Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Best Dallas Hot Dogs

Dallas' Hand-Crafted Hot Dogs Make for One Hell of a Cookout

You're about to take your hot dog game to a whole new level.
Step away from the highly-processed tube meat. You know who you are. Your last-second planning has you trapped in the aisles of your local grocery store. There are red and yellow bottles in your cart, next to crappy buns cooked four days ago. Hot dog cookouts are supposed to be simple, but that's no reason to be lazy. The least you can do is pick up some decent links. Unlike heritage pork chops and grass-fed beef, even the best hot dogs you can buy are very affordable. They're also so much more delicious than the plastic-wrapped franks at your grocer that the extra cost is negligible. The locally made links in this list are made with high-quality meat, use natural casings for a snappy exterior, and in some cases are smoked in the same shop where you buy them.
The following photos and tasting notes will help get you started. Pick out your favorite, or try them all. Your hot dog cookouts will never be the same again.

Rudolph's Meat: beef and pork blend
Casing: lamb
Processing: right at the butcher shop in Deep Ellum
Price: $7.50 per pound.
Tasting notes: Rudolph's tastes a lot like the hot dogs you grew up on with the volume turned up to 10. There's lots of garlic powder in this mix, and the meat is ground a little more coarsely than your standard grocery store dog. Choose Rudolph's if you want to stay as close to possible to the traditional American hot dog while enjoying higher quality.

Kuby's Meat: pork/veal blend
Casing: lamb
Processing: Kuby's facility on Mockingbird Lane
Price: $4.59 a pound
Tasting notes: Kuby's offers an all-beef frank, but we tested the pork and veal blend to offer a little variety at our cookout. One taster preferred the Kuby's dogs because they were so mild and delicately flavored. If you're looking for German-style hot dog, this is the link for you.

David's Meats Meat: all beef
Casing: pork
Processing: On-site. The smoker sits right behind the meat counter.
Price: $5.35 a pound
Tasting notes: "I've never seen a hot dog that big before." It was said more than once about David's links, which were big in every way. The dogs had more smoke, were the juiciest by far, and had casings that really gave you something to chew on.

All hail the king of hot dogs
Luscher's Post Oak Red Hot Meat: Local Yocal locally pastured beef and pork
Casing: lamb
Processing: Local Yocal
Price: $11.99 per pound
Tasting notes:This hot dog might be thin, but "it's got plenty of length," according to Brian Luscher. The dogs are coarsely ground and pack a ton of flavor into that spindly casing. One tester said the dogs "tasted hunted," hinting at some hard to describe but primal flavor. The rest simply called the dogs delicious. They were easily this group's most favorite.
If you've shopped the White Rock Local Market you've likely seen Luscher painting hot dog buns with house-made mustard and other condiments. If you want to cook them at home hit up the Green Grocer on Greenville Avenue, or Bolsa Mercado.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Abid Clever Coffee Dripper

Abid Clever Coffee Dripper.

(FYI - the commercial tune is "Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie)

I finally got this in 2012 (with a matching lid), and it's been my brewer of choice ever since. I got mine from Sweet Maria's (I have the large size that uses #4 filters - NOTE: Drinking unfiltered coffee has been linked to increased blood cholesterol; also see this AJCN study).

A few things I've determined:
  • For the freshest and best-tasting coffee:
    • Buy only whole bean coffee as close to the roasting date as possible. If it wasn't just roasted, then buy it only in sealed bags, not from open bins or jars. My preferred coffee these days is whole bean Major Dickason's Blend by Peet's Coffee. The roasting date is clearly labeled on the 12 oz. bag, which I usually finish within 2 weeks.
    • Keep the coffee beans tightly sealed off from air between uses, either in 16 oz. Mason Jars using a vacuum sealer Mason Jar lid attachment, or in the original bag rolled shut as tight as possible each time you close it. The vacuum sealer method is better, based on my experience using both. 2014 Update: I now use the 64 oz. AirScape canister as being easier than having to repeatedly vacuum-seal a Mason Jar.
    • Grind only as much coffee as you will use within 24-48 hours or so.
    • If not brewing it immediately, put the freshly-ground coffee in a sealed container with as little air space as possible. If you can still smell the coffee from within the container, use a different container or wrap it with plastic wrap; if you can smell the coffee, it means that air is getting to the coffee and degrading its freshness.
    • Don't buy more whole bean coffee than you will use in two weeks, especially if you grind fresh beans every day or two and are thus repeatedly opening and closing the bag or container.
  • When putting the Clever Coffee Dripper on your cup, be sure to remove the lid part-way; otherwise, it creates a partial vacuum and the coffee will never fully drain into the cup.
  • Though I haven't compared the taste with generic or other cone filters, I use the Melitta #4 filters with micro-perforations (white; the "natural" ones are not more ecologically friendly, and per some people may impart a taste to the coffee), which should allow some of the flavorful coffee oils to pass through the filter.
My Clever Coffee Dripper method:
  1. Grind the coffee beans for drip grind (i.e., halfway between Espresso fine and French Press coarse); you'll need a good quality burr grinder to do this, which start at more than $100, unless you get a good manual hand grinder - read online reviews before you buy. I probably use the equivalent of 2 TBSP coffee (i.e., 1 standard coffee scoop) per 6 oz. water, varying it for the roast I use and the strength I want. If you want to be precise, use a scale to measure the weight of the coffee, an exact amount of water per gm of coffee, and an instant-read thermometer to ensure a precise water temperature before pouring it on the grounds. While I'm definitely pickier than most people, I'm (not yet) chemistry-lab picky.
  2. Set the timer for 3 minutes (4 minutes brewing time before setting it on the cup to drain is too long) while boiling the water.
  3. When the water boils, pour into a measuring cup the amount of water you're going to use, which also lets it cool off a bit from boiling temperature. Despite the video, I don't pre-rinse the filters to get rid of the "paper taste," as I have not noticed a difference when doing so when using the white filters.
  4. Start the timer and pour the water from the measuring cup slowly over all the grounds in the filter cone to make sure they're fully and evenly soaked. You can then gently stir the floating grounds or push them down with a spoon (like in the video), or just wait to do so at the 1-minute-to-go mark per the next step. Put on the lid to keep the water hot (this all takes about 30 seconds).
  5. At the 1-minute-to-go mark (i.e., after 2 minutes), [again] gently stir or submerge the floating grounds and replace the lid.
  6. When the timer rings after 3 minutes of brewing, put the Coffee Dripper on the cup and partially slide the lid off the top to prevent a partial vacuum while still keeping the coffee as warm as possible.
  7. It will take the coffee about a minute to fully drain into the cup, and if you do things right, there will be a nice rounded mound of coffee grounds at the bottom of the filter (versus them being spread evenly all up and down the sides of the filter).
  8. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mr. Beer Is Here

Thanks to a last-year Christmas gift of a Mr. Beer kit, I've entered the world of home beer brewing.

The two batches I've made so far have come out pretty well, and it's also kind of fun.

I just wish I got along better with alcohol, because I like the taste of beer, but not always the way alcohol makes me feel (and none of the non-alcoholic beers I've bought and tried - and I've tried them all - taste very good to me).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tell Me It Ain't So!

And just when we were getting ready to start an organic garden:

Organic food is no healthier, study finds

Wed Jul 29, 2009 12:29pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

"A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance," said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

The results of research, which was commissioned by the British government's Food Standards Agency, were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Sales of organic food have fallen in some markets, including Britain, as recession has led consumers to cut back on purchases.

The Soil Association said in April that growth in sales of organic products in Britain slowed to just 1.7 percent in 2008, well below the average annual growth rate of 26 percent over the last decade, following a plunge in demand at the end of the year.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by Simon Jessop)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Healing Herbs

8 Commonly Used Herbs and their Healing Properties
By Dr. Maoshing Ni
Posted on Wed, Jun 17, 2009, 5:14 pm PDT

Dr. Mao's Secrets of Longevity
by Dr. Maoshing Ni a Yahoo! Health Expert for Alternative Medicine

Visit Alternative Medicine Home »
More By This Expert
4 Exercises to Sharpen Your Brain
8 Commonly Used Herbs and their Healing Properties
5 Secrets to Preserve Your Eyesight

Herbs have been part of every culture and medical tradition since the earliest humans walked the earth for treatment of everything from colds to digestive issues to depression. You may be surprised to learn that the herbs you have been regularly using to infuse your food with appetizing flavors also have amazing healing abilities. They are easily grown in your own home so you can have them on hand to use whenever the urge to cook strikes you. Read on to find the healing health benefits of these commonly used herbs.

1. Rosemary
Rosemary has been used as a brain tonic in Chinese traditional medicine for thousands of years. Rosemary contains volatile oils that help stimulate brain activities and increase brain alertness. One compound it contains, cineole, has been found to enhance the ability of rat to navigate mazes. So skip the harsh coffee and spice up your energy level with rosemary. Other benefits? Rosemary also aids in digestion and perks up your immune system. Steep it as tea, use in your poultry dishes and soups--or just crush some up to fill your home with an energizing scent.

Growing tips: Rosemary needs to live in a very sunny window and may even need supplemental light. It is sensitive to overwatering so keep it on the dry side.

2. Mint
Peppermint, spearmint, and other mint-family plants are considered one of the most versatile herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Peppermint has many well-documented properties: It increases healthy gastric secretions, relaxes the intestines, soothes spasms, settles the stomach, and alleviates gas. In a culture marked by poor diet and digestion--and the heartburn that comes with it--peppermint can be your best friend. Additionally, peppermint is rich in antioxidants that support good vision and also cleanses your liver, helping to eliminate harmful toxins from your body. Steep peppermint as a tea and drink it a half an hour after mealtimes for untroubled digestion.

Growing tips: Mint is an easy-to-grow herb that is invasive, so be sure to grow it in its own pot.

3. Oregano
When you're suffering from cold or flu, steep oregano in a pot of water and inhale the vapors, which are antibacterial, antiviral and decongesting. This immunity-enhancing herb also settles digestion and prevents bloating.

Growing tips: Oregano needs a lot of light to grow so find a window with direct light or grow out-of-doors.

4. Sage
Chinese traditional medicine has long used sage to help prevent the loss of mental function that comes with age. Sage has been found to increase oxygen to the brain cortex and to help improve concentration. Sage is easy on the digestion. Cook it up in soups and poultry dishes.

Growing tips: Sage can be a bit difficult to grow. It is very sensitive to overwatering because it is more susceptible to mildew than other herbs.

5. Chives
A member of the garlic and onion family, chives have been used throughout history for natural healing because they contain a substantial amount of vitamin C as well as essential minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron and folic acid. In Chinese medicine they are used to clear stuffy noses, prevent bad breath, ease stomach aches, strengthen the lower back, and improve poor circulation that gives you cold hands and feet. Some serving suggestions? Chop up chives and add them to stir-fries or mix in with ground poultry to stuff ravioli or dumplings.

Growing tips: Chives are fairly easy to grow because they don't require as much light as other herbs.

6. Basil
A favorite herb in Italian cooking, basil's scent can perk up your energy level and it is filled with luteolin, a bioflavonoid that studies have shown to be the best protection of cell DNA from radiation.

Growing tips: Basil can be more difficult to grow. Your best bet is to grow it during warm, bright summer months.

7. Cilantro
Cilantro is an energy tonic that can boost your immune system and smooth out your digestion. Use it in your cooking to get its health benefits.

Growing tips: Cilantro, the name for the stems and leaves of the coriander plant, can be hard to grow. Sow the coriander seeds in a thick concentration in a shallow tray.

8. Parsley
Parsley is used in a Chinese folk remedy for cooling the liver and clearing the eyes. Parsley is packed with luteolin, and there is some evidence that this helps protect the eye from UV radiation damage and from glycation, a process in which sticky sugar molecules bind up protein, potentially damaging the retina. The age-old folk remedy recipe for vision protection is a juice blend of celery, peppermint, and Chinese parsley, made fresh daily.

Growing tips: Parsley doesn't need very much sun, but it is a slow grower, so don't expect a high yield.

Herbal Tea Recipes
Aside from use in cooking, all of the above herbs can be used to make aromatic potent teas. You may use the herbs individually or experiment with combinations. For example, to make a tea that soothes digestion and prevents bloating: Steep 1 teaspoon each of mint, rosemary, oregano, cilantro, sage and basil and in a cup of hot filtered water for five minutes.

Other herbal teas that can bring big benefits to your health are my specially formulated Ancient Treasures tea and Internal Cleanse tea, which will gently cleanse your body of toxins and bring you emotional tranquility.

Grow Your Own
To grow your own herbs, all you need is some terra cotta pots with drainage holes, high-quality organic potting soil, and a window sill that gets at least six hours of light per day. A southwestern-facing window is your best choice for good light. If this isn't possible, you can get a few clamp-on reflector lights with compact fluorescent bulbs and place them about six inches away from the plant. Keep in mind that overwatering is the biggest mistake people make when trying to grow herbs inside. The rule of thumb is to let the herbs dry out completely, and then water. Beginning with baby plants will be less troublesome than starting from seed. With practice, you will learn the best ways to grow and care for your indoor herbal garden.

I hope this article helps you make the most of herbs! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

--Dr. Mao

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee!

Coffee's Aroma Kick-starts Genes In The Brain

ScienceDaily (June 16, 2008) — Drink coffee to send a wake-up call to the brain? Or just smell its rich, warm aroma? An international group of scientists is reporting some of the first evidence that simply inhaling coffee aroma alters the activity of genes in the brain.

In experiments with laboratory rats, they found that coffee aroma orchestrates the expression of more than a dozen genes and some changes in protein expressions, in ways that help reduce the stress of sleep deprivation.

Han-Seok Seo and colleagues point out that hundreds of studies have been done on the ingredients in coffee, including substances linked to beneficial health effects. "There are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma," they note. "This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat brain."

In an effort to begin filling that gap, they allowed lab rats to inhale coffee aroma, including some rats stressed by sleep deprivation. The study then compared gene and protein expressions in the rats' brains. Rats that sniffed coffee showed different levels of activity in 17 genes. Thirteen of the genes showed differential mRNA expression between the stress group and the stress with coffee group, including proteins with healthful antioxidant activity known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage.

Journal reference:

Han-Seok Seo et al. Effects of Coffee Bean Aroma on the Rat Brain Stressed by Sleep Deprivation: A Selected Transcript- and 2D Gel-Based Proteome Analysis. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 25, 2008 DOI: 10.1021/jf8001137
Adapted from materials provided by American Chemical Society.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


May 13, 2009
Absinthes to Go Mad Over

ABSINTHE? So devil may care, so deliciously disreputable, so ... louche. But it’s poisonous, no? It eats your brain and drives you crazy!

If nothing else, a century of prohibition on absinthe gave it the sort of aura of dissolute glamour that would-be brooding artists would drown their agents for. The two faces of absinthe offered possibilities to idealists the world over, searching for a muse or testing the limits of their risk-taking.

Consider the cast of mythological absinthe drinkers: the vulnerable painter and poet, too sensitive for this mean old world; the tormented soul, unable to snap out of his self-loathing; the rakish hedonist, seeking one big, lurid rush; the wealthy dilettante, dipping a toe in bohemia; and of course, all manner of willing women.

But now absinthe is legal again, and the romance of belle époque naughtiness must give way to what’s in the glass. Pull over, you disillusioned dreamers: with no laws to break, no frissons of danger, let the mystification stop right now.

Since absinthe was legalized in the United States in 2007, it has gone from forbidden fruit to virulent weed. Once smuggled from Eastern Europe or procured from back-alley producers, absinthe is now just another bottle on the bar. Yet mystique continues as marketing.

To give absinthe its moment in the harsh light of day, the tasting panel sampled 20 bottles. Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Audrey Saunders, an owner of the Pegu Club on West Houston Street, and Pete Wells, editor of the Dining section, who writes about drinks.

So what makes absinthe absinthe? Essentially it is a neutral spirit infused with myriad herbs and botanicals, centering around anise, fennel and a specific type of wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, from which absinthe takes its name. This wormwood contains small amounts of thujone, a compound once thought to affect the mind. It’s understood now that hallucinations and other health issues attributed to overindulging in absinthe were more a result of alcohol poisoning due to the high alcohol content, typically 50 to 70 percent.

Few things demystify absinthe more than the daunting prospect of 20 glasses in front of you. For instance, all those nicknames — the green fairy, the green muse, the green torment, the green oblivion — might lead one to believe that absinthe is green, right? Often, but not always.

The absinthes offered numerous variations on green, from pale celadon and shimmering aquamarine to extra virgin olive oil to dizzyingly garish shades that don’t exist in nature outside of South Beach nightclubs. But one absinthe was turquoise, which is near enough to green, I suppose. Another was mouthwash blue. A few were completely clear. Those were from Switzerland and included our favorite in the tasting, Kübler. More on that soon enough.

What was plain to all of us was that absinthe, stripped of its mystique, can be wonderfully enjoyable but also confusing.

For example, the ritual of service: the slow drip of water, from an Art Nouveau fountain through a sugar cube held in a slotted spoon over the glass, seeping down into a pool of green like sweetened tears. Oops, again with the mystique.

Here’s what’s important to know: forget the sugar, remember the water. Despite the reverence today for vintage bottles of pre-prohibition absinthe, much of what was produced back in the old days was harsh and industrial. Sugar might have been a necessary addition to make it palatable. The absinthes in our tasting had enough natural (and possibly unnatural) sweetness that adding sugar was unnecessary. The quality of most of them was unexpectedly good.

“I was surprised by how few lousy ones there were,” said Pete, whose experiences with contraband absinthes had not always been pleasant.

Without water, though, almost any absinthe would be difficult to endure. Absinthe in general is simply too strong to drink undiluted. Of our 20 bottles, 13 were 60 percent alcohol or more. Not only do they require water, they require just the right amount, anywhere from three to five parts water to one part absinthe, the amount rising — usually but not always — in tandem with the original strength of each bottle.

The best method, we found, was to begin with a three-to-one ratio, and then, if the absinthe still tastes harsh, continue adding until a seductive balance is achieved. With too little water, for example, Lucid, No. 9 on our list, was hot and harsh at 62 percent alcohol. By slowly adding more to achieve the right balance, the Lucid became mellow and inviting.

Water not only changes the flavors, it almost magically alters the appearance of the absinthe. As you slowly add water, the liquid in the glass seems to thicken, and transforms into an opalescent pastel cloud. The French call this effect the louche (which has the wonderful double meaning of turbulent in French and disreputable in English). Technically, when absinthe is distilled, the anise and fennel oils dissolve into the alcohol. As the water dilutes the alcohol, it frees the oils from their molecular prison, and they form a cloudy suspension.

The louche effect occurs even with clear Swiss absinthes, like our No. 1, Kübler, which turned a brilliant white in the glass. It offered rich, warm anise and herbal flavors that were deliciously subtle rather than greatly complex.

Among our top absinthes, the Grande Absente, the Pernod and the Émile Pernot Vieux Pontarlier all were beautifully integrated, with balanced flavors centering on anise, licorice and fennel, augmented by herbs and citrus. The next rank, particularly the St. George — with a spider monkey on its label beating on a skull — and the Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, offered greater complexity, with more pronounced floral and herbal flavors, and less focus on anise. Absinthe connoisseurs often seem to prefer these to the bottles that we favored.

One Swiss absinthe, Mansinthe, distilled to the specifications of Marilyn Manson, was not clear but a more common shade of green. Its brininess divided the panel. It was our No. 10.

I mentioned that we had 20 absinthes in our tasting. Actually, we had 19, with one absinthe substitute, Absente, which was distilled in France using a different species of wormwood and marketed in the United States during the ban. It’s not absinthe, but we liked it very much, particularly its iridescent louche and straightforward but rich anise flavor. The same distiller now makes Grande Absente, an authentic absinthe, which was our No. 2 bottle.

As appealing as we found absinthe, we did not agree on its best role. Florence thought it would be a good aperitif, like a pastis, which is made with anise substitutes like Pernod or Ricard and blended with water to the same pearly result. I disagreed, thinking that absinthe’s herbal flavors made it a better digestif, settling the stomach after a meal, like Chartreuse or amaro. We all agreed that flaming absinthe cocktails are silly affectations.

While a little absinthe can be quite pleasant, a lot, as with any other strong spirit, will make you drunk. Perhaps, if you are of an Oscar Wilde bent, too much absinthe will do to you what it did to him: “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were,” he said in one of his many disquisitions on absinthe. “After the second you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Personally, I prefer how martinis affected Dorothy Parker:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
after four I’m under my host.

Tasting Report: A Worldly Spirit Revisits From Here and There


Kübler, Switzerland
★★★ ½
53 percent alcohol
Clear, turns brilliant white; mellow, lingering and deliciously subtle with a chorus of variations on anise and herbal flavors. (Importer: Altamar Brands, Corona del Mar, Calif.)

Grande Absente, France
69 percent alcohol
Rich, lively and seductive with complex, spicy flavors of licorice,
spices and fresh mint. (Crillon Importers, Paramus, N.J.)

Pernod Absinthe, France
68 percent alcohol
Shimmering, with complex, lingering flavors of anise, lemon balm
and citrus. (Pernod Ricard, Purchase, N.Y.)

Émile Pernot Vieux Pontarlier, France
65 percent alcohol
Iridescent, with well-integrated flavors of anise, mint and lemon.
(Tempus Fugit Spirits, San Francisco)

St. George Absinthe Verte, United States
★★ ½
60 percent alcohol
Highly perfumed, with aromas of flowers, chamomile and licorice.

Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, France
★★ ½
68 percent alcohol
Savory and almost saline, with lingering, toasty flavors of citrus,
mint, pine and fennel. (Viridian Spirits, Manhasset, N.Y.)

Obsello, Spain
★★ ½
50 percent alcohol
Lively, appealing aromas and flavors of licorice and fennel.
(Esmeralda Liquors, Manhasset, N.Y.)

La Clandestine, Switzerland
53 percent alcohol
Straightforward, with flavors of anise and lavender. (Viridian Spirits)

Lucid, France
62 percent alcohol
Gentle and well balanced with smoky anise and spice flavors.
(Viridian Spirits)

Mansinthe by Marilyn Manson, Switzerland
66.6 percent alcohol
Grassy and briny, with aromas of lemon, balsam and sweet anise. (Tempus Fugit Spirits)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ready Set Joe!

I wrote here about how I have found that I could make a good cup of coffee with my 12-cup drip-brew coffeemaker while using a lot less coffee than I've been using in my beloved Aerobie AeroPress.

The other day I found Melitta's Ready Set Joe Single Cup Coffee Brewer (uses #2 Melitta filters with Flavor Pores, either white or natural brown - $3.99/100) at the Kroger grocery store after looking for it at half a dozen other stores (and failing to find it or its larger sibling), so I snatched up two of them for $2.99 each, one for home and one for the office. All they had was black, but it also comes in red (and maybe other colors as well). (Note: The new Ready Set Joe design replaces the older version by adding openings that let you see how much water has dripped into the cup, instead of totally covering the top of the cup; it also eliminates the side coffee-cup-like handle.)

As much as I've liked my AeroPress, I find that the Melitta makes a better-tasting (IMO) cup of coffee, with less effort and less cleanup (and less coffee needed per cup). I currently use an AeroPress scoop (~37 ml, vs. 30 ml for standard 2 TBSP coffee measure), ground at drip grind, and slowly pour (and repour) hot water after it's boiled in my teakettle into the filter until I've created about a 10-11 oz. cup of coffee.  As the water drips through, gently keep pouring more water into the filter, being sure to wash down the grinds from the sides of the filter so all the coffee gets thoroughly brewed. Keep a second cup right next to the one you're brewing over so you can remove the Ready-Set-Joe when your cup has the 10-11 oz. you want and set it on top of the extra/overflow cup so it can keep dripping if it still has water in it.

I suspect that letting the water cool down a bit might make the coffee a little less bitter, if one prefers their coffee that way. Also, some suggest stirring the coffee slurry in the filter that you get after you first pour in the water. I don't know if this makes much of a difference if you slowly and carefully soak the grinds thoroughly. It can definitly foam up if the coffee is really freshly-roasted, so be careful as you fill the filter with water; the #2 filter is not very large, and you don't want it to overflow/overfill.

The nice thing about this system is that, like the AeroPress, it gives you total control over the coffee-making: i.e., the grind, the water temperature, and the brew/drip time. Automatic dripmakers largely take the water temperature control out of your hands, though some let you adjust the brew/drip time by an adjustable dial for the strength of the coffee. And make no mistake about it - the water temperature can make a huge difference in the taste. Brew two cups, one with water just after it boils in your tea kettle, and another after you wait 30 seconds after your hot water boils, and see how different they can taste. Some coffees taste better if brewed with hotter water; sometimes it depends on how old the coffee is - e.g., I may do a 20-second wait-to-pour with a fresh bag of beans, yet find that if I'm using the same beans 2 weeks later, a hotter water temperature is needed to make it taste better.

The paper filter, as in the AeroPress, absorbs the cholesterol-raising chemicals in coffee, yet the micropores (unlike the AeroPress) seem to (or supposedly) allow more of the coffee oils through, making for a better-tasting cup of coffee. All I know is that I like the coffee better than a French Press or the AeroPress.

Better-tasting coffee, at a better per-cup price. How cool is that!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Good Pasta, Less Water

How Much Water Does Pasta Really Need?

The Curious Cook
Published: February 24, 2009

SOME time ago, as I emptied a big pot of pasta water into the sink and waited for the fog to lift from my glasses, a simple question occurred to me. Why boil so much more water than pasta actually absorbs, only to pour it down the drain? Couldn’t we cook pasta just as well with much less water and energy? Another question quickly followed: if we could, what would the defenders of Italian tradition say?

After some experiments, I’ve found that we can indeed make pasta in just a few cups of water and save a good deal of energy. Not that much in your kitchen or mine — just the amount needed to keep a burner on high for a few more minutes. But Americans cook something like a billion pounds of pasta a year, so those minutes could add up.

My rough figuring indicates an energy savings at the stove top of several trillion B.T.U.s. At the power plant, that would mean saving 250,000 to 500,000 barrels of oil, or $10 million to $20 million at current prices. Significant numbers, though these days they sound like small drops in a very large pot.

The standard method for cooking pasta, found in Italian cookbooks and on pasta packages, is to heat to a rolling boil 4 to 6 quarts of well-salted water per pound of pasta. The usual rationales are that abundant water quickly recovers the boil when the pasta is added, gives the noodles room so that they don’t stick to one another, and dilutes the starch they release, so they don’t end up with a “gluey” surface.

To see which of these factors are really significant, I put a pound of spaghetti into a pot, added just 2 quarts of cold water and 2 teaspoons salt and turned on the heat. The water took about 8 minutes to reach the boil, during which I had to push the noodles around occasionally to keep them from sticking. They took another 10 minutes to cook through.

When I drained the pasta, it had the texture and saltiness I expected, seemed about as sticky as usual, and when tossed with a little oil, seemed perfectly normal.

So I tried reducing the water even further, to 1 1/2 quarts. I had to stir often because that’s not quite enough to keep all the pasta immersed all the time, but again the spaghetti came out fine.

Why can pasta cook normally in a small volume of water that starts out cold? Because the noodles absorb water only very slowly at temperatures much below the boil, so little happens to them in the few minutes it takes for the water to heat up. And no matter how starchy the cooking water is, the solid noodle surfaces themselves are starchier, and will be sticky until they’re lubricated by sauce or oil.

I described my method in e-mail messages to two of this country’s best-known advocates of Italian cuisine. Lidia Bastianich told me: “My grandmother would have thought of the idea surely as blasphemous. I think it is curious.” And Marcella Hazan said, “I am a very curious person, and I’m glad people are exploring new ways.” Both of them gave it a try.

Ms. Bastianich responded with a controlled experiment. She started spaghettini in pots of cold water and boiling water (4 quarts each instead of her usual 6) side by side and found the cold-water version lacking in the gradation of texture she looks for. As for the flavor, she said “I felt that the cold-water pasta had lost some of the nutty flavor of a good semolina pasta cooked properly.”

Ms. Bastianich agreed that using less water is O.K. “Yes, I think it’s doable to reduce the cooking water by one third,” from 6 quarts per pound to 4. “But please ‘butta la pasta’ in boiling water.”

Ms. Hazan tried starting a batch of shell pasta in a somewhat reduced amount of cold water, and found that it needed constant stirring to avoid sticking. “Maybe you save heat energy, but you also have to work a lot harder,” she told me in a follow-up call. “It’s not so convenient. I don’t know if I would cook pasta this way.”

Heartened by the experts’ willingness to experiment, I went back to work, this time starting with hot water. I found that it’s possible to butta la pasta in 1 1/2 or 2 quarts of boiling water without having the noodles stick. Short shapes just require occasional stirring. Long strands and ribbons need a quick wetting with cold water just before they go into the pot, then frequent stirring for a minute or two.

Except for capellini, which cooks too quickly, I find that both the cold and hot versions of the minimal-water method work well with the common shapes I’ve tried, with whole wheat pasta, and even fresh pasta, as long as any surface flour is rinsed off first.

I prefer starting with cold water, because the noodles don’t stick together at all as they go into the pot, and because I don’t notice a difference in flavor once they’re drained and sauced. It’s true, though, that no matter what temperature you start with, this method requires more attention. That’s a disadvantage when you’re cooking several things at once.

If you cook pasta often, try experimenting with different starting temperatures and amounts of water. You can even cook pasta in the manner of a risotto, adding the liquid in small doses and stirring constantly. Be sure to use a pot broad enough for the noodles to lie flat on the bottom, and to reduce the salt for smaller volumes of water.

There’s one other dividend to cooking pasta in minimal water that I hadn’t anticipated: the leftover pasta water. It’s thick, but you can still easily ladle it out by tilting the pan. And it’s very pleasant tasting: not too salty, lots of body, and lots of semolina flavor. Whole-wheat pasta water is surprisingly delicious.

Italian recipes often suggest adding pasta water to adjust the consistency of a sauce, but this thick water is almost a sauce in itself. When I anointed a batch of spaghetti with olive oil and then tossed it with a couple of ladles-full, the oil dispersed into tiny droplets in the liquid, and the oily coating became an especially creamy one.

Restaurant cooks prize thick pasta water. In “Heat,” his best-selling account of working in Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo, Bill Buford describes how in the course of an evening, water in the pasta cooker goes from clear to cloudy to muddy, a stage that is “yucky-sounding but wonderful,” because the water “behaves like a sauce thickener, binding the elements and flavoring the pasta with the flavor of itself.”

Mr. Buford suggests that the muddy pasta water should be bottled and sold, because home cooking never produces anything like it. Cooking one batch of pasta in minimal water can’t smooth out the starch as completely or generate those long-cooked flavors. But it does make pasta water good enough to sip.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dollars and Sense: Drip Brew Vs. AeroPress (Part 2)

Earlier I wrote a comparison of the cost-per-cup of drip-brew versus AeroPress.

During the holidays I made coffee in my 12-cup GE Drip-Brew coffeemaker. I used one 30 ml (2 TBSP) coffee measure of beans (ground for drip - i.e., halfway between espresso and French press) for every two 5-oz. cups of coffee = 30 ml beans per 10 oz. cup of coffee = 3 ml beans per 1 oz. coffee.

(I also did the same with my Hamilton Beach Brewmaster, but the coffee tasted slightly bitter; I suspect the HB heats the water to a higher temperature.)

Translating this to the 38 ml AeroPress scoop should give about 12.7 oz. coffee per AeroPress scoop. I made an 11 oz. cup with 1 AeroPress scoop of ground coffee (halfway between espresso and drip), stirring and letting the coffee "brew" for 1 minute, rather than the usual 10-20 sec. recommended, in order to extract more coffee flavor. It wasn't bad, and almost brings the AeroPress cost down to the price of using the drip-brew coffeemaker.

Maybe I'll look for a Melitta 1-4 cup cone for a truer "drip" brew.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stout Stout

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.

This stuff is good! (But if you don't like dark beer or stouts, you may turn your nose up at at - or it may make you change your mind about stouts.) But don't take my word for it. Google for reviews and read what beer-drinkers say.

The flavors are so complex, I have no idea what to pair with it. Someone has recommended pouring it over vanilla ice cream. Coffee, chocolate, malt - and if you pour it straight in the glass, a head that looks like the smoke plume on Mount St. Helens when it erupted.

$8.99 a 4-pack, and worth every penny. 9% alcohol, so drink it slowly and in moderation.

From the good folks at North Coast Brewing Company.


NB: It tastes better cold than warm, IMO. When served too warm (even at the preferred or recommended temperature), the alcohol taste begins overpowering the other flavors.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dollars and Sense: Drip Brew Vs. AeroPress

The AeroPress scoop holds about 36cc, versus 30cc in a standard 2TB coffee measure.

I have been grinding and using 2 AeroPress scoops for about 10 oz. of coffee = 1 scoop per 5 oz. coffee = 0.20 AP scoop per 1 oz. coffee.

Last night, because we had several guests, I used the drip coffeemaker. I used 6 coffee measures of beans (= 5 AeroPress scoops), and ground the beans for drip grind (versus the finer grind I use for the AeroPress), and added water for 9 cups (= 45 oz.), which equals 5 AeroPress scoops for 45 oz. coffee = 1 AP scoop per 9 oz. coffee. It tasted pretty good.

This is just slightly over half (i.e., 55%) as much coffee per brewed cup, i.e., 0.11 AP scoop per 1 oz. coffee.

I'll have to make a 9 oz. AP cup using just one AP scoop to see how it tastes. Maybe I've been making my coffee too strong.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Breakfast Meats

Hebrew National 97% Fat Free Beef Franks make a great low-fat breakfast sausage. 45 calories per 1-frank (49g) serving (15 calories from fat), compared to MorningStar Farms Vegetarian Sausage Links at 80 calories (25 calories from fat) per 2-link (45g) serving.

Brown them slowly in a frying pan like a link sausage. Their spices make them taste more like a breakfast sausage than a hot dog, esp. when pan-grilled this way.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Perfect Pizza!

Easy Steps to the Perfect Pizza From Scratch


Making pizza is a great way for a family or circle of friends to get together and create a meal. This pizza is hard not to love: a crispy crust topped with slices of good prosciutto, spinach, olives, and one of my favorite cheeses, Manchego from Spain. I add the prosciutto after baking because the ham can become saltier when it is heated. To make it from scratch start at Step 1 the night before. Or save time with ready-made dough and begin at step 5.

Make the day before. Makes 4 Pizza Shells

1 cup warm water, 95 to 115 degrees
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I prefer Lucini brand.)
3-1/2 cups all-purpose or multigrain flour
Pinch of kosher salt

Step 1: In a food processor, combine the warm water, yeast, honey, and olive oil and mix well. Process until the yeast dissolves and the mixture is bubbly. Add the flour and pulse. Add a pinch of salt and pulse again. Run the food processor until the dough makes a ball.

Step 2: Remove and place on a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes.

Step 3: Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover well, and refrigerate overnight.

Makes 1 (8- or 9-inch) pizza

1 Easy Pizza Dough recipe (see above) or 1 ready-made pizza dough
2 tablespoons pitted and sliced black or green olives
1/4 cup shredded manchego cheese
1/4 cup fresh spinach
12 slices prosciutto
Olive oil for drizzling (I prefer Lucini brand.)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Step 4: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a pizza stone in the oven.

Step 5: Remove the pizza dough from the refrigerator. Divide the it into fourths. Roll out one of the pieces to 8 or 9 inches in diameter. (Or use ready-made dough.) Place the dough on a lightly floured pizza peel or baking sheet with no sides.

Step 6: Top the dough with the olives and manchego cheese. Bake on the hot stone for 20 to 25 minutes, checking periodically. When the dough has a nice crust, remove it from the oven and place the spinach on top.

Step 7: Top with the prosciutto, then drizzle with oil, and season with pepper. Cut into four pices and serve immediately.

Note: Tightly wrap the remaining three pieces of pizza dough in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator or freezer for future use.

Monday, April 21, 2008

No-Knead Bread: Variations And Improvements

From a comment in my previous post:
Unfortunately, Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe is pretty flawed; it works for some, but a lot of us followed it to the letter and produced flat, gummy discs. Cook's Illustrated recently published a corrected version that is total perfection--*that's* the one you should use.
I found the following comments re: the Cook's Illustrated variations/fixes for Lahey's No-Knead Bread recipe (The CI site requires a subscription):

Cook's Illustrated does their thing with No Knead Bread

Looks like they made some minor changes that resulted in a better-tasting loaf. A little vinegar, a little beer, and a quick knead (which also reduced the rise time from 12 to 8 hours).

Cook's Illustrated this month has an article on No-Knead Bread. Instead of 1-1/2 c. water, they used 3/4 c. plus 2 T. water. Then they added white vinegar (1 T.) and a little beer (1/4 c. plus 2 T.) to add a little more taste.

It was great, probably the best I've made. I used Bud Light, since that was the only mild-flavored lager I had. CI suggested mild lager and we usually have ales or porters on hand.

A great suggestion from Cook's Illustrated is to let the dough do its second rising after shaping on a 12 x 18 piece of parchment paper sprayed with Pam and placed inside a 10" skillet. Let it rise there for 2 hours lightly covered with plastic wrap. The skillet keeps it from spreading out too much. Then when your cooking pot is hot (this time I used a 5qt. Mario Batali Dutch Oven) lift up the parchment paper and set the whole thing, dough and parchment, in the pot. Cover and bake, 30 minutes covered, and 20-30 uncovered. When the loaf is done, just lift out the parchment and the bread comes out easily.

I tried the basic "New" recipe from CI about a week and a half ago and I did think the beer and vinegar added to the flavor. CI has you doing minimal kneading - I still did the one bowl, fold the dough in the bowl method with no kneading. I have plans to try their WW and rye variations, too. Here are variations that CI mentioned:

Olive, Rosemary and Parm
Add 4 ounces (about 2 cups) grated Parm and 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves to the flour mixture in step 1.
Add 1/2 c chopped green olives with the water.

Seeded Rye
Replace 1-3/8 cups (7 ounces) AP flour with rye flour and add 2 T caraway seeds in step 1.

WW Bread
Replace 1 cup (5 ounces) AP flour with WW flour. Stir 2T honey into the water in step 1.

Cranberry Pecan Bread
Add 1/2 cup dried cranberries and 1/2 c toasted pecan halves to the flour in step 1.

Because of my dry climate I used 4 ounces of beer (Samuel Adams Boston Lager here) and a little more water. My loaf got a quite dark crust (tasted great but not so photogenic) so I didn't take a photo, but it was good.

Just this past weekend I made a No Knead bread. I was in a time crunch, if I had waited the 12 hrs for the first rise, then allow 2 more hrs. for the 2nd rise, I would have had to bake it off @2am. I didn't schedule it correctly, for sure.

Here's what I did & it worked for me. In a 2 cup glass measuring cup with 1-1/4 cups of water & placed in the microwave to boil, then placed the hot cup in the corner of the microwave. The "NKD" was in a plastic bowl w/its cover, I then placed the bowl as far away to the opposite corner of the MW as possible, there was approx 6" between the two. I did not open the "MW" door until I saw that it had risen.

An additional factor was, the oven was on for a good part of the afternoon. With the "MW" sitting above the stove, it may have been getting radiant heat to some extent, as well. If the oven wasn't on, then I probably would have reheated the water after 1.5 hrs., of course removing the bowl of dough.

In approx. 3 hrs. it was doubled, then placed the dough in the pot for the second rise. It all worked just fine for me. Saving a lot of time that I didn't have that particular day.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The World's Two Easiest Breads

From The Week Magazine:

Recipe of the Week: The world's two easiest breads

There’s now no excuse not to bake your own bread, said Nick Fox in The New York Times. A year ago, a columnist for this newspaper, Mark Bittman, published what we called "the easiest bread recipe possible." The no-knead recipe was created by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in SoHo. The response from readers "was so fervid you would have thought he'd revealed a foolproof way to pick winning lottery numbers." People desperately wanted to bake bread at home, and that recipe showed them how.

Recently Dr. Jeff Hertzberg, a physician from Minneapolis, developed an even easier bread-making technique. His recipe makes Lahey's method look "like molecular gastronomy." Both use 30 percent to 50 percent more liquid than most recipes that require kneading. Lahey's recipe, because it uses only a small amount of yeast, requires at least 18 hours of fermentation and often results in a very loose dough. Dr. Hertzberg's dough rises more quickly, and easily forms into a loaf that can be baked in a pan or on a hot stone.

Recipes of the week

No-Knead Bread (You can read more about this recipe in my previous post). Also see these Variations And Improvements.

Time: about 1-1/2 hours, plus 14 to 20 hours' rising time

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1-5/8 cups water
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1-1/4 tsp salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In large bowl combine flour, yeast, salt. Add 1-5/8 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours (preferably about 18), at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour work surface; place dough on it. Sprinkle with a little more flour, and fold dough over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into ball. Generously coat cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; put dough on towel, seam-side down. Dust with more flour, bran, or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel; let rise for about 2 hours. When ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up. (It may look like a mess, but that’s okay.) Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid, bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on rack.

Yield: One 1-1/2-pound loaf.

Simple Crusty Bread
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007)

Time: About 45 minutes, plus about 3 hours’ resting and rising

6-1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, more for dusting dough
4 cups water
1-1/2 tbsp yeast
1-1/2 tbsp kosher salt

In large bowl, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water (about 100 degrees). Stir in flour, mixing until there are no dry patches. Dough will be quite loose. Cover, but not with airtight lid. Let dough rise at room temperature at least 2 hours (and up to 5). Bake at this point or refrigerate, covered, for as long as two weeks.

When ready to bake, sprinkle a little flour on dough. Cut off grapefruit-size piece with serrated knife. Turn dough in hands to lightly stretch surface, creating rounded top and lumpy bottom. Put dough on pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal; let rest 40 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough or refrigerate it.

Place broiler pan on bottom of oven. Place baking stone on middle rack and turn oven to 450 degrees; heat stone at that temperature for 20 minutes. Dust dough with flour and slash top with serrated knife three times. Slide onto stone. Pour 1 cup hot water into broiler pan and shut oven quickly to trap steam. Bake until well browned, about 30 minutes. Cool completely.

Yield: 4 loaves.

Coffee: Why You Should Use Paper Filters

As you can read from the links in this post, paper filters eliminate almost all of the LDL-raising diterpenes from coffee. The French Press method, considered to be the "ideal" way of making coffee, is thus not good as far as cholesterol is concerned, and metal (gold) filters also don't protect you from these diterpenes.

While you can rinse and reuse the AeroPress filters, the amount of diterpenes increases, per this post. (The test rinsed the filter after 10 uses, and it showed that a rinsed filter resulted in nearly double the diterpenes of a new filter; I don't know if rinsing after one pressing would show the same increase in the subsequent pressing.) Since the filters cost only 1 cent each, it probably makes sense to use a new filter each time, which is what I'll now do.

(This suggests to me that espresso, being unfiltered, is also not good for LDL levels.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

AeroPress: Less Coffee, More Taste

Alan Adler, Inventor of the Aerobie AeroPress

As many have commented, the AeroPress uses more coffee per serving than other methods (e.g., French Press). I earlier posted my coffee-stretching/saving solution.

Alan Adler, the inventor of the AeroPress (and the Aerobie Flying Ring - pictured behind him), has this to say about getting more from the AeroPress:
For those who want more extraction from the AeroPress, here are some ways to accomplish that:

Use finer grind, that requires a VERY GENTLE pressing. That in turn takes longer and you get more extraction from the fine grind AND from the longer wet time. My experience is that you can push extraction up to 25% this way with no increase in acidity or bitterness.

Press more water through the bed of coffee. That both extracts more and reduces the strength of brew trapped in the puck. My experience is that this noticeably increases bitterness. But rasqual [a CoffeeGeek Forum poster] likes this approach.

Use hotter water. This may be better anyway for light roasts -- even if you're not seeking to reduce coffee expense.

Have fun, do a lot of tasting comparisons. They needn't be blind, but side-by-side comparisons are recommended.

Best regards,

I thus may tinker further with my procedure. Since I already use my grinder's finest setting, I'll try a combination of longer extraction times and less water (I currently press all 10 oz or so through a 1-scoop serving; maybe I'll cut that in half to about 5 oz. of hot water).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Great Cup Of Coffee!

Thursday night (4/3/08) I stopped by Texas Roast (Highland Village) and picked up a pound of fresh coffee beans because some friends were coming over for dessert and coffee.

I was told the coffee had just been roasted that day or the night before, and it must have been true, because it was still degassing (i.e., expelling the CO2 that roasting causes the beans to give off), for when I brewed some AeroPress coffee with it, it foamed all over the place!

I bought the Fireside Roast, and in the words of Agent Dale Cooper, it makes "a damn fine cup of coffee."

Two days later I made a cup with beans I had ground Thursday night, and it was still fresh-tasting and great!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Better Burgers!

A sun-dried tomato and feta stuffed burger.

(I know that Lent is a horrible time to post this!)

A better burger, made at home

Mix it, stuff it, top it, elevate it to gourmet status
01:06 PM CDT on Wednesday, April 11, 2007
By TINA DANZE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Remember when burgers came only two ways: with or without cheese?

Back then, the better burgers hailed from greasy-spoon dives, while the better restaurants avoided them completely. How times have changed. As new ingredients continue to creep into the standard recipe, hamburgers have scaled the status ladder, gracing menus at swanky spots and fetching handsome prices.

If designer burgers can be cash cows for some restaurants, how about giving your own burger a makeover? It's not an expensive proposition.

Start by seasoning the meat with more than just salt and pepper. Chopped herbs, minced onions, garlic and bottled sauces add flavor when mixed with the raw ground meat.

Next, stuff your burgers with crumbled cheese (such as blue cheese or feta) or grated cheese (cheddar, fontina or Jarlsberg). Putting cheese inside the burger, rather than on top of it, results in a moister, juicier burger, since the cheese melts into the meat. Don't limit stuffings to cheeses, either. Sautéed mushrooms and earthy, ready-made pestos make good fillings, too.

But there's no sense in gussying up a burger without the right meat. And it need not be expensive, but it should be at least 15 percent to 20 percent fat. Any leaner, and the burgers will be dry and bland.

Ground chuck is widely acclaimed as the best choice, winning out over ground beef, ground sirloin and ground round. Unfortunately, package labels don't necessarily match actual content. Unless your butcher grinds the meat for packaging, he can't guarantee that you're purchasing 100 percent ground chuck.

The good news is that most supermarket butchers will grind a chuck roast for you on request.

If you want to venture beyond beef, try ground lamb, or mix ground lamb with ground chuck. But don't count on turkey or chicken for a juicy burger - unless you've acquired a taste for drier patties.

Finally, don't skimp on the toppings and buns. Besides the traditional lettuce and tomato, sautéed red and green bell peppers, caramelized onions and roasted green chiles make excellent toppings. Mixing other seasonings into mayonnaise boosts its flavor.

And a host of bottled sauces - teriyaki grilling sauce or barbecue sauce - can replace ketchup .

Buns can range from bakery-made hamburger buns (such as the small ones sold at Central Market) to rosemary focaccia bread (Whole Foods Market) and Poppy Seed Kaiser Rolls (Minyard bakeries).

You can follow our recipes for Blue Cheese-Stuffed Burgers, Mushroom-Stuffed Teriyaki Burgers, Mushroom-Stuffed Cheese Burgers and Feta-Stuffed Lamb Burgers or create your own versions, drawing inspiration from suggested combos.

Each recipe uses 1 pound of ground meat to make four small burgers, which require small buns.

If you want a heftier burger - big enough for the commercially made hamburger buns - use 1 1/2 pounds of ground meat.

Tina Danze is a Dallas free-lance writer.


1 pound ground beef chuck

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup finely minced white onion (may use food processor)

2 tablespoons finely minced parsley

1 cup crumbled blue cheese (Gorgonzola is a good choice)

Combine meat, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, onion and parsley.

Form the meat into 8 patties, about 3/8-inch thick. Place an equal amount of blue cheese on half of the patties, pressing the cheese in slightly with your fingers. Cover the stuffing with remaining patties. Seal the edges by pressing them together with your fingers. Refrigerate.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Grill the patties uncovered for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes per side for charcoal grills, flipping once, until internal temperature reaches 160 F. (For gas grills, cook covered 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes per side.)

Serve on small hamburger buns or French bread with tomato, red onion and cooked bacon slices with lettuce or spinach leaves. Makes 4 servings.

PER PATTY (without bread): Cal 413 (62% fat) Fat 28 g (14 g sat) Trace fiber Chol 118 mg Sodium 992 mg Carb 3 g Calcium 197 mg

SOURCE: Tina Danze


1 pound ground lamb

1/4 cup finely minced cilantro

3 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves

1/4 cup finely minced or coarsely grated red onion

1 teaspoon Thai red chile sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried crumbled oregano

3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Sautéed peppers and onions (recipe follows)

Combine lamb, cilantro, mint, onion, chile sauce, cumin and oregano in a bowl.

Form meat into 8 thin patties, about 3/8-inch thick. Place an equal amount of feta cheese on half of the patties. Cover the stuffing with the remaining patties. Seal the edges by pressing them together with your fingers. Refrigerate.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Grill the patties uncovered for about

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes per side for charcoal grills, flipping once, until internal temperature reaches 160 F. (For gas grills, cook covered for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes per side).

Serve on small hamburger buns with sautéed peppers and onions.

Makes 4 servings.

Sautéed peppers and onions: Slice 1 red and 1 green bell pepper lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Halve a white onion from root to tip and slice into 1/4-inch half-moons. Sauté peppers and onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until softened. May be prepared ahead of time, refrigerated, then reheated in a foil packet on the grill.

PER PATTY (without bread): Cal 459 (63% fat) Fat 32 g (14 g sat)

Chol 135 mg Sodium 449 mg Carb 9 g Calcium 180 mg

SOURCE: Tina Danze


1 pound ground chuck

3 tablespoons minced scallion, white and green part

1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mushroom filling (recipe follows)

Combine ground chuck, scallion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and black pepper in a bowl.

Form meat into 8 thin patties, 3/8-inch thick. Place an equal amount of mushroom filling on half of the patties, leaving a margin around the edge. Cover the stuffing with the remaining patties. Seal the edges by pressing them together with your fingers. Refrigerate.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Grill the patties uncovered for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes per side for charcoal grills, flipping once, until internal temperature reaches 160 F. (For gas grills, cook covered for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes per side.)

Serve on small, sesame seed hamburger buns. Makes 4 servings.

Mushroom filling: Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a skillet. Sauté 1/2 cup chopped onion with 1 tablespoon garlic in the skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add 3/4 pound chopped mushrooms, and cook until the mushrooms have released their juices and the juices have evaporated (about 7 minutes). Add 4 tablespoons minced scallion, 3 tablespoons oyster sauce and 1 tablespoon rice vinegar and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Cool completely before stuffing and cooking the burgers .

PER PATTY (without bread): Cal 326 (58% fat) Fat 21 g (6 g sat)

Fiber 2 g Chol 70 mg Sodium 805 mg Carb 10 g Calcium 27 mg

SOURCE: Tina Danze


1 pound ground chuck

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

3/4 cup grated Jarlsberg or Gruyère cheese

Mushroom stuffing (recipe follows)

Combine ground chuck, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and cheese in a bowl. Form meat into 8 thin patties, 3/8-inch thick. Place an equal amount of mushroom stuffing on half of the patties, leaving a margin around the edge. Cover the stuffing with the remaining patties. Seal the edges by pressing them together with your fingers. Refrigerate.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Grill patties uncovered for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes per side for charcoal grills, flipping once, until internal temperature reaches 160 F. (For gas grills, cook covered for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes per side.)

Serve on small hamburger buns or french bread with your choice of condiments. Makes 4 servings.

Mushroom stuffing: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Put in 3/4 pound chopped mushrooms and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Put in 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced onion, and 2 tablespoons dry vermouth or sherry. Stir and cook until mushrooms have released their juices, and the juices have evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cool completely before stuffing and cooking burgers.

PER PATTY (without bread): Cal 384 (61% fat) Fat 26 g (13 g sat) Fiber 1 g Chol 107 mg Sodium 705 mg Carb 6 g Calcium 224 mg

SOURCE: Adapted from The Complete Meat Cookbook


Flavored mayonnaises

•Mix 1 to 2 seeded and minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce with 1/2 cup mayonnaise.

•Add 1 to 11/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger to 1/2 cup mayonnaise.

•Combine 1 part herb, olive, red bell pepper or sun-dried tomato pesto with 1 part mayonnaise or to taste.

•Combine equal parts finely crumbled blue cheese and mayonnaise.

•Combine Dijon mustard with mayonnaise.

•Mix 2 tablespoons minced cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice with 1/2 cup mayonnaise.

•Mix horseradish or wasabi mustard with mayonnaise to taste.

•Mix 1 teaspoon curry powder with 1 cup mayonnaise or to taste.

Alternatives to plain ketchup

•Steak sauces

•Bottled Asian sauces (Thai peanut sauce, teriyaki grilling sauce)

•Barbecue sauces

•Jerk seasoning finishing sauces for the grill

•Specialty ketchups, such as chipotle or jalapeño

About mustards

Dozens of mustards grace the grocery shelves these days, from herbed mustards, cranberry mustard and champagne mustard, to Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam mustards. Central Market carries the widest selection, but the big chain supermarkets also carry an amazing variety.


Stuffing burgers

•Use clean hands to mix ingredients into the raw meat.

•Don't overwork the meat or else the patty will be too dense.

•If using a cooked filling, such as mushrooms, be sure to cool the filling completely before stuffing the burgers .

•Stuffed patties may be prepared 1 hour ahead of grilling and refrigerated until cooking time. T.D.


Other fillings for stuffed burgers (quantities are for 1 pound of ground meat divided into 4 small burgers)

•1/2 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (or use sun-dried tomato pesto) mixed with 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese.

•1/4 cup basil pesto mixed with 1 cup mozzarella cheese.

•2 strips cooked, crumbled bacon mixed with 1 cup cheddar cheese.

•3/4 cup Central Market's truffle mushroom spread (sold in bulk in the refrigerated case).


•Keep ground meat and raw hamburger patties refrigerated, especially if you form your burger patties before the fire is ready.

•Wash your hands before and after handling the meat.

•Thoroughly wash all surfaces that come into contact with raw meat.

•Do not cook burgers to rare or medium rare. If you're uncertain about doneness, invest in an instant-read thermometer, and cook until the internal temperature registers 160 F. T.D.


Preparing the grill

Heat coals in a chimney fire starter until they are covered with gray ash. Spread the coals over the bottom of the grill. Set the cooking rack in place, and preheat the grill, covered, for 5 minutes.

If using a gas grill, preheat the grill with all burners set to high and the lid down for 15 minutes. Use a wire brush to scrape the cooking grate clean. Oil the grate by dipping a small wad of paper towels in vegetable oil, and holding the wad with tongs, wipe the grill rack.

Cooking the burgers Cook over a medium-hot grill (test by placing your hand 5 inches above the grate; you should be able to hold it there for 3 to 4 seconds). Place the burgers on the hot grate, and sear the first side (this may take 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 minutes). You want the burger to develop a crust on the outside. Don't flip the burgers repeatedly - one turn per side is enough. Don't press down on the burgers with a spatula - it squeezes out the juice and dries them out. When the first side is seared and crusted, flip and cook the other side. If you are using a gas grill, cook covered for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 minutes per side.

SOURCE: American Classics