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This is no ordinary burger, in fact, it is quite possibly the best burger I have ever had.  I know, it is a bold statement, but one spoken from the stomach heart.  We make burgers once a month or so, usually as an easy dinner.  That is how this meal began, as an answer to what to make for dinner that would be easy, popular, and satisfying.  That was all well and good, until I got it in my head that I could make everything from scratch. Oh, and add bacon to the beef.  Whoa.

After we picked up a meat grinder attachment for our Kitchenaide, we discovered the magic of burgers made with freshly ground meat.  This burger includes not only beef chuck roast, but also a very special not-so-secret ingredient, bacon!  This was a perfect use for some bacon ends we had from our piggy in the freezer.  Using a ration of 4 parts beef to 1 part bacon, I ground the two meats with the course grinding plate.  After lightly tossing them to mix, I loosely formed them into patties.  I pressed the meat just enough so they would hold together on the grill, but so there were still some small air spaces between the meat pieces.  This gives a place for the juices and fat to collect (did I mention this is not a low-fat meal).  Grilled over medium high and plopped on a fresh toasted bun, these burgers taste amazing.  The bacon flavor is strong enough to make itself known, without being overpowering.  The best part is that unlike a burger topped with slices of bacon, the bacon does not slide out of the bun as you try to bite through it.  The flavors of the beef and bacon are perfectly blended.  And then there is the bun…

This recipe came from King Arthur Bread.  They were so good that my son declared, “Mom, these are CRAZY.  I never want to buy buns again.” (I love that my kids love to eat!)  The recipe uses an egg and some butter, so the buns are very tender and hold together well under the pressure of the burger and condiments.  They browned up beautifully and some extra butter brushed over the top yields a very tender top, making it easy to bite into the burger.   They came together very quickly and rose through the day.  The recipe makes 8 buns large enough for 1/4 pound burgers or bigger. This is enough for two meals for my family, so I froze half of the buns for another dinner.  You could also make the buns smaller and use them for sliders.  They would be delicious with pulled pork.  Mmmmm…  We will definitely make these again.

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Chicken Satay

August 10, 2011

Though my time frees up in the summer when my day job as a high school science teacher takes a hiatus, somehow our dinners suffer.  During the school year, time is so limited that a strict menu must be followed, the food shopping is completed on schedule, and for the most part we eat pretty well.  During the summer though, I have the luxury to let loose.  My kids and I bounce from one adventure to another and more than once we have found ourselves without a clue what to make for dinner. Or sometimes I spend the day canning and completely loose interest in preparing another meal when I am done.   (I will not embarrass myself by sharing our dinner for tonight, except to say that it included refried beans, tortillas, and cheese and not much else- but beans are a vegetable right?)  So you can see why when I find a recipe that is easy to whip up (especially in advance) and incredibly tasty, and yes, kid friendly, it quickly becomes a go-to recipe.

I first made Chicken Satay at the beginning of summer. We enjoyed it so much that it quickly fell into our program and has since graced our table a number of times.  At once bold, yet not overwhelming, this mixture of spices is a tasty accompaniment to juicy chicken thighs.  I modified the recipe to use Salt Preserved Lemons, instead of lemon grass, because I do not have a local source for the lemongrass and do have an abundance of lemons.  The authenticity may suffer, but the flavor does not. The skewers cook up super fast on the grill, which keeps the oven off and the house cool.  I usually serve this dish with a simple slaw, perhaps a mango salsa, and of course some sriracha for a spicy dip.

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Lest you think my family and I survive on berries and chocolate alone, I thought it was time to share an actual meal with you hungry readers.  Sure I know “people” who might on occasion settle in over a pile of brownies and call it dinner, but really, it is time to talk about real food, with protein and vegetables included.  This is the kind of food we should eat most of the time to make the indulgences of jam-piled pancakes and syrup-coated ice cream well deserved.

In truth, most of our summer meals resemble this one.   We have some lean grilled meat, seasoned up to our whim.  One the side is a pile of some kind of beautiful warm season veggie.  There may be some focaccia bread or rice, but more and more I find that we do not miss the starch when we leave it out.  In its place, I make a double portion of vegetables.  Yes, even the kids do not seem to notice this omission (I just make sure they get their piles of pasta on another night during the week).

Armenian Lamb Kebabs are very simple to prepare, yet just different enough to pass for something special if need arises.  They are perfectly seasoned to compliment the lamb without overpowering it. The Greek Salad is a fabulous side to the lamb, but it could be paired with any number of other meats.

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Over the past four and a half years, my husband and I have mastered the art of the special dinner at home.  Our kids, too young to tuck themselves in, hold us captive.  We have a running joke where one of us asks, “What do you want to do tonight?”  In response, the other spouts off lists of adventurous ideas all involving actually leaving the house together, even though our kids are sound asleep.   We laugh as we pretend we have options aside from the rented movie, the game of dominoes, or going to sleep at a deliciously early hour- oh, now I really am sounding old.  All jokes aside, a night at home can be quite special.  We prefer to celebrate the opportunity staying in presents, rather than long for the greener grass.

In our home every detail of our meal can be catered to our whim.  We choose festive, fancy, or casual.  Our tastes can travel to Thailand, Italy, or Mexico.  We can eat with china or our fingers.  At home we make the food exactly how we want to eat it.  We use only the freshest, seasonal ingredients, all at a fraction of the cost of a nice restaurant meal.  There is no need for reservations or babysitters.  Perhaps the best reason to celebrate the special dinner at home, is the pride and satisfaction of sitting down together to eat a meal which one of us (or both) have put our heart and hands into preparing with love.

Our most recent special meal was  Herb Rubbed Pork Loin.  I used an exceptional brine from the girl and the fig that I have used in the past with chops.  Brining allows the meat to retain moisture through the cooking and infuses the meat with tremendous flavor.  To ensure the brine and seasoning could permeate the entire roast, I sliced the meat horizontally, a technique I picked up from Cook’s Illustrated.  After the brine, I marinated the meat in mustard and herbs from the garden.  We were able to take advantage of unseasonably warm weather here in Sonoma County and grill the loin.  This could easily be roasted in the oven as well with the added bonus of being able to collect the juices for a gravy.

The pork loin turned out incredibly moist and flavorful.  The brine perfectly seasoned the interior of the meat, and the marinade gave a delightful herbal tang to the exterior.  Do not overlook the Onion, Raisin, Garlic Compote, it is fabulous!  We both agreed that we could eat an entire bowl of it as an official side dish.  Onions, raisins, and garlic are cooked down with butter, port, and herbs.  This is a perfect accompaniment to the pork loin.  This meal turned another night at home with the family into a special night indeed.

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Southwestern Chicken Burger

February 8, 2011

Burgers are good…really good. They are the kind of quick dinner that never seems like a cop out.  I can spend 30 minutes cooking dinner and everyone is thrilled.  We like to eat all kinds of burgers, experimenting with different types of meat: beef, pork, chicken, or turkey, and  many different flavor combinations.  When cooking up burgers with chicken or turkey, I mix in egg, bread crumbs, and herbs, all which help keep the burgers moist.   This burger recipe is one of our favorites.

Southwestern Chicken Burgers are super moist and flavorful.  The mild taste of the ground chicken allows the garlic, cilantro, green onion, and spices to do their magic.  This burger is packed with flavor and is sure to delight even the most die-hard beef burger fans. Layer the toasted buns with spicy, smokey chipotle mayonnaise and Caramelized Onion Relish. If you don’t have a grill, these burgers would be equally tasty cooked up in a skillet with a little olive oil.

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