Cheeseburger + Fries

I went out with some friends recently and had the most awful cheeseburger: dry, bland, unseasoned – pretty much most boring food I could imagine. It makes me sad. At least I was in good company so the food was secondary. Also my “please no pickle on the burger or on the plate” was only sneakily honored when I saw the waitress stop before our table to throw the pickle in the garbage before she set down my plate. I know requesting no pickle anywhere near my food might seem on the really picky side of things when it’s something I could just give to someone who does actually eat pickles, which there is no shortage of, but pickle juice gets everywhere and on everything. It makes the fries soggy and makes the bun saturated with its distasteful pickle acid and it just grosses me out — of course I could have made a big deal, but I’d never be THAT much of a jerk to say “Okay, there’s technically no pickle on the plate right NOW, but I saw what you did…” However, one thing I couldn’t ignore was that my cheeseburger had no cheese on it. Cheese on a hamburger isn’t just some random topping — it makes a dumb old hamburger into something amazing and delicious. Not this one though — even cheese couldn’t save it.

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I had never made cheeseburgers before, or even thought about it. I guess since it’s one of those things that’s so easy and cheap to get pretty much everywhere I never saw the point, but with the thought of the disgusting burger still lingering in my mind I thought I’d see if I could do a better job.

I toyed around a lot with the idea of making homemade buns, decided not to, but then at the last minute I found myself facing an evening alone with crummy weather surrounded by all the ingredients I happen to need to make buns. I’m glad it worked out that way because they were amazing and EASY. I thought it was going to be way more of an ordeal than it was but I threw on some music and it came down to mix stuff, let stuff sit, see if you can poke it without your fingers being covered in dough, let it sit. roll, shape and bake. It all sounds so simple and it actually was. There’s a lot of recipes and variations on buns, but everything in this recipe from Epicurious I had on hand so it’s what I went with. I do hold the belief that the bun can make or break the burger. What good is an amazing patty if it the bun is a soggy falling apart mess? It was one of those really satisfying things and I thought to myself that if there was a zombie apocalypse a la The Walking Dead that my skills of being able to make buns from scratch would ensure that the future world at least has cheeseburger buns.

For the beef blend… I wish I had the fancy KitchenAid food grinder but I don’t need any more kitchen stuff at the moment (…is what I tell myself when I can’t justify spending money on more crap for the kitchen). I wound up going to the butcher and they ground me up a mix that was 85% sirloin and 15% chuck. I read a lot about fat content and keeping the beef cold so that fat didn’t smear all over the place and mess up the patty, so when I formed the burger I handled them as little as possible.  Apparently I had in my head that the beef would shrink to like half the size, because I made them humungous. I really have no idea was I was thinking — I know meat doesn’t shrink that much but here we are. I guess I was really hungry? The phrase ‘eyes bigger than your stomach’ applies to me always. Perhaps I need to start making things like 50% less than I think they should originally be as I did the same thing with the fish for the fish tacos I made… Anyway, I did remember to press my thumb into the middle so that it wouldn’t cook up into a giant meatball, so at least that’s something.

Cast iron pan, got it super hot, salt, pepper, throw on meat. I fought back my natural urge to mindlessly mash it down to make that satisfying crackling hissing sound that cooking meat tends to do, and I turned my attention to the fries, since the burger was going to obviously take a long while. I used Ree Drummond’s recipe so the potatoes were already neatly chopped up and soaking in water, which was then subsequently drained, and I started patting the potatoes as dry as possible as the pot oil heated up.

everything in this photo looked better than it tasted

I like my burgers simple – onion, ketchup, mustard, cooked to a nice medium. Normally I’d want a better meat-to-bun ratio and if I got this burger at a restaurant I would think that it was a joke, but once I bit into it I didn’t care about that at all – it was a pretty incredible flavor with the meat blend being mostly sirloin.  Or have I finally learned to season things? (Spoiler: I haven’t) Or was it the fresh homemade bun? Which I think I’ve been spoiled by and will have to make every time I want a cheeseburger at home. I wish I had the foresight to freeze the ones that I didn’t use, but nope. I don’t know what it was but I was really happy with how things turned out, even though I only about half of it and hardly any of the fries. The fries were good, but just forgettable. Honestly, if they weren’t in the photo I may have totally forgotten that I even made them.

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Acharuli Khachapuri

I don’t remember what I was looking at, but I can spend a lot of time mindlessly clicking on recipes as well as reading blogs and browsing sites like Food Gawaker, but I was SOMEWHERE when all of a sudden I saw a recipe that I knew I had to make as soon as I could. The photo showed a canoe-shaped sort of bread bowl thing filled with slightly browned cheese and a runny egg on top.  How could that not be the best thing ever? After doing some research I learned that this bread is called Acharuli Khachapuri — a type Georgian cheese bread. Your guess is as good as mine as to the pronunciation (sometimes I just bashfully point at things on the menu at restaurants, plus I’m thinking if I figured out how to pronounce it correctly nobody would know what I was talking about anyway. It probably translates into Amazing Molten Cheese Boat.) The cheese traditionally used in this bread is called sulguni cheese, which from what I can gather is sort of a saltier, little sour/tangy tasting mozzarella. Sounds great, actually. I checked with my beloved local cheesemonger Nickel City Cheese & Mercantile but they didn’t have any, so I figured I would use a different combination. I could have maybe ordered it online but that probably would have meant waiting to make this recipe, which I wasn’t willing to wait any longer than necessary.

Georgian cheese and egg bread

The bread recipe I wound up using on Saveur called for Muenster and feta, but I decided to use mozzarella and goat cheese since other recipes suggested that was a better combination to imitate the missing sulgini. I was a little apprehensive because I’m not good at doughs. It’s something I don’t really know much about — I really need to buy a type of dough 101 book to really get down to why things work and why they might not, etc. I recently read Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty which is the best book I’ve ever read about cooking thus far, and it made me realize there’s so much you don’t learn just from making recipes you find in books or on the internet — more of a learning tool so you can formulate your own recipes and know what to do with thing such as missing ingredients or how to improvise. We have a ton of cookbooks around but I need to start all over more with how-to books that are more basic. (I can’t even use the phrase going ‘back to basics’ here because it’s just a foundation I’ve never bothered to build. I do plan on reading more stuff like that going forward so if anybody has any suggestions on books to buy I’d love to hear them.)

I thought it would be a nice lunchtime snack-type so I could spend the rest of Saturday wondering why I ate something so incredibly heavy and carb laden that it would make me want to die. The first set of dough I made with all purpose flour as the recipe calls for, but it didn’t give weights, which I should have taken as a warning sign — with how much something can vary with one cup of flour, if you fluff it on top or pack it down, I wished that it had listed the flour in ounces.  The little I do know about dough is that weighing ingredients like flour is the way to go so you have an accurate water to flour ratio, so I took the 1 and 1/4 cup measurement and I looked at King Arthur’s website and calculated how much they say a cup of their flour would be and measured it out on the scale.  I must have done something wrong (MATH) because the dough never rose and after two and a half hours was a still a giant sticky ectoplasmic mess, so in the garbage it went and I decided my cheesy egg boat dream would have to wait. I was so fixated on having this bread (and as far as I know, there’s no restaurant around here I could go buy it so it seemed like the only way to eat it.) Later in the day I remembered I had some bread flour so I used that and gave it a second go, just for the hell of it, and I’m REALLY glad that I did. I didn’t bother trying to weigh the flour, just went with the cup and a quarter and crossed my fingers that it would be close enough. Right away upon kneading I could tell this dough was going to be different. It was far less sticky and after about an hour doubled in size, just like it should.

I’m attempting to at least pretend like I’m going to cut down on buying things for our already cramped (and in need of a makeover) kitchen, but I did recently buy a pizza stone recently. This was my first time using it but I’m sure it won’t be my last and will become a regular tool in the kitchen — it’s amazing how it crisped up this bread so nicely and I’m sure that was the reason why. After letting it cook for roughly fifteen minutes, cracking an egg in the middle and giving it a bit more time in the oven, I carefully maneuvered the loaf off the safety of the pizza stone (I should have bought a pizza paddle when I got the stone — it would have made life a lot easier than the very old and somewhat warped cookie sheet I was using to remove it) and held my breath — secretly impressed with myself that it seemed to look so good and that I got it out of the oven without little too much cheese spill out.

I’d like to say we waited for it to cool down before we annihilated it, but we didn’t. This bread has a crunchy crust with chewy bread inside — the little knobby ends of the bread were my favorite part after swirling it around the middle to get it coated in melted cheese and egg. Most kachapuri also calls for some butter to be plopped on top after it came out of the oven, but it wasn’t until the bread was long gone that I remembered it. I really want to make the other versions of khachapuri that are out there and hopefully I can track down that specific cheese so I know what it’s really meant to taste like. The version I made was by no means bad, but I’m always interested in comparing to the way things “should” taste. Whether you can find the sulguni cheese or not you should give this recipe a go!