Thursday, March 22, 2007

Make Your Burgers Taste Even Better

We all know how to make a hamburger, but some burgers are better than others.

When the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine were working on 'The Best Recipe' (Boston Common Press, $29.95), they wanted to know the secret to making not just a better burger but the best burger.

Here are some tips, from them and from others:

o Use ground chuck, preferably a chuck roast you've cajoled the butcher into grinding for you. Or you can grind it yourself at home in a food processor.

Make sure the meat is cold, cut into small (roughly 3/4 inch) chunks and process in small batches.

It also helps to chill the bowl and the blade in the freezer for 30 minutes.

~ Eighty percent lean meat is best; more fat and the burger will be greasy; less and it won't be as tender and juicy.

~ Season meat before shaping it into patties.

~ If you're planning cheeseburgers, an alternative to a slice of cheese on top is to grate the cheese directly into the raw beef.

~ Divide the meat into (6-ounce) portions, toss it from hand to hand to form a ball and press it into a patty with your fingertips to avoid overworking the meat.

~ The perfect burger has a crisp, flavorful crust and a moist, tender interior.

Grilling and pan-searing, especially in a cast-iron skillet, can produce these qualities as long as the grill rack or pan is hot when you start.

~ Don't press down while the burgers cook. It squeezes out the juice and makes them dry.

~ Don't flip constantly. Once on each side should do it.

~ To avoid burgers with that puffy domed shape that allows condiments to slide off, form a slight depression in the center of each patty.

On the grill, the center will puff up on its own and the burger will be more uniform.

from the "Meat Cookbook," by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly;

article courtesy Mercury News wire services.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Your Astrological Food Profile

Eating is a universal activity. Every sun sign has a different attitude and approach to the business of eating. See if you can recognize yourself and your own unique relationship to food.

Aries: Arians like to be first and they like to stir things up, but their follow-through abilities are suspect. They would do well to prepare something exciting but also quick so they don't abandon the recipe mid-stream. Whatever they want, they want it now, so if you've invited an Arian to dinner, make sure you have plenty of hors-d'oeuvres available as soon as they walk in the door.

Taurus: Taureans are known for their fondness of luxury, sensuality and rich food. They will eat anything but prefer foods that are expensive and decadent. Champagne, caviar, truffles and smoked salmon make Taureans happy and content. They love romantic dinners. The flip side of this self-indulgence is a tendency to gain weight. Taureans must strive to go easy on the good life and go for an occasional walk instead.

Gemini: Variety is very important to Geminis in every area of life and food is no exception. Buffets are a favorite as they offer the opportunity to load up the plate with a little of this and a tad of that. Boredom is anathema to Geminis so dinner must include not only a variety of foods but also stimulating conversation. As cooks, they are the pioneers. They like to experiment. If you are a guest at a Gemini's dinner table, expect the unexpected.

Cancer: You'd think most Cancers were practically born in the kitchen. They are equally at home being the nurturer or nurtured. They love being fed, especially when sick. Bring them homemade soup and toast (that's what Mom did) and they are yours forever. They are equally soothed by feeding others. The only time they become crabby on the subject of food is when there isn't enough.

Leo: Leos, the undisputed kings and queens of the zodiac, are most comfortable in the fanciest restaurant in town. They are more interested in how nicely their food is served than in what they actually eating, though their appetites are huge. Being generous, they love to pick up restaurant tabs and share good food with their loved ones. If going to their house, expect quite a show. It's not that all Leos like to show-off, but it's a rare one that doesn't enjoy an appreciative audience.

Virgo: Some people consider Virgos to be a tiny bit uptight about what they eat. Virgos will tell you they don't care what they eat as long as it is 100% all natural, organic, whole-grain and sugar free. They feel better eating that way. This is really their business, but a problem often arises because they also feel better when you eat that way. Virgos not only want to take care of themselves, they want to take care of you too. Don't fight them. It's impossible. Besides don't you feel better having eaten all that brown rice, tofu and greens?

Libra: Libras are the most gracious hosts and hostesses and look good while doing it. They like nice, beautiful food served in a tranquil, harmonious setting. They enjoy small and lovely embellishments; delicate china, lacy linens and silver trays. If you are the host, be sure to feed them a rich dessert: most Libras have a self-indulgent side and will not decline souffles, cream puffs or Napoleons.

Scorpio: Scorpios tend to be dark, intense and mysterious. They need to eat like the rest of us mere mortals but their willpower and dedication concerning food can be astounding. Once they set their mind to something, whether it's sticking to a Spartan diet or creating a traditional ten-course Moroccan meal, they will succeed. They have few fears, food related or otherwise and can often be found digging into a meal of squid stewed in its own ink or risking their lives by tasting the sometimes poisonous blowfish.

Sagittarius: Sagittariuses, the adventurers of the zodiac will try anything as long as it's exciting. They are the pathfinders in foreign travel and you'll often find them exploring cuisine's of exotic countries or thumbing through obscure cook books. They make enthusiastic, lively dinner guests. They tend to eat a lot, especially when spinning tales during dinner, so be sure there's enough pad Thai or bouillabaisse to go around.

Capricorn: Capricorns are traditional 'meat and potato' men and women. They often appear aloof, a mask for their shyness and uncertainty. They are always grateful for the comforting and familiar. Although they usually amass a nice nest egg during their working lives, it can be difficult for them to splurge on luxuries like nice restaurants. This creates a conflict because they are attracted to the 'good things in life.' Cook them a fancy dinner. Better yet, take them out and spring for the bill. They will be most grateful.

Aquarius: Is it new, different, unusual? If not, Aquarians probably won't notice it. They don't follow trends. They create them. Their eating habits can be erratic, like their schedules. When they eat by themselves, they often consume some downright weird food combinations and can sometimes be found to eat breakfast at dinner time and vice versa.

Pisces: Most of these sensitive souls are vegetarians in their hearts because they feel pain at the thought of killing anything just so they can eat. They are a gentle bunch and prefer dining quietly, perhaps with soothing background music. Like Aquarians they tend to forget to eat at times. If they invite you to dinner, arrive early in case they forget because they went off to help someone.

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