Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Perfect Diner Burger

You know the taste of a perfect burger? I'm not talking about one from the grill. I mean the euphoria inducing flavor from a burger made at a greasy spoon diner. There is something about the taste you can't quite put your finger on, but it is something that can't be achieved outside of one of the restaurant.

That is, until now. I have compiled my knowledge from homemade tricks to snippets on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives to bring you the ultimate homemade perfect diner burger. There are several must-have elements that make this all possible.

First: 80/20 ground beef. Don't get the 93/7 stuff. It's too lean and gives you a dry burger. These aren't healthy. Accept it. When forming the patties, don't smash them into dense little pucks. Gently press 1/4 lb portions of meat into a 1/4" thin patty with a slight indentation in the center. Good.

Second: Onions. Sweet Onions. Chop one up. These are the base of your burger. Throw a pat of butter on a griddle top, or in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melty, add your onions, a good handful. Set your patties on top of the onions. Press them in slightly. Season with a little salt and pepper. The next part is very important.

Mustard: Yellow. Good ol' yellow mustard. This is an old In 'N' Out Burger trick. Squeeze a tablespoon size dollop onto each patty. Let it rest. Don't bother it while the magic is happening. After about 3-5 minutes, the patty should look partially cooked through. Now we flip. Get under those onions.

Cheese: Mild unfancy cheddar, colby, or American. (I know American cheese is an abomination to most people, but come on, it's a greasy burger we're talkin' about here.) Put a generous slice of cheese on top of each patty, sealing in the grilled onions. Now cover with a lid. Let the cheese get all melty and beautiful. Once the patty is cooked and the cheese is melted (~3 minutes) transfer each patty to a sesame seed bun.

Toppings: Iceberg. Dill Pickles. Secret Sauce. Prepared before the patties, add some shredded iceberg lettuce, a few dill pickles, and a generous dollop of secret sauce. What is secret sauce? Most burger places use basically the same sauce with small variations, but it's the most wonderful topping a burger could ever have. The recipe is below.

(Not So) Secret Sauce:

1 c mayonnaise
2/3 c ketchup
1/4 c sweet relish
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder

Mix all of the ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use on burgers, fries, anything.

For 8 burgers you'll need:

2 lb ground beef, 80/20 preferably
1/2 T butter, unsalted
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
salt and pepper
8 T yellow mustard
8 slices cheese like mild cheddar, colby, or American
8 seeded sandwich buns
iceberg lettuce, shredded
dill pickles
Secret sauce (above)

Gently press 1/4 lb portions of beef into a 1/4" thin patty with a slight indentation in the center.

Throw a pat of butter on a griddle top, or in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melty, add your onions, a good handful. Set your patties on top of the onions. Press them in slightly. Season with a little salt and pepper.

Squeeze a tablespoon size dollop onto each patty. After about 3-5 minutes, the patty should look partially cooked through. Flip each patty. Put a generous slice of cheese on top of each patty, sealing in the grilled onions. Cover with a lid. Once the patty is cooked and the cheese is melted (~3 minutes) transfer each patty to a sesame seed bun.

Add some shredded iceberg lettuce, a few dill pickles, and a generous dollop of secret sauce. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pierogi Lasagna

I love pierogies. I love lasagna. What's a girl to do when she wants both? Combine them of course! Creamy mashed potatoes with cheese sauce and noodles stack up to be one of the best comfort foods since... well, pierogies or lasagna.

This dish is best prepared the night before and baked the following day. My mom always did that for her lasagna. It allows all the layers to get nice and cozy.

I made this for my first official meeting of the Darling Apartment bloggers. We all pitched in for a late lunch/early dinner (linner?) This dish is great for a potluck. It goes a long way for a large group.

You need:

3 lb russet potatoes
1 c scalded milk
4 T butter, melted
1/2 c Greek yogurt
salt and pepper

6 T butter
4 T flour
3 c milk, warm
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 c grated cheddar cheese

12 oz oven ready lasagna noodles
1/2 sweet onion, chopped

1/2 c grated cheddar cheese

Wash, peel, and quarter potatoes. Add to a stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until fork tender. While potatoes cook, combine milk, butter, and yogurt. Drain water from potatoes. Mash potatoes with milk mixture, salt, and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a deep skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Over medium heat, continue whisking until the mixture turns light golden. Add milk slowly while whisking. Bring to a boil. Continue cooking and stirring until thickened. Stir in cheese until smooth. Remove from heat.

In a greased 11"x17" pan, spread a layer of potatoes. Drizzle with sauce. Sprinkle with onions. Add layer of lasagna noodles. Continue until the noodles are gone. Drizzle any remaining sauce and sprinkle with any extra onions and the cheddar cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is browned on the edges. Serve warm.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Erin's Wedding Beer Buddies!

The Beer Buddies! Left to Right: Groomsman Mark, Groom Ron, and Bride Erin
Clevelanders are raised to love food - you don't have to read too far through this blog to get the impression. However, it's easy to fall head over heels when the pickings are this good. Our fair city is a stone soup of working class cultural influences laced with our own special brand of rust belt elbow grease. We don't shy away from strong flavors and embrace offerings brought to us from all over the world. As a result, our restaurants are some of the best. People know Cleveland, I read once, "as the little brother we love to pick on", but food is our way of disarming the skeptics and welcoming them to our wonderful rusty home, albeit one bite at a time.

Ron and I are going to be welcoming about 100 out-of-towners into our home in a few months for our wedding. To us, one of the key parts of throwing a party like this is introducing the people we love to the place we love - Cleveland: lake, city, food and all. Since Cleveland is also a beer town (our friends at Great Lakes Brewing Company are a particular source of pride), we wanted to do something a little special regarding drinks...

Enter... The BREW KETTLE in Strongsville, Ohio.  Here, for about $130 to $170,  you can brew 72 bottles (the BIG ones) of personalized craft beer! I reserved our kettle five months in advance, but it was definitely worth the wait.

We chose to make a type of German lager called Helles Bock, which is a spring light brown beer, and we brought our Groomsman (and fellow blogger) Mark along for the ride.

Ron grinds up some of the grain for our Lager. We used 3 or 4 different types!

The grain goes into mesh bags that you bob up in down in the warm kettle like giant tea bags.

When our brew hit 180 degrees, the mesh grain bags came out. You have to hang them like this for a little while to let all the water drain.

After the brew boiled a little while, we added 2.5 L of thick, slow and sticky liquid malt extract. I tasted it thinking it would be really sweet but it tasted like mildly malty wax. Blech.

Mark stirs in the malt

I have a go at stirring too

Periodically, we added hops as the kettle boiled. We had very precise times in which we had to do this. We added two different varieties. They look like pellets of fish food.

And we're done! After the beer boiled for an hour, it was piped into the fermenting barrels where it will say for a month until we come back to bottle it.

 The whole process took about two hours to brew and our gracious hosts provided us with snacks and tasty craft brews while we waited and babysat the kettle. It was a really fun time! We can't wait to taste our lager after it finishes fermenting in a few weeks.

Stay tuned for part two: Designing the Custom Label and part three: Bottling the Beer!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pie Sunday: Greg's Custard Pie

Every few weeks, my friends and I go to an event called Drink and Draw. Local artists from my area invade either the Lava Lounge on the third Thursday of every month, or Great Lakes Brewing on the first Wednesday of every month. Over beers and sketchbooks at the Great Lakes Brewing D&D this month, my friend, Greg, mentioned he loves custard pie. I told him he was more than welcome to buy one from me. He quickly agreed.

Custard pie is one of those magical recipes that can be whipped up from basic pantry ingredients. It's mostly eggs, milk, and sugar. Once baked, the filling becomes a soft, velvety texture. Despite it's humble ingredients, chilled custard pie is a classic yet luxurious dessert.

You need:

1 recipe pie dough
3/4 c granulated sugar
3 T cornstarch
3 eggs, room temperature
3 c scalded whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 T butter melted and cooled
ground cinnamon

Roll the pie dough into a 1/8" thick round. Lay the round in a 9" pie pan. Crimp the edges and dock the bottom and sides by poking holes with a fork. Chill the crust in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line the crust with  parchment and weigh down with pie weights (dry beans work fine.) Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove and set it aside. Remove the parchment and weights. Lower the oven temperature to 375ºF.

While the crust cooks, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, eggs, milk, salt, vanilla, and butter in a large bowl until fully combined. Pour the filling into the still hot pie crust. Bake the pie for 40 minutes or until the center is jiggly and not wavy when shaken, or when a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar to allow the pie to cool slowly for 1 hour. Sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Like What You Like"; Tales of a Man with Not-So-Manly Interests

Hi all!
Mark here. Today I wanted to talk about my experiences as a man with less than masculine interests, and why "liking what you like" regardless of who you are is always the best policy.

For those who don't know, I am a 28 year old nerd.  (See above photo)  I am super into plush toys, obsessed with cute things, and love to cook and sew.  I'm an illustrator, and the artwork I produce is mostly cute, happy characters.  I'm also sensitive, gentle, a sentimental romantic, and I don't much care for sports.  Based on that description alone, there are many people who would assume I am a woman.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm an artist, and I make a living producing artwork for children's products.  My entire career has revolved around the concept of "cute" characters, which is honestly what I naturally tend to create any way.  Regardless, most of my peers in the "cute character" field are women.  Popular artists like Tasty Peach StudiosHip Hop Candy!, and Sugar Bunny Shop are all female.  There simply aren't as many men who do work in this genre, but they do exist (myself included).

The idea that only women do "cute art" even affects other artists.  I met a female artist on an online art community, and she and I conversed a little, complimenting each other's portfolios.  It wasn't until I uploaded a profile picture of myself in real life, that she said she had thought I was a woman.  I don't take offense to this (I view men and women as equals), but it was still surprising to see this woman's reaction to my gender.

Shirt Design I Created For: Agape Gallery

For a while it was difficult for me to accept myself as I am.  I would get self-conscious showing my artwork to other men, or I'd feel funny standing in line at Jo-Ann Fabrics as they cut my fabric.  In college, one man implied I was gay after I left the room at a small get-together; this was after he learned earlier that evening that I liked sewing and was romantic.  Some people have a hard time accepting anything other than traditional gender roles.  To these people, men like sports and women like to sew (not the other way around), and everything is evenly divided into "masculine" and "feminine".

Squishable Hermit Crab Doll I designed for: Squishable

It wasn't until a few years ago that I really embraced myself, and all the parts of who I am.  What does it matter if I like making cute artwork or that my idea of a fun Friday night is baking myself into adult-onset diabetes?  What does it matter if I actually like a good rom-com instead of an action flick?  No matter what chromosome you have, the only way to keep your sanity in this world is to let yourself enjoy what you enjoy.  There's a certain positive energy that comes from doing what you love and what you want to do, and if you are an artist, this energy will manifest itself in your artwork and your overall attitude.

So like what you like, love what you love, and do what you want to do-- regardless of who (or what) you are.  Your life will be better for it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ricotta Cheese Easter Cookies

Happy SPRING, (finally) everyone! It feels like we waited an eternity for this one. This weekend, the weather finally turned. It was nice enough to open the windows which was a welcome relief from the stale, closed up air I've been sitting in all winter. Despite the brief cold snap and snow on Tuesday, I'm in full spring mode. I needed to make something bright and fun to celebrate.

These ricotta cheese cookies are just the ticket. They are light and fluffy, bordering on a little cake more than a cookie. I love the texture. Before you get skeeved out, they don't taste cheesy. They are subtle and sweet. A little dollop of frosting on top and some cute sprinkles sweeten them just enough.

They are one of my favorite cookies. My mom got the recipe from her coworker years ago. The recipe is easy enough, but we quickly learned it is best to use an electric mixer. The dough needs to be very well mixed. Otherwise the cookies will ooze when baked and look a little more like amoebas than cute cookies.

Ahhh! Clare without makeup! Run for your lives!

This frosting recipe is a little different from my usual because I know a lot of people who are put off by buttercream frosting. If done poorly, it feels like eating chapstick. Noooooo, thank you, ma'am! This is lighter for all your buttercream haters. Who needs heavy sweets in the spring anyway?

This makes a lot of cookies. Like 5 dozen a lot, but they are great for parties. Why not try them at a family party? Easter is this Sunday! Just be sure to save a couple for yourself. I promise you, they will be gone if you bring all of them.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

You need:

For Cookies:
1lb butter, softened
2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 lb ricotta cheese
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda

For Frosting:
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 T milk
2 c powdered sugar
2 T flour
pink, green, and yellow food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, ricotta, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and baking soda and mix until combined.  
Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet 2"-3" apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are
light brown but the tops are still light. Cool the cookies completely on a rack.

To make the frosting, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and milk. Slowly mix in the powdered sugar 1/2 c at a time. Divide the frosting evenly between 3 bowls. Mix food coloring into each bowl until each is the desired color. Frost, decorate with sprinkles and serve. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tattoosday Two!

Last Friday was my second session with Natalie at Voodoo Monkey Tattoo. She is starting to add in the colors on my backpiece. I'm really happy with it so far and can't wait to have my next session. If you want to see my tattoo journey from the beginning, check out my first post about the experience.