Pete’s Burgers: Peter’s Favorite Things

Do you remember the Oprah’s Favorite Things episodes that used to pop up every few months on Oprah’s talk show?  They’ve been spoofed multiple times on Saturday Night Live, but I will happily admit that I was exposed to the real thing multiple times over the years.  I caught a couple in college and it seemed like any time I was home sick there was one on TV.  Which I of course had to watch.  The premise was simple: Oprah unveils items that she loves to her audience and they go completely berserk.  Why?  Because the whole audience got to take home whatever Oprah unveiled.

Those videos of teenage girls losing their minds when the Beatles played in the 60s?  Does not even compare to the insane reactions of these middle aged men and women.  Fainting, tears, strangers hugging, and milk curdling screams punctuated unveils like home pedicure treatment kits. People love free sh*t.  In 2004 when I was working on GM, they gave away 250 Pontiacs on a Favorite Things episode and I’m sure you can imagine the insanity of the reaction.  I probably watched the highlight reel 50 times at work cackling like a madman.

Anyhoo, you don’t get to take home anything, but enjoy following along as Pete cooks his ultimate burger and unveils a few of… his Favorite Things.

Big surprise folks, it starts with…. BACON!!!!!!!!!

I think I am not properly assessing the health risks of my current obsession with the reasonably priced, locally smoked, thick cut bacon in the deli case.  I feel like if I told my doctor about it he would suggest I start smoking again instead

I think I am not properly assessing the health risks of my current obsession with the reasonably priced, locally smoked, thick cut bacon in the deli case.  I feel like if I told my doctor about it he would suggest I start smoking cigarettes again instead

I’ve had lots of wacky meat-based burger toppings like foie gras, braised pork belly, and even a beef cheek a few weeks ago, but none of them compare to what bacon adds.  At the same time, not a fan of the long bacon strip that sticks out the ends of the bun and pulls out of the burger when you bite down.   Which is why I like the idea of bacon lardon as a topping.  All the flavor and crisp with none of the drawbacks.

While that cooks, it’s time to bring out the… RED ONION!!!!

I have lost all resistance to the tear effect of red onions.  I looked like I'd been pepper srayed after cutting this thing

I have lost all resistance to the crying effect of red onions.  I looked like I’d been pepper sprayed after cutting this thing

Any caramelized onion makes a burger better, but for this one I went with a red onion since it holds up to longer cooking time while still retaining some texture.  After skimming off a little excess bacon grease, the onions joined the bacon in the pan.  Once the onions were a little translucent, I added in a few large crumbles of brown sugar and a splash of apple cider vinegar.

Similar to the start of the red onion relish I serve with my pulled pork, but bacon makes everything better

Similar to the start of the red onion relish I serve with my pulled pork, but bacon makes everything better

That’s right folks, we’re making… BACON ONION MARMALADE!!!!!!!

I’ve had this stuff on burgers in a few restaurants and was inspired by a coworker to make it at home.  It has everything you dream of on a burger: the sweetness of caramelized onions, with brown sugar and vinegar replacing the key aspects of ketchup and pickles, and of course the salty crunch of bacon.  I had to wing the recipe a bit due to a truncated timeline (easiest to slow cook for a few hours), but with this combination I knew it would end up solid.

"Oh you're adding brown sugar and onions to the bacon to trap the maximum possible amount of cooked off bacon fat?  Would you consider riding a racing motorcycle to work instead?" - Pete's doctor

“Oh you’re adding brown sugar and onions to the bacon to trap the maximum possible amount of cooked off bacon fat?  Would you consider riding a motorcycle to work helmet-less instead?” – Pete’s doctor

This cooked over low heat for another 20-30 minutes, but that wasn’t the only topping that needed cooking time.  You didn’t think I’d forget the TRUFFLE MUSHROOOOOOOOOOOOMS!?!?!?!?

Mushrooms always look like this, but you are going to pry this mac from my cold dead hands if you think you are going to stop me from including this picture in every post

Mushrooms always look like this, but you are going to have to pry this Mac from my cold dead hands if you think you are going to stop me from including this picture in every post I write

Mushrooms and truffles have a ton in common from a flavor standpoint, and they obviously work well when combined.  I’m cheap and I don’t keep truffles lying around, but dried truffle salt and a couple pats of truffle butter usually gets a good amount of flavor in there.  An awesome texture and flavor contrast with the other toppings.

Let’s get on to the main event people, 85/15 GROUND BEEF Y’ALL!!!!!

One pound, three patties.  Write that down.  Always start them out large and flat so they don't become meatballs on the grill.  Are you getting all of this down!??!?!?

One pound, three patties.  Write that down.  Always start them out large and flat so they don’t become meatballs on the grill.  Write that down too.  Are you getting all of this down!??!?!?

I love the idea of grass fed beef and want to love the burgers that it makes, but I’ve been hit or miss with it lately.  If I see corn fed ground beef from respected New England farm, odds are I will choose it over the grass fed variety.  Just more likely to be tender and not have a chewy sausage-like texture on the outside.  I mixed the ground beef with a substantial amount of salt and black pepper and then segmented the pound of beef into three equal-sized, patted flat burgers.

I’ve heard that behind every great man is a great woman, but what I think they are really trying to say is that on top of every great burger is a great cheese.  Uh oh, you smell that folks?  It’s announcing itself from inside the cheese drawer, STANKY BLUE CHEESE!!!!!!

This Oprah bit is as exhausting to me as it is to you.  Don't worry, we're almost done here.  These burger posts make me way hungrier than any other type of post

This Oprah bit is as exhausting to me as it is to you.  Don’t worry, we’re almost done here.  These burger posts make me way hungrier than any other type of post

I’ve referred to this multiple times on this blog, but I will only get a burger in a restaurant if it has blue cheese or a similarly stinky cheese topping it.  I think cheddar, Swiss, and American are all incredibly boring and barely add any flavor.  Stinky cheeses compliment the burger by not just disappearing flavor-wise in each bite.  A few crumbles of this Stilton is my idea of heaven on a burger.

The marmalade had cooked to a nice consistency.

Wasn't quice the spreadable goo I was hoping for, but it held together relatively well when spooned out

Wasn’t quite the spreadable goo I was hoping for, but it held together relatively well when spooned out

I switched the heat off and let as much oil drain off as possible before spooning these into a separate bowl.

I heated the grill to 500 and threw the burgers on for a a few minutes on each side with the buns toasting on the top rack.  What kind of buns you ask?!?!?!  MAIER’S POTATO ROLLSSSSSS!!!!!  And we’re done with that.

From the grill to the bun.

1/3 pound is the perfect size for a Maiers Potato Roll.  I learned this through hard work, tears, trial, error, and weight gain

1/3 pound is the perfect size for a Maier’s Potato Roll. I learned this through hard work, tears, trial, error, and weight gain

Due to the amount of toppings, I went with the cheese on one side pressed directly into the bun.  I spread the marmalade on the other half and then piled the mushrooms up on top before tipping them together into one glorious whole.  Served with some vinaigrette-tossed greens on the side, Grace Tavern-style.

If I am being truly honest, gooey stinky cheese is really my favorite thing, but that's combining multiple mildly unpleasant sounding adjectives and generally makes me shake my head in discomfort

If I am being truly honest, gooey stinky cheese is really my fave thing, but that’s combining multiple unpleasant-sounding adjectives and generally makes me shake my head in discomfort

Let’s go through the toppings in one sentence instead of all spaced out: A blue cheese, bacon & red onion marmalade, and truffle mushroom topped hamburger on a Maier’s potato roll.  Good golly.

Not sure what you’re looking for on the reaction section here, because obviously this was one of my favorite burgers of all time.  I’ll try.  I despise ketchup and bread & butter pickles on a burger, but I love a little sweet contrast to all the salt of a burger.  The marmalade delivered that and then some with the slight tang of vinegar and sweet onion flavor.  Then of course there is the strong smokey bacon flavor mixed with all of that and crunchy chunks of it in each bite.  The mushrooms provided the umami that matches well with stanky cheese and medium rare beef but also stands on its own well.  The burger meat was juicy and full of flavor and was made even better by the cheese oozing through it following each bite.  Just an absurd burger.

I traded a 2 pound block of scrapple for a 50+ pound cow’s head this past weekend.  Not cooking it anytime soon, but figured that’s the type of post that requires a few months of warning.

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Pete’s Burgers: The Wellington

In the midst of my 18,000 word missive on the food in Philly, I addressed my feelings on what should be considered a good burger.  I was sick of complicated restaurant burgers with foie gras and chutney instead of bacon and ketchup being considered the best in a city just because they essentially buy your taste buds.  So I ranted about it.  But you likely missed that since the post was intolerably long.

Allow me to refresh you on my thoughts.  A great burger is ground beef, heavily salted and peppered, charred on a rarely cleaned grill, and served on a simple bun with a strong cheese and mushrooms/bacon/onions/condiments as desired.  Simple and really delicious, it especially helps if the ground beef is closer to 80/20 than 93/7.

That doesn’t mean I avoid messing around with burgers and trying to come up with new delicious ways to eat them.  I love trying to make new stuff (very eloquent, Pete).  So, while I will address the perfect traditional burger and the famous Dupee burger at another time, let’s kick off this new post category with the burger we made in Naples, FL last week: The Wellington Burger.

My mom lives in an awesome condo in Naples with lots of perks; high-end community grills, great restaurants, and a butcher shop that has adventurous cuts. Most importantly: delicious tasting kiddie pool water, at least according to Janet

We made a Beef Wellington over Christmas in Michigan 5 or 6 years ago and I wasn’t the biggest fan.  Each component sounded awesome; beef tenderloin, liver pate, duxelles (mixture of mushrooms, onions, and shallots), all wrapped in pastry dough.  It ended up being way too much in my opinion; just insanely rich.  But stuffed in a burger…. that had some potential.

We started out by throwing a sliced red onion in a pan to caramelize and sauteing a half pound of sliced mushrooms in butter.

Tim is such a nerd, he looked up a recipe for caramelizing onions. Admittedly, he did an awesome job and even cooked in bacon grease which got my nod of approval. But, honestly, who looks up a recipe to pan cook an onion?

Kristi prepared the mushrooms and didn't even need a recipe to do so. Tim was completely blown away! He was all like, "how did you know how to do THAT?!?!?" Friggin jerk, I'll show him

While those cooked, I got the other ingredients prepped.  First, the duck liver mousse.

Annnnd prepped! Went with the pre-made gourmet food store variety since I can't fathom taking the time to make a liver mousse then stuffing it into a burger. That's a Bells Two Hearted in the background. For those keeping track, Naples has Michigan beer, Philadelphia scrapple, and a Skyline Chili franchise. Great place

The selection of what kind of liver pate to use wasn’t that complicated since Mommy Ryan had a block of duck liver mousse in her fridge.  She is a Ryan after all, and odds are that if you look in a Ryan fridge or freezer there will be some form of liver product somewhere.  Makes choices in these situations easy.

The ground beef headed into a bowl for seasoning with lots of salt and pepper.

I know it looks like a ton, but you need a lot of salt for two lbs of meat. It didn't taste salty. Side note: I mysteriously dropped my rant on the stupidity of ground Kobe beef and people paying more for it because Mommy Ryan bought ground Wagyu (American Kobe) despite my pleas not to do so. Lets just move on and pretend it's regular 85/15, OK?

With the ground beef mixed and the onions and mushrooms cooked, the burgers were ready for final prep before grilling.

Wow Tim, those look great! And it only took you 45 minutes of research and 30 minutes of cook time? Amazing! Can you blame Tim for wanting to start a blog about how awful I am at cooking?

I combined big spoonfuls of the onions and mushrooms and a thick slab of the duck liver mousse in a bowl and mashed together for each burger.

Pre-mashing. On it's own it looks decadent, then you remember it's heading inside of (Wagyu) ground beef. Diet still isn't going well, thanks for asking

On wax paper I flattened out large thin patties of the ground beef to roughly the same size.  The idea was that two patties would surround the filling and be pinched together at the edges.  Each burger got a hefty spoonful of the filling.

Burger #1. You know that looks absurdly delicious, even if you're not a huge poultry liver fan

Burgers #2 and #3. They weren't just for Tim and I, Mommy Ryan was extremely into the idea as well. Kristi sat out, she's still not on the liver bandwagon

Throw the 2nd half on top, pinch the corners, and you have what looks like an innocuous normal burger.  Albeit an extremely large one.

Even without seeing the size of the plate you can tell these burgers were enormous. That plate is the equivalent of the tags on my shirts

The three stuffed burgers went onto a hot grill along with three normal burgers (Tim and I both wanted the best of both worlds).  Big error was putting them all on the grill at the same time since we only wanted the stuffed ones to cook well done with the lid down.  Pretty stupid; the regular burgers ended up medium-well, which is how you narrowly avoided this being my preachy post about a correctly-made real hamburger.

A little perspective on the difference in size. Also, I should give credit where credit is due, Tim really pushed his Wellington burger into a different world (of unhealthiness) with that handful of blue cheese on top. I was extremely jealous once I had time to think about it

From the grill directly onto the essential toasted Martin’s potato rolls, served along with extra condiments and toppings as needed.

Added a little mayo for richness on the Wellington burger. Also, because mayo is awesome. Look, these love handles weren't going to maintain themselves. Wait, what? I already did that one? Dag, how long ago? Oh well

I had to slice into the Wellington and check it out, it would have been less enjoyable without doing so.

I wanted the filling a little more runny for picture purposes but it was warm and mushy throughout. In a good way. Best part was that the filling ran up to the edges of the burger

Despite my previous complaints about traditional Beef Wellington, you can’t combine this many delicious ingredients, in this type of preparation, and have it come out poorly.  The flavor was rich, very decadent, and delicious.  A stuffed burger is the only case where well-done is an acceptable temperature because the contrast of textures is great and the meat stays moist from the filling.  Really amazing, but not really a hamburger.

Next week will either be the crazy surf and turf I referenced previously or something else.  I pickup a cooler full of cow organs this weekend courtesy of Uncle Billy, so, you’ve got that going for you.