Pete’s Burgers: The Breakfast Burger

Two weekends ago marked the arrival of a new member of the Ryan family; our new gas grill.  The grill is very similar to a child really; the whole process started with an extended painful labor (the assembly), it was unconditionally loved from birth, and we’ve played with it nonstop since.  Most nights Kristi and I have both checked on it before we’ve headed to bed.  Oh, and Janet turned one.

Anyhoo, with the new grill on the front deck, it seemed like it was time for another round of Pete’s Burgers.  I’ve always enjoyed when a restaurant burger has the added bonus of a fried egg on top, so I figured I would do my own version of that and make it as breakfast-like as I could.  As usual, any good burger starts with good ground beef.

I love me some Costco, and their organic 85/15 ground beef never disappoints

To continue on the path of things that should be done every time you make any kind of burger, I mixed the ground beef with lots of salt and pepper.

I need to take my wedding ring off before I do stuff like this.  It acts like a to-go container with the amount of crap it collects in situations like this

When thinking about how to use the egg, I’d heard of people doing some sort of birds nest burger where the burger is a ring, with an egg cracked in the center, cooked in a pan.  Boooring.  Who cooks burgers in a pan anyway?  To cook it on the grill I needed to break out a little razzle dazzle.

While Kristi fried some bacon (what else would go on a breakfast burger?) I broke the meat into four equal portions then divided two portions into four large thin patties that I flattened on wax paper.

Normal burgers on the right, two of the four large extra thin patties on the left.  In other news, I’ve discovered the subpar pictures coming out of the nice camera lately must be user error, because look at the quality of every picture Kristi took for this post.  Also, lotsa stuff going on behind this shot

Now for the egg.  Whites are boring, they are for binding or bland omelettes; you really only want the flavor of the yolk.  The key for this one is to match the quality of your beef with your egg yolk.  I recommend the Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Americauna and Maran eggs because the yolk is huge and flavorful.  I separated out the whites and dropped a yolk in the center of two of the large thin patties.

Heirloom yolk on the left, standard Pete & Gerry’s (which is still 10x better than a sweatshop grocery store egg) on the right. The Americauna yolks are dark orange in person and taste the way an egg yolk should

With the yolks in the center of the bottom halves, I laid the top half of the burger meat over the top of the yolk and carefully pinched the sides while letting out any excess air.  I think if I had screwed up this step I would have acted like Janet when she wants out of the booster and started crying while dropping ground beef out of both hands with my arms above my head.  Luckily everything went smoothly.

A roll of wax paper will take several years to go through in our condo, but it is completely crucial every time it is used

With the burgers all sealed up, I shaped them a bit to resemble regular burgers, then got started on my key condiment.

Although ketchup often goes very well with eggs, we were on the razzle dazzle train at this point, so I wanted to do a little better.  The olllld razzle dazzle train, CHOO CHOO!!!!!

I ended up going with a maple aioli consisting of half Vermont maple syrup, half mayo, plus some ground pepper and dried herbs.

I used to lose my sh*t when syrup got on my bacon, eggs, or sausage since I’ve only recently started to like the salty/sweet contrast.  Still not a huge fan of straight syrup on my breakfast meats, but I knew a toned down version would be awse

With the toppings and burgers all prepped, it was time do fire up the King Griller!

This lid says “King Griller” but its real name is way cooler: The Stealth Griller.  Nice heavy lid and gets up to 600 degrees in about 5 minutes.  Shameless plug: you can get ’em with free shipping to your door at Wayfair.com for around $200.  Second thinly veiled product placement of the post!

Let’s address those buns for a second.  In principle, I like brioche, but I also have complained about its overuse in restaurants due to how much larger it is than any reasonably sized burger.  I prefer perfectly sized Martin’s Potato Rolls.  But, Kristi was doing the shopping this day and I have to say it ended up being the perfect bun as you’ll see later.

Once the grill was good and hot, the burgers went on with the lid down and the heat set to medium/high for about five minutes before flipping.

Yeah, Kristi is definitely a better photographer than me.  Eventually the only things I am going to be better at than her are cooking organ meats and eating, which most people will react to by shrugging and saying, “sounds about right”

Since I was using a nice sharp Cabot cheddar (3rd placement!), I put the cheese on immediately after flipping and put the buns on the top rack before closing the lid again.  After a couple minutes I took the buns off and slathered a good amount of the maple aioli on the top and bottom before pulling the burgers off the grill.

Figured this would help show how much of the aioli I put on each side, but I am also just really in to how good these pictures came out. I promise the reason all that extra bun worked out will make sense eventually

With the addition of the bacon on top of the cheese, these bad boys were ready to eat.  So here, without further ado, is the finest three-picture series of food porn in the storied history of this blog.

I wrote half of this post while in the painful throes of some sketchy burrito-induced food poisoning and this picture was still able to make me hungry.  I defended you for years Boca Grande, but no mo’.  Fooled me twice, shame on me

As Uncle Jesse would say, “Haave mer-cy”.  Forget the TV quotes, lets go with, “Jeepers creepers!”  Actually, I mean, Good Golly Miss Molly!  They haven’t invented an exclamation in the past 20 years that can encapsulate how awesome this was.  This burger was really the cat’s pajamas

Serve with a pile of goddess-dressed beats & greens and a Brooklyn Summer Ale (4th!) and you have one hell of an amazing dinner.  I can’t look at these fotos without salivating

In order to make sure the yolk wasn’t completely cold, I cooked the burger to a medium/medium well temperature.  The temperature didn’t really matter, though, since they were plenty moist from all of the rich egg yolk and melty cheddar.

The burger meat reminded both of us of sausage from all of the salt and pepper and because it was complimented by so many other breakfast flavors.  The cheddar and bacon were obviously awesome, but the maple aioli really brought it all together with that distinct maple sweetness complimenting without overwhelming the other flavors.  Of course, the divine purpose of the large brioche all along was sopping up that delicious yolk that went everywhere when we cut into the burgers.

The photos in this one might be tough to top, but I’ve got some ideas for next week.

Finally, to give a proper shout out to my (slightly older than a) baby girl, happy first birthday Janet!  You’ve made this past year more fun than your mother and I could have ever imagined.

Alright, fine.  Maybe the burger pics can be topped

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Foraging for Food: Stuff My Friends Hunt

As I’ve reiterated multiple times on this blog, I am far from a real man.  I possess neither the intestinal fortitude or necessary aim to hunt, I’ve had a Rihanna song stuck in my head for a week, and I occasionally have nightmares that the chickens I slaughtered have come back from the dead and found me.  So, I rely on my friends and family to keep me in a steady supply of game meats for my cooking.  This posts highlights two of those friends and the meal I made with the spoils of their labor.

First up is Bill Busch Sr., the father of my friend and occasional blog character, Buschy.  Bill is a former exec at UPS, the all-time penalty minutes leader in Fort Erie Meteors history, and, in my opinion, missed his calling as a champion peanut eater.  Since retiring a few years ago, Bill has been doing a lot of what every dude dreams of doing when he retires; golfing and fishing.  And I mean serious fishing.

Bill Busch Sr, AKA The Salmon Seeker. I once watched this guy take down an entire sack of peanuts at a Red Sox game in less than a half inning. Also, that's a real nickname he would like to be known as, so write that down

That fish is from an epic salmon fishing trip in Alaska he recently took with a few friends.  The trip sounded friggin’ amazing and made me really look forward to retirement (only 7,000 more days of work to go!!!).  The best part is that he sent me one of the most beautiful pieces of fish I have ever seen, from a chinook salmon, via Buschy a few weeks ago.

Back in the continuous 48, I’ve got one of my food heroes living a short 3 and a half hours from Boston in Ripton, VT.  Bill Sargent is the brother of Kristi’s aunt Sue and, in an unrelated note, this is the exact moment that I realized I was writing about two guys named Bill and how this could be an issue.  From here on out, VT Bill is Billy.  Anyhoo, Billy is a consistently successful deer hunter.

This pic is 6+ years old. I think if I ever got a deer I would likely hire a professional photographer to come out and document the event. However, when you average a deer per bow and rifle season, you require less photos to prove your manliness

Beyond generously giving me a few pounds of homemade venison sausage meat and some steaks, Billy also knows more about food than I could ever hope to.  He’s worked in dining services at Middlebury college for 30+ years and is currently the head of purchasing.  If I mention an ingredient I am looking for ideas on how to cook, he will generally have 10 ideas for me in under 30 seconds.  You can thank him for my eventual attempt at pork hock osso bucco.

Quick aside: my father in-law Ken deserves a post of his own after bringing down a 4-pointer during bow season this year and saving me the liver and heart.  However, our newest blog villain Kristi forgot to bring the organs home to me and they were subsequently thrown out.  Janet reacts more maturely to being tired and hungry than my reaction to discovering Kristi forgot the offal.

Now that we are through the well deserved acknowledgments, here’s that incredible piece of salmon and the venison sausage.

You can't tell, but due to the crazy thickness of the salmon fillet, that piece is over a pound

After thawing both for 24 hours, I was ready to start cooking.  My plan was to roast the salmon and serve it with a venison hash.  First step was dicing a peeled sweet potato.

Not a big sweet potato fan, so as usual I mixed in a little regular potato as well; about half a peeled russet potato

Once the sweet potato, russet potato, and a white onion were chopped and ready to go, I started browning the venison sausage.

The difference between this and ground venison is that Billy ground in fat and spices with the extremely lean venison meat. He let me know that the fat came from bacon, but as far as spices, my only guesses are sage and lots of salt & black pepper

After this browned for a bit, I turned up the heat and dumped in the potatoes, onions, a little garlic and a tablespoon of butter to add some richness.

Once I saw that the proportions were correctly guessed, I knew this would come out well

The hash needed to sit for awhile and get some caramelization on the veggies, so I started working on the salmon.

The thickest piece of salmon I have ever seen. By far. As I marveled at this it was easy to picture the Salmon Seeker shooting me a wink with an unlit cigar in his mouth

My plan was to sear the salmon skin-down in a cast iron pan for a few minutes then add a glaze of maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic and pepper before finishing it under the broiler.

This cast iron pan needed a serious scrubbing. Hence, there will be a serious re-seasoning effort this week to get it back to its' old non-sticking glory

Annnnnd under the broiler. I get incredibly nervous whenever I am broiling something due to the high risk of charring the food. Usually this is when Kristi and anyone else present chooses to engage me in important discussions

While the salmon broiled, I gave the hash a good stirring to check on the tenderness of the potatoes and stirred in a splash of maple syrup to add a little extra sweetness.

I took a taste of this and knew that even with only three people eating (Kristi, Con and I) this large volume of hash would go with no issues

With the hash ready to go I pulled the salmon out of the oven and we were good to go.  Well, not actually.  As it turns out, cooking a two inch thick piece of salmon is a little different than the normal fillets I am used to.  The inside was quite raw.  Had to transfer to a broiling pan and bake for another 5 minutes or so.

Should have left it broiling close to the heat for an extra five minutes, but got all tweaked about destroying the cast iron pan with the burnt sugars. Not sure how I would do it next time, likely on a disposable cedar plank

Along with some pan seared Brussel sprouts seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, you had a nice looking plate of food.

The Brussels definitely took the hardest hit from the extra five minutes the salmon needed. Lost that brilliant green color, though the texture was still pretty dece

The salmon, though slightly overcooked by this DB (AKA The Salmon Spoiler), was flavorful, tender and tasted more like salmon than anything I’ve ever purchased in a grocery store.  The sweet and garlicky glaze was a nice compliment to the flavor.  If anything, the quality of the salmon saved the meal, since a lesser cut would have been incredibly unpleasant cooked the same amount.

The hash on the other hand was freaking ridiculous.  Very rich with just the right amount of sweetness and potato texture to contrast with the salty, minerally flavors from the venison sausage.  It was addictive; Conor snuck into the kitchen to polish off half of the leftovers an hour later and Kristi had the final couple spoonfuls with breakfast. Kinda crazy, I made two pounds of hash!

Big thanks to Bill and Billy for giving me delicious food that I love experimenting with.  I can’t wait for Bill’s next fishing trip and to use that other pound of Billy’s venison sausage in a new way.

‘Till next week, thanks for the reading and the patience in between posting.  Follow me on twitter (@PeterisADB) or subscribe via the link on the right to get alerts when I put up new posts.

Momere’s Baked Beans

In addition to her grandparents, Janet is blessed with having two great grandmothers, Alice and Janet (the source of her name), as well as a great aunt through marriage, Joyce.  What’s really amazing is that she also has a great-great grandmother, Simone.  Now, in the Ryan family we called our grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, but things are done a little differently in Kristi’s family.  Janet is Grandma Net, Alice is Grandma Ali, Joyce is Joycie, and Simone is Momere (pronounced “Mommer” in the VT translation of French).  Hence the name of the post.

Momere is 98 years old and still lives on her own down the street from Net and Kristi’s parents.  She mostly wears clothes that she made herself, has a husky laugh that makes me feel like I am pretty funny, and keeps her house at a balmy 80 degrees using a wood burning stove in the winter.  I’ve had a few queasy mornings there after after the family Christmas parties.

Joycie and Momere chillin' at one of the summer parties. Note the baggo (or "cornhole" in Ryan terms) game going on in the background. Thank god it's become the lawn game of choice at family events since I almost killed three bystanders the last time I attempted to play horseshoes

In the time I’ve known Kristi, Momere’s eyesight hasn’t been great which has limited her ability to cook, but everyone in the family talks often about how good her cooking is.  Kristi has told me on multiple occasions about how amazing her baked beans are and since I’ve never cooked baked beans myself, I decided recently that I wanted to get my hands on her recipe.  The only obstacle was that unlike my need to write down recipes since I only cook things once or twice, Momere has an arsenal of dishes that she’s cooked hundreds of times over nine decades.  So, the recipes are entirely in her head and she probably hasn’t had to measure out the proportions for the past 20-30 years.

Janet loved hanging with Momere. And, no, she wasn't DJ'ing, that's a new hearing aid which seems to work much better than previous ones

At Casey and Mark’s wedding a few week’s ago, Aunt Tiffany and I asked Momere to share her recipe for baked beans.  As she said, the proportions are all to taste, but the key ingredients for her recipe were soldier or navy beans (“careful to pick out any rocks or bad beans”), salt pork (“always look for the pieces with the least fat and most meat”), maple syrup, white sugar, and mustard.  She also gave specific instructions on cooking time (“at least 6 hours at 275”) and a good way to test whether the beans are ready (“they are done when you blow on them and the skin comes off”).

With that information and a little online research, I was ready to get started by picking through, rinsing and soaking a pound of navy beans.

Couldn't find soldier beans, but navy beans were given as a second option. I am usually lazy with beans and use the canned version but this effort was worth an exception

After an overnight soak, I had this underwhelming result.

I think I expected them to quadruple in size overnight or something, but they only got a little bigger

I strained and rinsed the beans again then reserved them while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.  Next up was the salt pork which Kristi picked up for me at the grocery store.

Kristi didn't let Momere down and got a pretty meaty piece. It helped that I reiterated that point unnecessarily about a thousand times before she left for the store. I'm lucky to be married folks, lucky to be married.

I hadn’t cooked with salt pork much previously aside from attempting to use it a couple years ago after being introduced to it at Ryan Thanksgiving.  My Aunt Jeannie uses slices of salt pork draped on top of the turkey to flavor the bird and keep it moist, but I mostly tried and failed to use it in breakfast preparations.  It’s really salty stuff, so after cutting off about a third of the slab to use, I rinsed it thoroughly to remove excess salt, then transferred to the cutting board to trim the rind off.

I think the rind is skin, but not sure about that. Also, salt pork is made with fatback, so even a meaty piece still has a lot of fat

Most recipes called for 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound of salt pork or bacon per pound of dried beans, but since I like my beans salty and porky I erred on the high end and used a little under a half pound, which I cubed into small pieces.

I knew the fatty pieces would almost completely disappear during cooking leaving only delicious flavor. Oh, and fat.

Next step was giving a yellow onion a medium dice and measuring out some mustard.  As I researched online, most recipes called for ground mustard, but I really got the sense from Momere that she meant prepared mustard when she gave the recipe.  So, I went with my ample gut, and decided to go with Grey Poupon as a semi-homage to Momere’s French-Canadian heritage.

Although I was planning on a quarter cup, I was totally guessing since I had no idea what the prepared equivalent of 2 tablespoons of ground mustard would be. But there was a third of a cup left in the bottle, so that's what I went with.

To make sure there wouldn’t be clumps of individual ingredients and everything would be evenly dispersed, I decided to combine ingredients prior to adding the beans.  Starting with whisking together the mustard with the maple syrup and a little water.

Action shots!!!! I was really enjoying myself more than made sense at this point

Per Momere’s recommendation, I began taste testing the liquid since it was key to the success of the beans.  I started with a half cup of maple syrup and a couple tablespoons of white sugar but added more of both until it got to the sweetness level I was hoping for.  It ended up at around 3/4 cup of maple syrup and 1/4 cup of sugar which was a little sweeter than I wanted, but it would be diluted by adding a few cups of water before cooking.

Once the flavor was right, I added the salt pork, onions and a couple tablespoons of minced garlic.

Worst kept secret on the ADB blog: I keep a jar of store-bought minced garlic in the fridge for when I am out of fresh garlic or feeling lazy. Both were the case on this day

Stirred in the beans, about 2 1/2 cups of water, a couple tablespoons of fresh ground pepper and then the whole bowl went into the smaller cousin of my favorite Le Creuset.

This was looking lighter in color than I expected but I figured the beans and sugar would darken during cooking. Also, sometimes when I post pictures of this Le Creuset in use I feel like I am cheating on my main squeeze, Big Yellow

The lid went on, and this headed into the 275F oven for 6 hours per Momere’s instructions.  While that cooks, here are some interesting Momere facts:

– She has 27 great grandchildren and 15 great-great grandchildren.  Blows my freaking mind.  When I was young I remember showing friends the picture of my oldest brother John as a baby with our father, grandfather, and great grandfather shortly before he passed away.  I thought it was amazing that my brother actually met his great grandfather.
– When Momere was 48 her husband passed away and she needed to find employment to support herself.  In a show of incredible determination, she put herself through nursing school and worked for an additional 30+ years before retiring at the age of 80.  By contrast, I left my relatively cushy job to go back to school when I was 29 in the hopes of finding an even cushier job.  If the previous sentence was shown to a group of seniors along with a picture of me eating a sandwich, there would be universal head shaking and a resounding chorus of, “they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
– After Momere’s husband passed away, it was just her sister, Marcienne who was also recently widowed, in the house with her.  Momere Marcienne (as she was called by the family) and Momere were married to brothers and had brought up their two families in the same house.  They lived about 6 houses away from Kristi’s family so Momere Marcienne and Momere often took care of Kristi and her twin Kate when they were babies and occasionally after school while their parents were at work.  They each had their own twin, and while I love Momere,  I gotta side with Momere Marcienne since she was on Team Kristi.

Momere Marcienne is on the left, Momere is on the right. While my head is exploding with comments on my wife as well as my brother and sisters in-law in this picture, let's keep this a nice blog about Momere and her awesome baked beans, okay?

Back to the cooking.  After about four and a half hours in the oven, I pulled the beans out to check if they needed a stir, which they did.

The top layer was in danger of drying out but you can see the ample cooking liquid below bubbling through in spots

The change in color and rich aroma were very encouraging, and stirring the beans up helped avoid the top layer getting too dry and dispersed the liquid throughout the beans.  After another hour and a half I pulled the beans and had my first taste.  The flavor was great, exactly what I was hoping for, but the big test was Kristi.  I couldn’t have been happier than when she ate the first forkful, then the rest of the small bowl I’d prepared, and said the flavor was right on.

Since the beans were still slightly firmer than I wanted them and there was a good amount of excess liquid, I removed the lid and put the beans back in the oven for another 40 minutes at 325F.  Which got me here:

You know that looks freaking delicious, and the smell matched

The flavors came together very well and each bite had a little salty pork flavor, a little maple, and some tartness from the Dijon mustard.  Just the right level of sweetness too, not the over-the-top sugary sweetness of Bush’s Maple Cured Bacon Beans.  They had a very rich flavor, but not a heavy richness, perfect with a couple sausages or hot dogs.

I OD'ed on these Al Fresco chicken sausages a few years ago and am just now reintroducing them to our meals. They were a good compliment to the beans, as was the yellow horseradish mustard from some Buffalo place that Buschy left in my fridge

The beans weren’t quite as soft as the canned variety, but I wouldn’t say that made them any less enjoyable, just clear that you weren’t eating canned baked beans.  I’d likely do a little more lid-on cooking time and a little more water in the future if I was hoping for softer beans.  I’ll also listen to Momere and cook them until the skin falls off when I blow on them (which it didn’t on mine).

Anyhoo, they were really good.  The next step is to attempt making these the next time I visit VT and see if Momere has any suggestions or changes.  I am already feeling a little nervous about that.  Here’s a poor attempt at a recipe.

Pete’s version of Momere’s Baked Beans

1 lb dried navy beans (rinsed and soaked overnight)
1/3 lb salt pork (rinsed and cubed) – 1/2 lb for saltier/meatier beans
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup white sugar
3 & 1/2 cups of water
1 medium yellow onion (diced)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275F.  Whisk together mustard, maple syrup, water, and sugar until thoroughly blended.  Stir in beans, pork, onions, garlic, and pepper.  Place in medium sized pot with heavy lid and place in oven for 6 hours (7 hours for softer beans), stirring once approximately halfway through cooking.  Increase oven temperature to 325F, remove lid, stir once, and cook an addition 30-45 minutes or until excess liquid has cooked off.  Remove beans from oven and they are ready to serve.