Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Life Changing Turkey Burgers

I have always been a burger purest. In my world there wasn't room for turkey burgers, or veggie burgers or lamb burgers - they were all just cheap imitations of the real deal. Then my sister and brother-in-law gave me this recipe for Southwest Turkey Burgers that has completely changed my mind.

I believe my brother-in-law, JF, made up this recipe. He is the opposite kind of cook from me, he doesn't work from recipes and instead stands in his kitchen and pulls together amazing meals just by adding a little of this and a little of that. He is nice enough to write down the recipes so I can follow along.

The beauty of this recipe is that it's flexible. If I don't have one ingredient, I can add another or just a little extra of something else. It's easy to pull together on a week night and makes 4 burgers, so JR and I get left overs for lunch the next day. It's also healthy! You can use the 98% fat free ground turkey and whole wheat rolls and not feel guilty about shoving a quarter pounder in your face. Additionally these burgers can be made on a grill or in a fry pan, so if you don't have a grill this is still a recipe for you.

These are also the burgers that introduced me to Sweet Pepper Relish which I now cannot live without. I generally do them up with vidaliah onions, my BBQ sauce and some of this sweet relish. The burgers are tender and spicy and it's the perfect summer meal.

P.S. There is no photo of a perfectly made beautiful burger because, um, well...I ate it!

Southwest Turkey Burgers

1 lbs ground turkey (preferably as free of fat as you can get)
2 cloves of garlic (garlic scapes work really well here too)
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 small bell pepper, finely chopped
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1 tsp. thyme
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. grill seasoning (McCormick's, any flavor will do)
couple drops Tabasco
Olive oil
Pepper jack cheese
Whole wheat buns

1. Chop garlic, onion, peppers and cilantro or parsley and throw into a bowl with the ground turkey. Add the spices and mix well.
2. Form into 4 equally sized patties. I find that the turkey meat can be a little sticky when it doesn't have a lot of fat it in. Drizzle your hands with a little bit of olive oil while you are forming the patties and they come together much more easily.
3. Cook the burgers in a skillet or on the grill. Be careful not to over cook! They are best when they are still moist and tender.
4. Add the cheese for the last few minutes so it melts and toast your buns.
5. Build a perfect burger!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Art of the Garden Salad

There is something about the summer that makes me want to eat salads every night for dinner. There are a couple of reasons why, the first of which is that are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables available and a salad is the easiest way to eat as many of them as possible. It's also a super easy dinner that doesn't involve any "real" cooking (ie. heat) and is light enough that we can eat 9PM without feeling stuffed.

Since starting my new gig at HubSpot, an inbound marketing startup here in Cambridge, I haven't had as much time as I did before to cook. This means I have been making a lot of salads, but it does not mean that JR and I have been suffering. This weekend I combined spicy radishes and sweet pea tendrils from the farmers market with cucumbers, red peppers and red onions for a colorful crunchy side salad. We tossed it with a balsamic parmesan dressing (something my father's college roommate, LV, taught me years ago) and it was scrumptious.

Then last night I made up a salad that I believe has everything wonderful about the summer in it. JR's sister made this for us once last summer and it was all I could do not the eat the whole thing and force the rest of them to starve. It's the perfect combination of fresh farmer's market tomatoes, sweet corn on the cob, spicy red onions and flavorful basil and parsley. You throw them all together with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and it's an amazing combination. We had it with Mustard Garlic Chicken last night and it made me wish it was summer all year long.

Tonight I decided to try something new. The last item in my farmer's market goodie basket was some beautiful baby bok choy. I was planning on sauteing it, like I do every single time I get it. Then my parents came home from a BBQ this weekend and told me that someone used it for a salad. I was intrigued. I love bok choy, but I rarely buy it because as far as I knew there was one recipe and one way to make it. It's possible my life was changed this evening.

I took the bok choy and sliced it thin including both the leafy green parts and the crunchy white stems. I then tossed it with some sliced green onions and a tangy Asian sesame vinaigrette (if I had a recipe I would have made it, but this time I went with store bought) and then sprinkled it with some sesame seeds. This looked so pretty that I had to take a photo, just look at all that crunchy green goodness.

Then I chopped up some left over grilled chicken, a couple of hard boiled eggs and the last heirloom tomato and threw them on top (ok, I didn't throw anything, I strategically placed them to try and make it as pretty as possible.) Before I knew it, I had an amazing Asian Cobb Salad! It's even healthy because I skipped the blue cheese crumbles, bacon and oh-so-amazing ranch dressing that makes a Cobb Salad bad for you!

My only regret was that the toppings covered the colorful green bok choy, but it tasted great and you better believe I will be using bok choy as a salad base much more frequently from now on.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Perfect Sandwich

I don't know what makes a perfect sandwich. I guess it depends a lot on the quality and proportion of the ingredients, but I know that 9 times out of 10 when I make sandwiches, I am not satisfied. Generally they have too much turkey, or not enough jelly, or the bread is too crunchy and hurts the roof of my mouth. In any case, sandwiches have gotten a bad reputation in my kitchen and I tend to not make them very often. Until recently.

The other evening I wasn't feeling top notch and was just hanging out at home reading and catching up on some relaxing. For dinner, all I could think about was a perfect grilled cheese sandwich. By perfect, I mean the kind of grilled cheese where the outside is a little crunchy and very buttery and the inside is warm gooey cheesy goodness. I headed over to the Whole Foods and picked up some German style whole wheat bread, a hunk of gruyere (a nice nutty cheese that is AMAZING for sandwiches) and a beautiful tomato.

I put that panini maker to work and within minutes had a gorgeous sandwich for dinner. It was so amazing. I had it with some fresh fruit, a pickle and some of this fantastic Mild Yellow Swedish mustard that JB brought me a couple weeks ago. The stuff is like no other mustard you have ever had and I want to drink it from a spoon.

I am also searching for a killer egg sandwich. I try something new at least once a week, but generally it includes good bread, two fried eggs, some kind of special cheese, fresh herbs and a spread (pesto, mustard, cranberry sauce, olive oil, the list goes on.) The desire for this sandwich comes from a couple places.

First, the movie Spanglish featured Thomas Keller's BLT Fried Egg and Cheese Sandwich which rewound to watch Adam Sandler make 3 or 4 times while I drooled. It was written up in Food & Wine about a year ago and I tried to make it one night while Jared was away. It was not all I had hoped for, although the F&W photo still makes me drool, and thus I started on the search for the perfect egg sandwich.

The second inspiration is the Jerusalem Egg Sandwich from the Andala Coffee House just up the street from us. A couple months after we moved here, I started going to Andala every Wednesday morning for a networking event. My first or second time, someone ordered this sandwich, and I have been in love with it ever since. It's a scintillating combination of eggs, parsley and tomatoes wrapped in a toasted Mediterranean pita that I would recommend to anyone.

My egg sandwiches are good, but this one has me coming back week after week and nothing I have made has accomplished that yet. I'll keep trying but if you have a great sandwich recipe that you want to share, please send it along.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Way to a Girl's Heart is Through Her Stomach

JR and I met during the last couple months of college. On our graduation day, I told my mother I wasn't sure where the relationship was going to go, then Lobster Bowl 2004 happened and I was hooked.

Lobster Bowl is a golf tournament that JR's father plays in each year. It's actually called the Adams Bowl, but I have officially renamed it, because at the end of each tournament they serve the most amazing feast. I went that first summer back in 2004 and I was sold, I knew right then I had to marry JR so that I could come to the Lobster Bowl each and every year and eat enough lobster and shrimp to stuff me full. I am not exaggerating when I say it's tables full of lobster, shrimp and oysters and other amazing goodies.

After showing me this wealthy of goodness, JR didn't bring me back for 3 whole summers! I thought I had been cheated, until today when he finally returned me to the Lobster Bowl, and it was all I remembered.

I stuck to the seafood for plate number 1, and was not disappointed.

I branched out for plate number 2 and included some meat. When I brought this back to the table, my MIL (mother-in-law) said "You go girl!"

When I brought back plate number three, she said "Oh, I think I need to visit the desert table...."

It was amazing, and I am so lucky that my wonderful in-laws were willing to share the lobster and bring me back to the Lobster Bowl.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Inflation and my grocery bill

Have you started to feel like every grocery shopping trip is a "big one"? I have, so I decided to do a little under cover research (meaning I did this while sitting in bed resting my legs from our hike up Mt. Washington this weekend.)

Since JR and I started living together 3 years ago I have been tracking our food expenses. It's been well worth it since it has helped us make some good decisions in the past. For example, it was a comparative study of 3 months that made us quit the Park Slope Food Co-op and start using Fresh Direct. We have also, on numerous occasions cut back on eating out and buying lunch at work to save a few pennies.

In general, a normal week of grocery shopping for us was under $100, and a big week was about $115. I didn't track every penny, but at long as our expenses were within that range, I didn't worry or think I was buying anything too excessive.

Then we moved to Boston, and whole bunch of things changed. First, we started cooking a lot more (because we have a fabulous kitchen and a grill) and eating out a lot less. We also stopped using FreshDirect because it's (sadly) not available in Boston, and started shopping a lot more at Whole Paycheck (aka Whole Foods) and Trader Joes. So I accepted that for a couple months, I would have wait and see what our food expenses in Boston were.

The thing is, they seemed really high. I mentioned it to JR at one point and he commented on inflation, but I was still trying to blame on our lifestyle changes. As our weekly expenses have crept upward, we stopped shopping at Whole Foods almost all together, and make a point to go to Shaws for our big shopping every week. I am also paying a lot more attention to the sales, and this weekend we even talked about starting to cut coupons.

Which got us discussing what was happening, and spawned my undercover investigation. One of the beautiful things about FreshDirect (among many many things, not the least of which was that they delivered) is that they store all your orders on their site. So this evening I went back to last summer, and took at look at what we were spending. Then, I re-added each shopping list to the cart for 6 weeks to see what the same weeks worth of groceries would cost me this year.

On average, it was 10% more expensive this year than last year. 10 PERCENT!!! That's more than even I expected. I recognize that 6 weeks isn't a huge about of data, so in my free time I am going to continue adding weeks to get better numbers. I'll update you to my final findings. In the meantime, enjoy the cartoons.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Summer salads

When we moved into our NY apartment (OMG, 3 YEARS AGO!) we held a house warming party and invited all our friends over to party with us. Even though we had very limited space, the party turned out to be a lot of fun, and everyone ended up partying until the wee hours.

Moving to Boston was exciting, but one of the things I was really thrilled about was throwing another house warming party. Having decided to push the party off until May, when we could use the patio, I had planned it in my head at least 37 times. This type of anticipation is a sure sign of disappointment, but everything went off a couple weekends ago without a hitch.

We had 15 people over, and although the forecast was for rain, it held off for the most part and people were able to enjoy the patio. My good friend SS came in from NY to be my assistant and I put her to work cooking and cleaning all day (she even did my bathroom!) and by the end we were both exhausted. It was well worth it though, and I think everyone enjoyed the food. We made,

Hamburgers & Chicken Sausage with Homemade BBQ sauce
Spicy Cole Slaw
Copper Pennies
Black Bean Salsa
Grilled Vidalia Onions
Green Salad
Red & White Sangria with Pineapple, White Peaches, Mangos and Pears

The star of the night was the BBQ sauce, which I keep raving about. The sangria was a close second though. I loved the cole slaw, which was a recipe I borrowed from Smitten Kitchen. The Copper Pennies made it feel like summer.

Copper Pennies are an old family recipe. My mom makes them year round and as a kid (ok really until I was 24) I wouldn't touch them. Then at Christmas a couple years ago my cousin forced me to try them and I realized they are AMAZING! So here is a quick one out of the family cook book.

Copper Pennies

3lbs. carrots
1 medium onion (diced)
1 small green pepper (diced)
4 stalks celery
1 can tomato soup
1/2 cup salad oil
1 cup sugar
3/4 cups vinegar
1t mustard
1T Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper

- Slice and cook carrots until they just begin to soften.
- Mix the rest of the ingredients into a marinade.
- Add the carrots to the marinade and let them sit over night.
- Serve cold.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

State of decline

Remember my garden?

It was beautiful! The lettuce tasted great and I had visions of us feeding off it all summer long.

And then it got flooded. So we drilled some wholes in my nice self watering container, so it could drain the excess water out.

Then it got flooded again.

After which it never really managed to come back to life. I think part of the problem was that as the leaves on the trees came in more fully, we had less and less sun. I think our patio gets MAYBE 2 hours of sun a day right now. It just isn't enough to dry out the soil after it rains, or feed the plants.

I managed to get one last harvest out of it. Which was amazing and delicious. Then this past week I thought we were making some progress, and Boston was hit with two CRAZY pounding storms.

My lettuce is done-zo. I am thinking about transplanting the parsley and basil in to the larger container to see if it does a little better. Anyone know if transplanting herbs works?