By now you all know that Mama’s Gotta Bake, and oftentimes Mama’s Gotta Cook, but now that the warm weather has rolled into Southern California…Mama’s Gotta Grill. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you would think that I live on nothing but cake, cookies and the occasional scoop of ice cream. But if the truth be told, what I’m totally obsessed with is burgers. Oh please, spare me with your turkey, chicken, lamb, salmon and veggie burgers, I’m a purist and it’s nothing but good ‘ol beef burgers for me.
For years I’ve kept a tiny, tattered notebook in the over-stuffed utility drawer in my kitchen. I call it My Burger Bible. Every time I see a tip in the newspaper, the internet, a cookbook, YouTube or the television on how to make a better burger, I write it down in this notebook. So, as summer approaches and you begin to fire up your grills, I thought I would share some of the information I’ve accumulated with you.
- When it comes to a tasty burger, fat is your friend. Fat will add tons of flavor and moisture to your burger, and it will shrink less. I usually choose a meat mixture with a 70/30 fat ratio. If that sounds too fatty to you, then go with an 80/20.
- Never use frozen or pre-formed patties, that’s just an insult to any decent burger. If you can, have a butcher coarsely grind a combination of chuck and brisket.
- When forming the burgers, use wet hands so that the meat will not stick them. Don’t overwork the meat to form the patties. The less you handle the meat the better, otherwise the resulting burger will be dry and dense.
- Season you burgers with salt right before you’re ready to grill them. Salt takes the moisture right out of the meat and you’ll end up with some pretty dry burgers.
- When you’re cooking a lot of burgers at once on the grill, it helps to weigh and size the patties, this way they will cook uniformly. (Serious Eats)
- Bobby Flay suggests that when you’ve formed your patty, take your thumb and make a well in the center of the burger. This will help it to keep it’s shape. Also, chilling your patties for several hours before cooking will aid in them keeping their shape.
Grilling the Burgers
- You will want to place your burgers on a very hot grill because you want to sear the outside of the burger. Searing the burger seals in the juices.
- When the burger is on the grill, don’t press down on it with a spatula, or you will squeeze the juices right out.
- When the burger is properly seared, it will no longer stick to the grill.
- Like other meats that you grill, let your burgers “rest” for several minutes before serving them, so that the juices will redistribute. (Huffington Post)
- My friends, never take bun selection lightly. One must carefully consider bun to burger ratio seriously.
- When forming your patties, make them approximately the same size as your bun. You can make the patty a little bit bigger than the bun, as the patty will shrink a bit on the grill.
- Don’t choose a bun that is too soft because they tend to fall apart if your burger is juicy. However, don’t choose a bun that too hard as the burger will shoot out of it when you take the first bite. My personal favorite is a brioche bun.
So, how does Mama like her burger…simple. I like a little crispy lettuce, fresh tomato, lots of ketchup (yeah, I do!), but most importantly I’ve gotta have the grilled onions. They take 5 minutes to make and my burgers wouldn’t be caught dead without them.
- Slice 2 large onions thinly, or for best results, slice them on a mandolin (on the thicker setting) for uniform size. Toss the onions with a tablespoon of olive oil, Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and some red pepper flakes until coated.
- Set your grill to medium-high.
- Spray a piece of foil with cooking spray and place on the hot grill. With tongs, spread the onions out over the foil and toss occasionally so all slices cook evenly. Remove from the heat when the onions have begun to caramelize and are softened. About 5-8 minutes. Use immediately.
- Enough for 4-5 burgers.
I bet you’ve been thinking all this time, all this lady ever seems to post about is chocolate. And that would be a pretty accurate assumption. I really do have some kind of a sick obsession with it, but every now and then I love to mix it up a bit and do something crazy like add vegetables to my baked goods. I know, it sounds nuts. Oh, and speaking of nuts, this Carrot Zucchini Cake is not only chock full of vegetables, but bursting with chopped nuts and raisins. I would almost go so far as too call this health food if it were not for the cream cheese frosting that is slathered all over the top of the cake.
Today I’m packing this cake and other necessary rations for a little picnic at a location I call my “happy place”. It’s where I like to go when I need to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a one hour hike into the Santa Monica mountains to an area they call The Rock Pool. Once there you become acutely aware of how quiet it is. No cell phones ringing, no traffic sounds, just the chirping of birds and the rustling of the wind through the trees, and sometimes the splashing of a few ducks that have taken up residence there.
Right at the edge of this tranquil pool is a battered, old picnic table where my group and I will enjoy our lunch. I figure I will have worked off at least 125 calories making this trek so I won’t feel guilty enjoying a generous portion of the cake. I’m glad I found my happy place. I would love to hear where your is. Let me know.
Carrot and Zucchini Cake
From Better Homes & Gardens
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots (3 medium)
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
- 1/2 cup raisins (I mixed regular & golden together)
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 recipe Citrus-Cream Cheese Frosting
- This cake is made in a 13 x 9 pan, ungreased. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, you will sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger and baking soda. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, place the carrots, zucchini, brown sugar, eggs, raisins, walnuts, oil, honey and vanilla. Using a spatula, gently mix the ingredients together. Add the carrot mixture to the flour mixture and combine until all the ingredients are incorporated. Spread the batter into your baking pan.
- Bake for 24-26 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack before you frost it.
Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- the zest of one orange
Place these ingredients in a medium sized bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
What’s the best way for a mother to send her child off to college; with a pan of super-chocolatey brownies of course. I had spent days packing for my son Michael, purchasing him some pots and pans, bedding and laundry detergent, as well as a variety of other items I know he’ll never use. I had filled boxes with every and anything a young man would need for his survival out there in the world. It was as if we were sending him off to the most remote region of the universe, when in reality he was only going an hour away to Santa Barbara. Oh my God, did I pack the electric pencil sharpener?
We loaded two cars and made the quick trip up the Pacific coast to the student housing where he was sharing an apartment with three other guys. I laughed to myself as we entered the apartment. There were three sets of parents unpacking, making beds, setting up tv’s and printers, and stacking a hundred boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese into the pantry closet. The kids all sat in the living room with their cell phones and laptops, laughing and getting to know one another, while the mothers nervously scurried about.
After roughly four hours in that apartment my work there was done, and I could see the look on my son’s face. “Mom, will you just go!” He couldn’t wait to begin his new adventure…without his mama! As my husband and I left, I handed him a tray of my chocolate truffle brownies. He had his pencil sharpener, a year’s supply of black sox, and brownies. Mission complete.
Chocolate Truffle Brownies
Bon Appetit, July 2010
- 12 ounces semi-sweet, or bittersweet chocolate ( do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped and divided into half
- 11 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1″ cubes
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- Place the rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F.
- Line a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang. This will make it easy to lift your brownies out of the pan when it’s time to cut them. Spray the foil with non-stick vegetable oil spray.
- Combine 6 ounces of the chocolate, and the butter in a medium microwave safe bowl. Start microwaving at 25 seconds, then stir, then 20 seconds and stir until the mixture is smooth and melted. Cool the chocolate mixture for 10 minutes.
- Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt in large bowl to blend. Then whisk in the chocolate mixture. Stir in flour, then chopped walnuts.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the brownies until a tester inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 26-28 minutes. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let the brownies cool completely.
- When brownies are cooled, bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place remaining chocolate in a medium bowl and pour the heated cream over the chocolate. Let it stand for 5 minutes then whisk until smooth.
- Pour the chocolate ganache over the brownies in the pan and spread evenly to cover completely. A small off-set spatula works well for this.
- Let stand at cool room temperature until topping is set, about 4 hours.
- Using the overhang foil as an aid, lift the brownies from the pan and fold down the edges.
- You can now cut the brownies into squares, 1″x 3″ bars, or into 1″x 1″ squares.
Using better quality chocolate will yield better tasting brownies. Use the best you can afford.
When the brownies have cooled, place them in the refrigerator for an hour for easier cutting.
I like to keep my chocolate truffle brownies in the refrigerator as they turn to a fudge-like consistency. At room temperature they remain more cake-like.
What a great night; I’ve got the fluffy slippers on, two-hours of American Idol ahead of me, and just out-of-the oven lemon pudding cakes. It doesn’t get any better than this. I remember the times when a fun evening was heading out to a disco (now I’m dating myself) and dancing the night away to Donna Summer songs. Oh, how times have changed…for me, at least. My life is very simple now. Just give me a little Ryan Seacrest and a sugary dessert, and I’m a very happy camper.
I planned the exit of these little cakes from the oven at approximately 7:25pm, so that they could have a little time to cool down before the evening’s fun began at 8. The pudding cakes are especially good right from the oven because they’re a little cake-y on the outside, with a warm pudding center on the inside, and a sugary crust on the top. It’s a total warm-and-cozy dessert.
Lemon Pudding Cake
From Real Simple Magazine
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- turbinado (raw sugar) or a coarse sugar
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Place six, 4-ounce ramekins inside a large roasting pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer using the whisk attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and butter until combined. Whisk in the milk and lemon zest and juice. Add the sugar mixture to the lemon mixture and whisk until smooth. Transfer this mixture to another bowl and completely clean and dry the mixer bowl.
- Using the electric mixer, beat the egg whites and salt on medium-high until stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. In three additions, gently fold the egg whites into the lemon-sugar mixture.
- Divide the pudding mixture among the ramekins. Sprinkle the tops of the puddings with the coarse sugar. Now, add hot water to the roasting pan so that the water comes half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the tops are golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes.
I come from a long line of bread eaters. We’re a hearty group and we can make a meal out of bread. Meat, fish and vegetables are nice, but really we’re quite satisfied with just bread. Maybe it’s my Eastern European ancestry that makes me appreciate what one can do with a little bit of yeast and some flour. You see, we’re simple folk. I love a loaf fresh out of the oven, slathered in butter or with a dollop of marmalade. Pita, naan, ciabatta or tortillas, call it what you will, it’s all good to me. I think it’s funny, all these people nowadays cutting bread out of their diet, well that’s just plain crazy to me.
I know some people are intimidated when they see yeast in a recipe. One of my favorite books, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” has taken the trauma out of bread making. If you have the slightest interest in making your own bread, and trust me you should, then I highly recommend this book to you.
One of the best recipes in the book is their chocolate brioche. It’s a rich, eggy bread, golden on the outside with bittersweet chocolate ganache swirled on the inside. It was today’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nothing wrong with that, right?
From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup honey
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for greasing the pan
- 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- Egg wash, (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water)
- You can make this dough using a spoon, a large food processor or an electric mixer. I made it in the bowl of my electric mixer.
- Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter with the water in the bowl.
- Using the dough hook, mix in the flour until it’s all incorporated.
- When all the flour has been incorporated, cover the bowl, (not airtight) and allow it to rest at room temperature for 2 hours. After the initial rise, chill the dough as it will be easier to work with. This amount of dough will make four -1 pound loaves, so keep the dough refrigerated in a lidded container and use over the next five days.
- 1/4 pound good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 5 tablespoons corn syrup
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
- granulated sugar for sprinkling on top
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave in 15 second increments until smooth. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until incorporated.
- In another little bowl, stir the cocoa powder and the corn syrup together and mix until smooth. Add to the chocolate mixture.
- Lightly butter a 9 x 4 x 3-inch nonstick loaf pan. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and with a serrated knife, cut off a one-pound piece. I use my digital scale to weigh it. Dust that piece with more flour and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Using a rolling-pin, roll out the ball into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle, dusting with flour as needed.
- Spread 1/2 cup of the ganache over the rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Starting at the short end, roll up the dough and seal the bare edges.
- Tuck the loose ends underneath, elongate the dough into an oval and place it into your loaf pan.
- Let the dough rest for 1 1/2 hours in a draft-free spot.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with the egg white and sprinkle with the granulated sugar.
- Bake the brioche for 45 minutes until the top is golden brown and the sugar is caramelized.
- Remove from the pan and cool slightly. Reheat the remaining ganache, then drizzle it over the top of the loaf.
When someone says the word dessert, I automatically think of chocolate. In my mind at least, it’s not dessert unless it is chocolate. But alas, everyone is different and not everyone’s taste buds respond to the same thing.
This weekend I’m hosting a birthday dinner at my house for a good friend. As I was planning the menu he informed me that he doesn’t like chocolate, and could I come up with a fruit dessert instead. Fruit, really… This would be a challenge, but Mama is not one to back down from a challenge. I was leafing through one of the many food publications that I have, and found this recipe for Roasted Pineapple with Honey and Pistachios in Bon Appetit Magazine. Truthfully, I haven’t really roasted a lot of fruit in my day. I love roasting vegetables as the roasting process brings out the natural sweetness in produce, and allows the vegetable’s flavor to remain simple and unencumbered.
I did a test run on this recipe today and fell in love with the results. The pineapple became tender and sweet as it caramelized, the creme fraiche added a tart contrast while the nuts brought a little bit of added crunch to the dish. I thought it tasted perfect! Hello fruit, goodbye chocolate. Well, maybe just this once.
From Bon Appetit Magazine
- 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 medium, ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
- 1/4 cup creme fraiche or yogurt
- 1/3 cup, unsalted pistacios, rough chopped
- 2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F and then line your baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t, you’ll have a nasty mess to clean up from the burnt sugar. Whisk the first three ingredients together in a medium bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Place the pineapple slices in a 8″ baking dish and pour the marinade over the slices, tossing to coat. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Place the pineapple slices, one flat side down on your baking sheet and save the marinade.
- Roast your pineapple for 15 minutes. Turn the slices and brush with your reserved marinade several times and roast until tender and caramelized, another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle the remaining marinade over and let slices cool.
- Divide pineapple slices among your plates. Spoon the creme fraiche, yogurt or even vanilla ice cream over the pineapple and garnish with the nuts and mint. Serves 4
Growing up in a Philadelphia suburb, I have vivid memories of a restaurant called the Country Squire Diner. It was one of those typical 1970′s diners with large booths. The restaurant had a long counter with round stools, and behind the counter were mirrored display cases with sundae dishes filled with cubed jello or fruit cup. Does anyone even serve fruit cup anymore…or jello? Anyway, what always caught my attention upon entering this place was the revolving display case with pre-cut pieces of cake, endlessly going around in circles.
Now these were huge hunks of cake, usually seven or eight layers. Chocolate, lemon, carrot cake and strawberry shortcake were popular 1970′s favorites. My friends and I would actually order those desserts, one for each of us, and finish them. Those days are so over. If you read my blog, then you know I make my desserts now in mini versions. Everything in moderation, right?
My family are big chocolate lovers, so I made these Mini Brownie Cupcakes. They’re not really brownies, nor are they cupcakes, but kinda like if a brownie and a cupcake had a kid, this is what you would get. There’s lots of bold cocoa flavor in these little mini’s. You can give them a dusting of confectioner’s sugar if you like, or maybe a drizzle of melted chocolate. For me, they’re a perfect, little treat.
Brownie Cupcake Bites
Adapted from Best Ever Cookie Collection
- 1 1/2 sticks of butter
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetend coca powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- pinch salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line your mini muffin tin with mini cupcake papers, or you could brush your tin with melted butter using a pastry brush.
- Melt the butter in a small pan over medium-low heat.
- Pour the butter into the bowl of an electric mixer, and using the paddle attachment stir the sugar and cocoa powder in until incorporated.
- Add the eggs and vanilla and slowly beat until combined.
- In another bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and pinch of salt. Stir with a whisk.
- With mixer on medium-low, add flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Stir in milk until well blended.
- Spoon batter into cupcake liners until 1/2 full.
- Bake for about 10-13 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Do not overbake these or they will become hard. Remember all ovens are different, so keep an eye on the pan