Hamburgers and M.F.K. Fisher

Chez Stewart Azaleas

Azaleas – Chez Stewart

Monday:                   Warm Kale, beet chip and Roasted Tomato Salad, Home-made Pita

Warm Kale Salad

Tuesday:                   Burgers / Sweet Potato Fries / Spinach Scumble – Bill and Tim’s
‘Escape from the Pink Putters’ Neanderthal dinner

Umami Burger

Wednesday:                        Left-over Burgers and Chicken, Pita with Red-Pepper Hummus

red pepper hummus

Thursday:                 Girl’s Hope Cocktail Party – PFC

Friday:                       Grilled Swordfish and broccoli

Grilled Swordfish

Saturday:                  Pizza: Margherita, Sausage and Mushroom

Margherita Pizza

Sunday:                     PFC with Hoddy, Mary Anne and Billy

 

“There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk.”

– M.F.K. Fisher on being asked why she wrote about hunger and not wars or love.

 And that communion is why I wish I had the chutzpah to take pictures at events like the Girl’s Hope reception or the dinner with Mary Anne, Hoddy and Billy on Sunday.  Food is important, and being thoughtful and skilled in its preparation and presentation helps us all to lead better lives.  But, at the end of the day,* it is sitting down together with family, friends or even non-hostile strangers, that makes for a memorable meal or cocktail-party.

 *How I do love the end of the day – the first, ice-cold Martini – instant Arctic while grilling on a hot, sunny day – or the swig of wine (just to make sure it’s fit to cook with) – or the Scotch, rocks shared with my Falstaffian brother-in-law, Rick, while he belts out Irish and Scottish tunes.

We do have, but I am not able to insert the picture of Beez, Sarah (Hanna) White, Mary Anne and Duffy Hanna, courtesy of the photographer at the reception (Duffy is Board Chair of GH).  As for the dinner at the PFC, where we and Billy were Mary Anne’s and Hoddy’s guests – a photography can’t convey how much fun we had talking to each other, arguing about the meaning of ‘metrosexual,’ or recalling the afternoon’s activity of planting flowers at Calvary Cemetery on Lisa (Duffy) Fettes’ birthday.  (Hoddy has no gardening equipment, but is a mighty hand with a spade, and Beez and Mary Anne are fearless in planting – I’m not sure what Rick did.)

I hope all of this inside information is not too off-putting.  But I suspect that if you think about your favorite meals with family or friends, you also would find it impossible to convey the experience without the subtle boasting and sly digs  and obscure nicknames that only fellow family members or friends can fully appreciate.  Surely this is why food is more important than simple nutrition and part of the very fabric of our lives.

To help you weave more of that fabric, I include a recipe for a great hamburger (than which there is nothing better to eat on God’s earth – pace vegans, vegetarians and Hindus) – and one for home-made Pita bread (so that the vegans, vegetarians and Hindus won’t starve).

The burger was shared by Tim and Bill whose Pink-Putter wives were celebrating Annie Cestra’s birthday.  Yes, SWMBO and Hilda, we used cloth napkins.

 Blue-Cheese Burger with Port Wine Syrup

 Supplies:

– ¼ – 1/3 lb. of Ground Chuck for each person (you can achieve the same 20%Fat with mixtures of ground brisket and sirloin, but that is a little snooty for a burger feast.  Whatever you do, DO NO COOK WITH with 90% or 95% lean,
or you’ll have a dry burger.  I’m not suggesting that you eat a burger every
night, but for goodness’ sake, if you’re going to eat one, or serve one,
do it right.)
– Good Blue Cheese (creamy as opposed to crumbly works best – Stilton and
Gorgonzola work best) – enough to put a good size slice atop each burger.
– Ruby Port Wine
– Challah or Brioche buns  (American hamburger buns are all pith and won’t
stand up to a sizeable, juicy burger.  Kaiser rolls will work, but most are a little
too tough and you’ll taste more bread than burger)
– Optional:  Umami dust (in a spice or coffee grinder 3 Tablespoons bonito
flakes with 3 oz. each of dried shiitake mushrooms and crumble kombu (dried
seaweed) – this is for sprinkling on the burger after cooking.
(Sure, you can put lettuce on this burger.  Pickles work well with cheddar,
not so much with blue cheese.  I wouldn’t use ketchup on this burger, but
I will not argue with you.  If you keep it simple here, you’ll get the full effect of what we’re* trying to do – bring out the lusciousness and taste of the meat.)

*I use “we’re” precisely.  This is a huge joint project, my friend, begun by the
first Neanderthal that held a haunch of Aurochs over a fire)

Prep:
Loosely form the patties with cold ground chuck (Don’t overwork or
the meat will lose some of its fat and toughen).  (If you’re not ready to cook, cover and refrigerate).  Just before cooking, season generously with salt and pepper.
Port wine reduction:  In a small saucepan over moderate heat cook one cup of port (enough for 4 or so burgers) until it reduces to a syrupy consistency (15-20 minutes).  Cover and set aside.
If cooking indoors, heat griddle until very hot.
If grilling, light charcoal.  When coals are ready, make sure to put grate on grill and allow to heat for 5-8 minutes.  Just before cooking, oil the grate to make sure meat does not stick.

Cook:
 
Put patties on griddle and cover with an inverted roasting pan and cook over medium-high for 4 – 5 minutes (patties will be crusty).  Flip and cook, covered, for 2 or 3 minutes, then top with Stilton or other blue cheese and cook for a minute or so, uncovered.
(If cooking on grill, cover with grill lid.)
When patties are done, sprinkle with umami dust, if using and let rest for a few minutes while you toast or grill the buns.
To serve, place patties on buns, drizzle with port sauce, top with bun and serve.  (Excessive napery would be helpful, if you’ve cooked the burgers to a perfect medium-rare.)  You can thank me the next time we meet.

Extra – Home-made Pita Bread

This is great stuff, not time-consuming and spectacular with red-pepper hummus or a simple bean dip or, if you’re ambitious, baba ganoush.

Supplies

  • Teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 ½ Cups war, water
  • 2 Cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 Cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
  • Tablespoon Salt
  • 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

Prep

  • Sprinkle yeast over the warm water in a large bowl and stir to dissolve. Add whole wheat flour, cup at a time, then 1 cup of the other flour.  Stir 100 times (about 1 minute, rapidly) in the same direction to get the gluten setting up – you will develop your forearm doing this.  Let the dough rest for 10 minutes or up to 2 hours.
  • Sprinkle the salt over the dough and stir in the olive oil. Mix well.  Now add the rest of the flour, one cup at a time.  When you can no longer stir, because of stiffness, dump the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for 8 minutes.  (This is the real workout.)  The dough should be firm and elastic.
  • Return the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise about 1 ½ hours – it should double in size.
  • Gently punch down the dough. You can make dough to this point and store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week (I’ve done it).
  • If you’re going to bake the same day, put the dough into a plastic bag with room for it to triple, loosely ties the ends of the bag and refrigerate.
  • Break off as much dough as you want and bring it to room temperature before cooking. (This recipe makes enough for about 16 full-sizes pieces of pita.)
  • Place tile or baking stone in oven and preheat to 450, or place cast-iron skillet on medium-high for 5 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, roll out dough on lightly floured board (with lightly floured rolling pin for those who don’t bake) into 8-9 inch circle or oval or Oahu shape.
  • Cook dough (2 at a time on pizza stone – or one at a time in skillet) for about 4 minutes, until it ‘balloons’ up. Let cool on rack for 5 minutes and wrap in a kitchen tile until ready to use

Chez Stewart:  Viburnum and Irises:

  • Chez Stewart Viburnum and Irises

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