February, Katy and I gave the paleo diet a whirl in an effort to get in shape for a Mexican beach vacation. If you are unfamiliar, it is a diet based on the ways of our caveman ancestors. Lots of meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. No dairy or grains and absolutely no processed food. To be honest, we each did our own modified variation of the diet, taking some liberties with what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I allowed beans, rice and quinoa, and yogurt. I figured those are all healthy foods, and it helped keep me sane. I really felt great during the diet and I’m continuing to avoid processed food like white flour, refined sugar, and processed meat.

Anyway, I made this recipe up during the diet, and even though bread crumbs are cheating, who cares right? It’s a 1/4 cup! It makes enough for 2 people plus a little leftovers, so scale up if you’re serving more people.

Ingredients:DSC_0001

  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 green onions (sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 clove minced garlic

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F

Grease a cookie sheet with butter. Use a sheet with raised edges so grease doesn’t spill off.

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Cook the bacon on medium heat until some of the fat has rendered off and it just begins to brown. Remove from heat and drain on paper towel. While the bacon is cooling, mix everything but the turkey and egg in a large bowl. Then chop three strips of bacon into 1/4″ bits and add to ingredients. Next, add the egg and ground turkey and mix all ingredients thoroughly with your hands.  Shape into a loaf and place onto the cookie sheet. Cover with the remaining bacon strips and bake for 45 minutes.

I love this recipe because the turkey stays moist, and the bacon adds awesome flavor (it always does)! Little bites with cranberry and onion add sweetness and texture, and the cumin and red pepper give it a nice little kick 😉 Have fun cooking and enjoy! Thanks for reading.

 

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Old Fashioned ’50s-Style Diner Cheeseburgers

Actual Greene’s cheeseburgers

If you ever find yourself in a suburb of Detroit called Farmington Hills (it’s a bit of a long shot, I know), you simply must try Greene’s Hamburgers.  This restaurant has been a family favorite since decades before I was born.  My dad and his 5 siblings, lovingly raised by my Namma and Dampy, grew up in a small house (that’s eight people total in a house with just one bathroom!) around the corner from this famous diner-style burger joint.  My dad has memories of walking there as a kid and bringing home a bag of 6 burgers for a grand total of 96¢!  Can’t beat it.

The prices have changed a bit since the late ’50s, but as my family tells me, every other bit of it has remained exactly the same.  From its shiny white exterior to the beautiful, old ‘play-at-your-own-risk’ jukebox (my uncle selected some Janis Joplin and Beatles during our recent visit), it feels like you’ve gone back in time — even aside from the food, visiting the joint alone is an experience you won’t forget.

Every summer during our annual family trip to Michigan, at least some of us stopped here for burgers to relive the age-old tradition of juicy, Midwest, never-frozen, griddle-cooked beef burgers.  Somehow, at least in my memory, I had never been.  I’d heard about it a million times, been shown pictures of the food (thank goodness for being raised in a family of foodies), and seen my Dampy sport his Greene’s T-shirt on several occasions, but in the midst of the craziness and fun-filled days at the lake with the people I love the most, I missed the boat — up until last week.

Mmmm. Perfect Greene’s cheeseburger.

My first Greene’s experience (with 6 other Thoresens) blew me away.  I couldn’t get enough.  No, really — I ate 3 cheeseburgers…2 singles and 1 double.  With fries.  And a chocolate malt.  Ehhh.  Don’t know where my enormous appetite came from that day, but I do know that it sure as hell came at the right time.

Greene’s chocolate malt and curly-cut fries

Small balls of ground beef are smashed flat into patties over slices of white onion on the hot, greasy griddle, and then topped with your choice of American cheese, sliced dill pickles, ketchup, and yellow mustard, all on a soft, smushy, white bun.  The fries are crinkle cut and served right out of the fryer, piping hot, just as they should be, allowing you to enjoy a salty, crispy exterior with a soft, steaming, fluffy inside.  The malts are classic (I dipped fries in mine — I’m a big sweet/salty combo girl) — thick, rich, and not too sweet.  The sodas come in one size only, just as they did in the ’50s.

Greene’s griddle

Natually, after my first Greene’s experience, I was transfixed.  I wanted these burgers again and again, and most of all, I wanted to share them with Kyle.  So I did my very best to recreate a Greene’s burger at home.  My Auntie warned me that it was a ballsy move, and she’s absolutely right.  They aren’t exact, and no other burger ever will be.  But I gave it a shot, and I think I came pretty close.  These burgers are simple, classic, and mouth-wateringly all-American.  I hope you guys love them!

I started with a pound of 85-15 ground beef.  This isn’t the time for super-lean.  Greene’s burgers are juicy and a bit greasy, which is the point.  Also, there’s no mayo on this burger, so you’re even further encouraged to take advantage of the grease factor, otherwise, you’ll end up with a dry patty.

One other thing — I almost exclusively buy my groceries at the HEB here in Austin (major grocery chain), which is super cheap and awesome.  There is a lot to admire about HEB.  I remember, back in Boston, I searched 3 grocery stores one day, looking for canned chipotle chilis in adobo sauce, to no avail.  HEB, on the other hand, practically has a whole aisle devoted to them.

For these burgers, however, I bought some fresh ground, organic beef at Whole Foods with the super high animal welfare rating (whatever that means — doesn’t that sort of equate to a jail bragging about excellent accomodations and conditions for the prisoners, and then killing them?).  I would never, ever turn my nose up at the standard grocery store stuff, but I wanted the absolute best beef I could get my hands on for these, since the whole point is to highlight that ingredient.  Honestly, I think spending a few bucks more did make a difference.

I separated my pound into 12 equal-sized pieces.  I did this by forming a thick rectangle shape with the meat and then cutting it into small pieces.  You see 9 in the picture, but I decided 9 didn’t make small enough pieces, and recut 12 (and subsequently forgot to take a picture).  They will be about the size of small meatballs.  Each of these is a “single.”  Everyone has a different opinion on their meat-to-bun ratio, and doing it this way, you’ll be able to tailor-make every burger however you like.  I loved the single at Greene’s, but the double hit my meat-to-bread ratio spot on, so that’s what I made for Kyle and me.

It’s best to prep your meat first so that it can come up to room temperature while you get your other fixings ready.  Roll each piece of meat into a ball and smash it just slightly, so it’s still about an inch thick.  Sprinkle salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce over both sides of each ball of beef.  Cover loosely with waxed paper and let these hang out on the counter top for the next few minutes.

Next, you’ll want to make sure you have everything ready so that as soon as your burger comes off of the heat, you can slap it together and enjoy while it’s good and hot.

Slice a white onion on the thin side.  I used my mandolin, but as (another) Auntie (who happens to be a professional chef) taught me recently, a mandolin is not a substitute for great knife skills.  A great tip to keep in mind, especially for me, considering how heavily I rely on mine. 🙂  Slice up some pickles, and get your cheese unwrapped.  I happen to adore American cheese.  I know it’s not the healthiest, but on a burger, it’s 100% my preference.

I can’t count the times my best friends and I have discussed and debated the best cheese on a cheeseburger.  We know how to focus on the important things in life, that’s for sure, and I mean that with no sarcasm.

Kyle doesn’t care for American cheese.  Since I love him so much, I figured I could alter the original recipe slightly and top his burger with orange cheddar instead (his burger cheese preference).  Just slice a few pieces nice and thin if you go this route.

Here’s a quick piece of the email I received from chef Auntie after she read this post, it made me laugh too hard not to share:

p.s. american “cheese” isn’t cheese.  they don’t even call it that on the label, they say something like “cheese food product” or some bull shit.  i think it’s colored oil slabs. i’m on kyles side! 🙂

Get your ketchup and mustard ready (if you want them).  As I mentioned, these are all optional toppings at Greene’s.  My preference was just onions and cheese, then pickles on the side and I dipped every few bites of the burger in ketchup.  As much as possible, you want to celebrate the beef, but everyone does that differently, so listen to your heart when it comes to toppings.

Now that everything’s prepped, the magic begins.  I don’t have a griddle at home, so I used a cast iron skillet — it worked perfectly.  If you don’t have cast iron, use your darkest pan — it will get hot quickly and give good color to your onions and beef.  You want it at about medium-high heat.  Add a little bit of a neutral cooking oil (veggie, canola, peanut, whatever you’ve got) and let that heat up for a minute or two.

Now, throw a small handful of onions on to your hot pan, fitting them into a little pile the size of a burger patty.  I underestimated the amount for the first burger, because I wasn’t sure how much they’d cook down in the time it takes for the beef to cook through.  Just keep that in mind — they reduce in size pretty quickly.  Give the onions a few seconds, then stack your beef on top.  As I mentioned, I did all doubles (as you’ll see in the pictures).  Next step, use a spatula to smash the beef down into a patty, right on top of the onions.  I’ve heard more than once before that this is the wrong way to treat ground beef, and that it will inevitably squeeze out all of the juices.  Not so in this case, tried and true, especially if you’re using beef with a higher fat content, as we are.

A double with the proper amount of onions

As you mash your beef down, don’t worry too much about shape.  Greene’s burgers aren’t perfect circles, but they’re close enough.  What’s important is that you’re sort of pressing your onions into the beef patty, and the fat from the beef is coating the onions and helping them to cook and simultaneously adding a TON of flavor.

Flip it after about 3 minutes and immediately top with cheese, and then cover with the top half of the bun.  This helps to trap in some steam, which melts the cheese and warms the bun in the perfect amount of time it takes for the burger bottom to brown up.

Here’s one great tip that my Dad told me about these burgers.  He always noticed that the top of the bun at Greene’s is a little shiny from the splattering grease on the griddle that hits it.  I loved that little quirk.  I didn’t have enough burgers going at once to provide adequate grease splatter, but I did just buy a culinary brush!  Perfect.  I dipped the ends quickly into the oils in the pan and lightly brushed the tops of the buns.  I swear, it made a difference.  So awesome.

After another 3 minutes or so, scrape it off the pan with a spatula, and place it on the bottom half of your bun.  If you opt for mustard, ketchup, or pickles, go ahead and throw them on the bottom bun before you put the burger on.  It’s important that the buns are simple and white.

Probably the best way to choose is to go with the cheapest possible bun you can find at your grocery store.  I can tell you Whole Foods will NOT have the proper bun for this type of burger, I’ve looked.  I got mine at the 7-11 across the street and they were exactly right.

Now, enjoy every last bite!  Share these with people you love.  It’s okay to have two.  Or three. 😉

An immeasurable thank you, for everything, to the North Star of our big, incredible family, my amazing Dampy (also affectionately known by his children, grandchildren, sisters, and countless other family and friends as Grap, Dampster, Big G, Pop, Dada, etc.).  We miss you desperately and our world is not the same without you.  An excerpt from a beautiful writing by my cousin Rob:

I have a million stories, a million memories, a million small joys all contained in the word ‘Grap’. They are as much a part of me as the Norwegianness that flowed through his blood and into mine. I am Grap. You are Grap. Energy does not disappear. It changes direction, changes forms, changes appearance. It manifests itself differently in different times and different spaces but it is eternal. Grap is energy. Pure, razor sharp, goodness. Decency and virtue, in the shape of a tall, tough, Catholic boy from Detroit. Grap is eternal in every conceivable sense of the word. Eternal energy existing in our minds, in our bodies, on earth as it is in heaven.

Big G came out of the sea to get thee. He got me. He got you. End of story. Beginning of story.

How to pickle

Pickling is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and has been utilized by almost every culture. The term pickle comes from the dutch word “pekel” which means brine. Makes sense. It’s simple and affordable and adding pickled veggies really boosts the flavor of so many dishes. Here is the recipe I have fine tuned for a couple of batches now and I really enjoy.

Ingredients: (makes 2 pint jars) 

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups white vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 3 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn

For making pickles also add 1/4 teaspoon dill weed or 2 sprigs fresh dill

Directions:

Bring water and vinegar to a boil and add salt and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and add in all the spices leaving out the garlic(and dill). Let the spices steep in the brine for 10 minutes. I use one of these tea catchers to hold the spices so I don’t have to strain them at the end. 

While the spices are steeping, chop your onions, jalapenos, cucumbers, or whatever ingredient you wish to pickle. Stuff them tightly into a mason jar with 2 cloves of garlic chopped into halves. Add dill at this point as well if needed. Strain the spices from the liquid with a slotted spoon or colander, and pour into the jars almost to the rim. Seal them quickly, being careful as the glass gets hot, and leave out on the counter overnight. Move to the refrigerator and enjoy after letting them sit for at least 48 hours and for up to 3 months, although they never last that long 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Spreadable, Secret-Ingredient Caramelized Onions

Happy 2012, everyone!  While I do realize many a New Year’s resolution revolves around healthier eating and cutting back on high-calorie favorites, I might remind you that it’s still football season — the perfect loophole!  Which means it’s most certainly acceptable to be eating junk at least once a week.  I save my official “cheat day” for Sunday, as this is my favorite time of the week to be permanently parked on the couch (other than the occasional, or if you’re in your 20s, frequent, trip to the fridge for a cold beverage) enjoying delicious treats.

One of my favorite ways to eat on a Sunday is to prepare, along with all three of my talented, food-loving roommates, several different tapas-style, ‘bar food’-like snacks.  This way, we all get a chance to experiment in the kitchen and everyone gets to try a little bit of everything.

The idea for this mini-recipe came to me a few years ago when a good friend and life-long Brooklyn resident (who also happens to be my best friend’s boyfriend) circulated an article amongst our burger-loving friends reviewing the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern in NYC — considered by many to be the best in Manhattan.  The chef was describing the lone topping he dressed this burger with — sliced onions that were given several hours to break down into the perfect, jam-like consistency over very low heat.  Brilliant!

Now, as much as I love to be in the kitchen, a few hours for onions sounded a little extreme for your average at-home cook.  A $26 burger deserves nothing less, but I have the Patriots to watch and beer to drink.  So I found a way to imitate what I imagined these onions tasted like.  Hopefully someday I’ll have the opportunity to taste this burger myself!

It still takes a bit of time, but the onions are well-behaved and can take care of themselves for the majority of their cooking time.  I hope you’ll love these as much as I do!

Begin with some white or yellow onions.  I generally buy a bag of small- to medium-sized white onions, but I think any onion will do.  Red onion would work fine as well.  I used four this time, and while the onions cook down a lot, it was still plenty for an appetizer for four people.

Cut off the tops and bottoms of each onion and remove the papery skin.  I purchased an awesome mandolin at HEB (Texas’s biggest food market chain; sort of a hybrid of Stop & Shop, Costco, and Walmart) for $7, and for this recipe alone, it was worth it.  Perfect uniform slices every time, though the same task can be done with a good, sharp knife.  You want to cut through the onion in the direction that will give you rings.  If you don’t have a mandolin, just do the best you can to keep the slices uniform.  An eighth of an inch is a perfect width.

Once you have all of your onions sliced, get a large skillet over low-medium heat.  As much as I love cast iron, this is an instance where non-stick is going to save you a lot of time later.  This is because onions are very sugary (we’ll be making them even more so), and the cast iron skillets in our house aren’t old or seasoned enough to ensure perfect onion removal (though they’re getting there, slowly but surely).  Also, the dark metal will get too hot too quickly and brown the onions a little quicker than we’d like.

Add olive oil and butter to the warming pan.  I did equal parts of both.  You could also use all butter or all olive (or vegetable, canola, peanut) oil.  I find about half of a tablespoon of fat per onion is about right.

Once the butter is melted, add all of the onions to the pan, and stir, doing your best to coat each piece of onion in the butter/oil mixture.  Now, the waiting begins.  I let the onions sit on the stove top, leaving the heat at medium-low (about 3 out of 10 according to our stove top knobs).  I came back to stir them every 6 minutes or so.  Or you can try tossing them the way fancy chefs do.  I gave this up after half a batch ended up on the burner.  I’ll stick to my trusty wooden spoon.

As time goes on, the onions will go from translucent to yellow to golden to amber to caramel-colored.

After 6 minutes

After 12 minutes

After 18 minutes

After 24 minutes

After 30 minutes

After 36 minutes

After 42 minutes

After about 40-45 minutes (this may vary) of cooking time, it’s time to add the secret ingredient – a generous dollop of grape jelly!  Yum.  Or raspberry.  Or apricot.  I can’t think of any kind of fruit preserve that wouldn’t be delicious in these.  The sticky jelly acts as a perfect binder to pull the onions together into an almost sauce-like consistency.  Funnily enough, in the finished product you can’t necessarily pick up the taste of the fruit; the ingredients just become a perfect synergy.  Along with the jelly, sprinkle in brown sugar.  Adding additional sugar to the onions helps to speed up the caramelization process — something I learned from another one of my best friend’s mom, who has some serious tricks in the kitchen…she makes the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had.  One time she even shared her recipe, taught me the exact process, step-by-step, and mine still don’t come close to hers.  That’s true kitchen magic in my opinion.

Now’s also the time to season with some salt and fresh-ground black pepper.  White pepper would be awesome here, so as not to mess with the pretty color of the onions, but I didn’t have any.  No biggie, probably wouldn’t make a huge difference in the end anyway — they end up pretty dark in color.

Continue to cook down about another 10 minutes.  Now, add a sprinkling of each balsamic vinegar and lemon juice, and mix.  The onions at this point should be very reduced, tangled, and a deep toffee color.  Finally, deglaze your pan with a good splash of wine — red, white, rosé, anything.  They say only cook with a wine that you’d drink.  Luckily this isn’t a problem for me because I’ve yet to meet a wine I don’t like.

Please use your imagination and mentally superimpose a lemon into this photo

Since I was making these on New Year’s Day, we happened to have some champagne left over from the night prior’s festivities — perfect.  Stir everything around and cook down another 5 minutes or so to burn off most of the liquid from the wine.

And…done!  These will go great on all kinds of things.  Some of my favorite applications — pizza (I often add a little garlic and extra oil at the end, then use them in place of tomato sauce), calzones, sandwiches (pastrami, turkey, grilled cheese!), burgers (with Swiss cheese and bacon), over hot Italian sausages with grainy mustard.  Also from here you could add beef broth and you’d pretty much have a classic, from-scratch French onion soup.

This day, however, being in finger-food mode, I served them as a simple appetizer over a wedge of room-temperature Brie.  Perfect yin/yang situation…the buttery, creamy Brie became slightly melty and balanced great with the syrupy sweet, tangy onions.  Cheddar or goat cheese would be fantastic as well.  Just spoon the warm onions over the cheese and serve with crackers.  Or if you’ve got a little more energy than I did, cut a baguette into thin slices on a bias.  Sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and bake on a sheet pan in a single layer for a few minutes at about 350°.

One (optional) addition to the plate are a few sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Tear up a few leaves onto each bite.  Something about the woodsy-ness (yes, spellcheck, I know that’s not a word) adds the perfect finish, plus the green pine needle-looking herb makes the plate a little more aesthetically pleasing.

Here’s the list of ingredients:

  • 4 small/medium white onions
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. grape (or other) jelly
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup wine
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Last but not least, some toasted walnuts, pecans, or almonds would have been great to throw on top of the onions.  Enjoy…preferably with a glass of the wine or champagne you just cooked with!  Or a good ol’ Bud Light like I did — it was football Sunday, after all. 🙂