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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Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Cheese Rind Mac and Cheese

I wish I could make this a Pete’s Recipes, but I’ve made this multiple times and never come even close to keeping track of quantities.  As an example, I checked out a few sites to see approximately how many pounds of cheese go into a normal mac and cheese since I guessed anywhere between 1/2 pound and 2 pounds for a pound of pasta.  In related news, I might be getting worse at this whole blogging thing, and you’re all going down with the ship.  Enjoy the ride!

I think the title of this one says it all, but I’ve found that the best mac and cheese usually involves several different flavorful cheeses in addition to the old mainstay, cheddar.  What better way to make a mac & cheese with those ingredients than to use the leftovers from a good cheese plate.  We’ve done this two ways; start a full day (football Sunday) party with a cheese plate and end the party with an awesome mac and cheese or just save the cheese rinds in the freezer for later use.

A little short on images for this post, took this one a few minutes before sitting down to write.  Each time I’ve made this I’ve remembered to photo document a portion of the process, then forgot the rest.  I’m considering home schooling Janet just so she can focus on photography for this blog

The idea is to use not just the cheese ends, but the wax rind too.  The rind adds a funky mushroom-like flavor when used in a cheese sauce, which works really well in a mac and cheese.

Before we get into the mac process (there’s not much to it so I need to kill some time), lets gab about the other ingredients that make mac and cheese great.  I have two go-tos, prosciutto/pancetta/bacon and peas OR mixed mushroom.  I like to do the prosciutto and peas version when I can get my hands on a reasonably priced shank.

I would rename this blog “Cheap Meat” if I wasn’t scared of drawing a seedier element that was disappointed with the non-racy content of the site

I know I say “write that down” a lot sarcastically here, but if you live in Boston you need to write down the name on that label.  They cure a whole leg of prosciutto for 14 months, but they can’t sell the narrow area by the shank for the standard $20-25 a pound, so they price it for a reasonable $4.  Again, write that North End address down, it makes a great ingredient in any meal.

Unlike the cheese, it’s good to cut away the fatty rind before cubing the prosciutto shank for use in your mac and cheese.  You can also immediately see the extra fattiness that makes this perfect for a punch of extra flavor in a cheese sauce when browned in the roux pan.

The extra fat is why the shank shouldn’t be bought for raw consumption.  Con and I both tried mightily on that front, lots of floss was required in the aftermath and generally it’s just much better as a cooked ingredient

With the meat and (possibly) vegetables prepped, it’s time to start boiling water for the macaroni.  I generally do a pound of macaroni which I boil just over half the recommended length of time, then strain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking.  Put that off to the side while you brown your salty pork product.

And I’ve switched up the event.  This is from a different time when I used half a pack of leftover bacon.  I really didn’t want to insult your intelligence and pretend that picture was of the cubed prosciutto.  Please thank me at your earliest convenience

Once the meat and/or vegetables have browned, I use a slotted spoon to fish out the ingredients and leave the cooked off fat and liquids behind over medium/low heat.  Add to the pot two tablespoons of butter then whisk in around three tablespoons of flour, and you have a solid roux base for the cheese sauce.  I let that cook for 10 minutes stirring often to avoid overly browning or burning.

This is when it becomes a balancing act with milk and cheese (I don’t think the fat content of the milk matters, I’ve used skim and whole).  I usually whisk milk in slowly until the sauce has a thin gravy consistency, then add in handfuls of the grated cheese, starting with the rinds, melting/blending completely before adding more.  Season heavily with white pepper and salt plus some onion powder and ground mustard if you’re feeling a little wacky.

I am pretty sure I would put cheese sauce on anything and everything, which is why I wonly make it for mac & cheese.  I am incapable of controlling myself.  I’ve never made cheese fondue or gone to a fondue restaurant because I know I would eat the whole cauldron myself.  Cheese Eatin’ Problems!

Once the rinds are blended in, I usually add in as much cheddar as necessary to make enough sauce, using milk along the way to match the consistency I am looking for.  All told, I think I use 4-5 cups of shredded cheese or around a pound of cheese per pound of dry pasta.  I have no basis for those general measurements, but they sound right.

With the cheese sauce ready to go, preheat the oven to 350F and put 3/4 of the partially cooked pasta in a bowl along with the reserved other ingredients.  The goal is to avoid having too much or too little cheese sauce so I try to make sure there is enough cheese sauce before adding in the rest of the pasta.

You can make the prosciutto and pea mac or the mushroom mac, or just cook every possible ingredient in your fridge and dump it all into the mixing bowl.  I even thawed some frozen peas that are hiding in there somewhere.  Also, contrary to my previous caption, I despise the whole Jersey Shore “____ ____ Problems!!!” spoof

Once the cheese sauce is fully stirred in and you have the pasta/cheese proportion right, I dump it all into a 9×13 baking dish and level it out.

If I remember correctly, I under-cheesed this one.  Had it right, then haphazardly added in the last of the macaroni.  I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and under-cheesing is a little better because it’s ends up like a good baked pasta that you can add some parm to.  Nobody who reads this blog or has seen me with my shirt off expected me to be in favor of under-cheesing

The mac is ready for the oven like this, but if I have some panko breadcrumbs a good sprinkling over the top always make the meal a few percents better.  Just one, maybe two percents better.  Pandering to the Pumping Iron documentary fans with that spoof!

After about 20 minutes in the oven, the top is usually browned and the bottom is bubbling.  Which means it’s ready for eating.

Yeah, definitely the one I under-cheesed.  I’m sure I ate the living sh*t out of it with a sprinkling of parm and a drizzle of olive oil

I’m not going to wrap up this blog the way I normally would by explaining how the mac tasted since I’m guessing you’ve all had homemade mac and cheese.  On the other hand, I recommend that if you are using an aged and funky cheese rind, definitely consider complimenting with some mixed mushrooms and truffle salt.  So freaking good, just a lot of earthy, umami-type flavors all mixing together and separating it from a normal mac.

But if you also have salty crispy browned prosciutto shank, you can push it into a whole new world of deliciousness.  Mostly I’d just recommend trying anything, since it’s bound to at least be edible since you’re combining a bunch of good things.

Still don’t have my grill, it’s going to be a game changer whenever it arrives.  I also need to figure out where to hang the meat that is curing in my fridge sometime in the next week and I have a sinking suspicion it’s going to be inside a cardboard box in my basement since I don’t know how to use real men tools.  Food Blogger Problems!!!

Weird Crap I Eat: Everything Italy

A few quick notes before the post:

1) Trip was great, thanks for asking.  We flew directly to Rome and spent two nights there, then three nights outside Siena, three nights in Cinque Terre, and two nights in Florence.

2) I don’t really consider any of the food that I ate to be that weird because they were all common food items in Italy.  But they were a little different from standard U.S. fare.

3) I know nothing about music.  My taste in music is similar to my general pool of knowledge; I know a little bit about a lot of things.  Meaning that my itunes probably has 3,000 songs from 2,000 bands across all genres.  And I like those songs, but see no need to have the whole albums.

4) I am 30 and my lifelong love affair with mixes is as strong as ever.  It started with mix tapes, then mix CDs, and now we’re in the evolved world of mix “playlists”.  Instead of the dates and seasons that used to serve as titles for my old mixes, I now have playlists with titles like “bachelor party”, “Tahiti”, and, my current favorite, “Hangin”.

With those details out of the way, I decided to do something a little different with this blog post.  After two nights in Rome, we picked up our Fiat Panda rental car and spent the next 6 days driving around the Tuscan countryside and on the coast near Cinque Terre.  The radio stations were miserable, and after hearing Haddaway’s “What is Love” for the third time in 24 hours I decided to make three CDs to relieve us from the radio for the rest of the trip.  A total of 55 songs fit onto those CDs, and this post will attempt to relate individual dishes I ate on the trip to a few of the songs on those CDs.  Let’s give this a try.

Por Ti Volare – Andrea Bocelli

Our first day in the car took us to Spannocchia, an organic farm just outside Siena that we stayed at for three nights.  The next morning we hopped in the car and loaded the first CD in as we drove to San Giminano via small country roads.  The first song was this one, my favorite aria (what?).  The combination of the Italian opera and the rolling hills gave me one of those “holy sh*t, Italy is beautiful” moments that nearly brought me to tears.  Similar emotions to those caused by this:

Can’t believe I paused long enough to take this

After landing in Rome at 9AM and immediately sightseeing on foot for 8 hours, we finally paused to eat something substantial.  For me it was a simple, warm pizza rustica stuffed with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella.  Crispy outside, salty meat, buttery cheese, and a borderline emotionally-moved DB.  Definitely a pure happiness moment.

Sundown – Gordon Lighhtfoot

No matter how many times I hear this song, it always has a knack for relaxing me and never seems to get old.  Kinda like limoncello in Italy.

Seeya latah feelings!!!

A great way to end our first day and Rome and ensure that I would sleep well for the following 10 hours.  I love limoncello but it never tastes as good in the U.S. as it does in Italy so I generally only have it when I am there.  Also, Kristi hates that picture.

Touch the Sky – Kanye West

Early in our relationship, Kristi was getting used to my (awful) taste in music and I was surprised when she particularly enjoyed Kanye West.  Basically, I underestimated her and she surprised me.  Six years later I was similarly surprised when she adventurously tasted pretty much every odd food item I ordered in Italy.  Starting with fried anchovy cakes our last night in Rome.

They looked disturbingly similar to fish ladyfingers

Since each cake was a stack of 10+ fresh anchovy filets, not the salted or oil-packed version we get in the states, the flavor was very fresh and the texture was most similar to whitefish.  Really light and tasty.

Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) – Looking Glass

When I added this song to the Italy playlist, it really seemed like a good idea.  It reminds me of bad radio on LBI, and generally makes me happy when I hear it randomly.  But every time it popped up on the CDs I had the overwhelming urge to skip it.  I would describe fried, meat-stuffed olives as the food equivalent to this song.

Rich creamery meat filling? Check.  Thank god they gave me ten of them.

I got these as we dined on the campo in Siena.  The place was a tourist trap, and this item was the most unusual sounding one on the menu so it had to be fresh, right?  Wrong.  The fried coating was rock solid, the olives were bland, and the “meat” filling was creamy and unappetizing.  Clearly came out of some sort of Italian TGIFridays frozen foods box.  The 4 I had sat like a stone in my stomach for the next few hours.

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright – Hub Hollow

This song, as performed by my brother and friends’ bluegrass band, has to be listened to and enjoyed any time it shows up on shuffle or on a random playlist.  Its that good and it always puts me in a happy mood.  When traveling in Tuscany, the same rule applies for any time cinghiale pasta shows up on a menu as it did at a restaurant in Sovicille.

After 3 days of fresh made pasta like this in Tuscany, I threw miniature tantrums any time I recognized that I was eating dried pasta.

Cinghiale is wild boar, and it’s flavor and texture are like pork crossed with beef in the best possible way.  Kristi and I ordered it a combined three times in 36 hours while we were staying at Spannocchia.  I will likely attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of the dish with pork shoulder some time in the next few months.

The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash

When I hear this song I am always impressed by what a badass Johnny Cash could sound like when he was in the final year of his life.  He consistently made you believe he was planning to drink a fifth of scotch, smoke a pack of cigarettes, and beat the crap out of someone as soon as he finished singing.  Then wash it all down with some rare steak smothered in cheese.  Me, I’m only man enough to handle that last part.

The San Giminiano version of a philly cheesesteak.

Beef carpaccio smothered with a warm gorgonzola cream, sage, and black pepper.  So freaking good.  Thanks again for the restaurant recommendation Anne-Marie, I am glad I quietly obeyed your instructions without debate for the first time in my life.

Sweet Virginia – Rolling Stones

Though not my favorite Rolling Stones song, I love how simple and amateur this song sounds; just a few DBish 20-something brits playing around in a basement studio somewhere. It’s a little dirty and uniquely enjoyable.  Very similar to the first squid ink pasta I had on the trip at the same restaurant in Sovicille as the night before.

No contrast adjustment will make this any easier to see. It was completely black.

Tagliatale made with squid ink then dressed in a sauce of chopped squid braised in its own ink.  It tasted the way a pot full of steaming clams or mussels smells when you take the lid off.  I thoroughly enjoyed every single mouth blackening and grimey bite.  Probably my favorite pasta dish of the trip.

Arms of a Woman – Hub Hollow

Tim Ryan and the Hub Hollow gang learned this song for Kristi and my wedding and have dedicated it to us at a few additional performances as well.  I dedicate my performance on the following pile of food (my last before heading to Cinque Terre) to Tim Ryan. Fried sardines:

It kinda looks like they’re all playing and having a good time and stuff. But they’re dead and lightly battered.

Sardines are a staple of the Ryan family diet along with liverwurst, butter, and Jesus Christ Superstar song lyrics.  In related news, none of us are good at sports.  Back to the sardines, they were very good but way too many of them.  The heads had a nice fatty crunch, the body was light, and the tails were like fish potato chips.  I could have made it through the whole plate with a dipping sauce of some sort, but I was outmatched with only lemon to work with.

Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles (live)

In complete contrast to Sweet Virginia, this is the aging musician who has done the song a million times and made it better with each performance.  You got an orchestra, an applauding Radio City crowd, and the raspy, aged voice of Ray Charles.  The second squid ink pasta I had on the trip (in Cinque Terre) was equally different from the first one.

This one is even viewable in pictures.

The simple tomato sauce let the rich seafood flavor of the pasta be the primary flavor.  None of the strong shellfishy flavor of the first squid ink pasta.  Although I liked the first one more, I could eat this one every night for dinner because it was delicious without being overwhelming.  I ended up having it twice in three days.

Bad Romance – Lady Gaga

At this point my love of this song is indefensible, and every time I hear it I enjoy it more than I should.  When it comes on, Kristi looks at me the same way that she looked at me when I marched out of the Mercato Centrale in Florence with a tub of chicken liver pate from one vendor and a fresh hunk of focaccia from a different vendor.

Will spare you the close-up of the pate

Rich and greasy with a fluffy and heavily salted focaccia for dipping.  I love this stuff.

Sleeping With a Broken Heart – Alicia Keys

This song was first presented to me by my friend Marshall on the camping trip that featured a buried hogs head.  He has a knack for playing a song 4-5 times an hour when he thinks it is important for it to be stuck in everyone’s head.  When I told him I was heading to Florence where he had studied abroad with his wife 10 years ago, he used a similar approach to pushing the tripe sandwiches by the mercato.

I made Kristi walk around looking at crappy stuff available from street vendors for two hours to rebuild my appetite from the chicken liver enough to eat this. If you get a souvenir from us, its from those two hours.

Looks chewy, but its as tender as great barbeque.

Boiled tripe sitting in a liquid heavy with chili oil before it is chopped and stuffed in a bun with chili sauce, parsley salsa verde and salt.  Thank you for making it the only requirement I set for myself on the trip, Mooman.

Whatever You Like – Anya Marina

I know that the entire musical movement of quirky covers to pop, hip-hop, and classic rock songs is quickly becoming really, really stupid.  But I can’t help myself, and this sweet female voice singing nasty T.I. lyrics is very enjoyable even if its bad for me.  Like lardo and head cheese at Giostra.

Lardo closest to the camera then head cheese.

Lardo is basically just the cured fat of a prosciutto ham.  It spreads like butter once it hits room temperature.  Butter that tastes like great ham or bacon.  I am appalled at how much I ate of that pile.  The head cheese was one of the best I’ve had in my life.  The flavor and texture had none of the unappetizing notes that you usually associate with head cheese.

November Rain – Guns & Roses

When I was in middle school we requested this song at dances so that we would have a solid 8+ minutes to work up the nerve to smooch with the braces-heavy gal you were dancing with.  That hyphen could have easily been replaced by a comma for me.  Anyway, while I still love the song it does run a little long.  Too much of a good thing, like white truffle carbonara.

Those cornflakes? Truffle shavings.

I love the flavor of truffles but the raw almond texture is not that enjoyable when its mixed with rich, creamy pasta.  Plus, I ate this at around 11PM and then woke up to fly back to the U.S. at 4AM the next morning.  Not a pleasant morning belch, for me or Kristi.

And with that the trip was over.  Thank god this post is over.  It was the type of idea that sounds great because you have 2-3 songs/dishes in mind and then you realize how awful its going to be after you’ve spent too much time to give up on it.

My apologies to anyone who put in the time to read this whole thing, I will steer clear of music moving forward.  Will also try to get back on a 1-2 posts a week schedule.