ilovecheeseburgers.com

IMG_7958Today is National Cheeseburger Day.

Seriously.

There’s a National Cheeseburger Day.

Which begs the question, ‘What other weird celebratory days are out there?’

 

I found this nifty little site that will tell you what you should be celebrating 24/7. It’s called daysoftheyear.com. Simple enough, right? And funny.

I checked what I missed out on yesterday: Constitution Day. It’s a logical choice because yesterday marked the anniversary of the signing of our constitution way back in 1787. I actually felt gypped out on that one, like there should have been more hoopla about it. I know Obama is busy right now, but come on, someone should have scheduled in a little tribute, a flag salute, some type of cake? Something.

 

Tomorrow is Talk Like A Pirate Day, which, of course, makes me doubt the legitimacy of this site altogether. If my daughter were looking over my shoulder right now, I’d be in big trouble. She’d remind me of the zillions of times I’ve reprimanded her for the tidbits of outrageous statements she regularly spews while navigating the Internet autobahn:

Cosmic rays from outer space often cause glitches in your electronics.

You replace every single particle in your body every seven years, which means that you are literally not the same person you were seven years ago.

If you could drive straight up, you’d be in outer space in one hour.

 

“I read about it online!” she asserts, feverishly tapping away at her iPhone.

 

“Check your sources, always check your sources,” I reply in my best Walter Cronkite voice.

 

I just won’t tell her why I’ll be calling everyone matey tomorrow, or why I may be sporting an eye patch. I’ll redirect things with National Cheeseburger Day. That’s like shinning a gold coin in front of any teenager.

 

I love learning about National Cheeseburger Day. It’s one allotted day to bypass salads or wraps and go for the kill. It does seem primordial, biting down on a huge, juicy, dripping patty of meat and oozing cheese nestled between two fluffy, grill-toasted buns. There’s some sort of hormone released chomping on that, I’m sure. If you did a brain scan at that precise moment, I guarantee your brain would light up like a Christmas tree, all in a good way. Something associated with cavemen and survival. I’ll have to Google that later. And even if I find the answer on some shady site, say ilovecheeseburgers.com, I’m going to own that truth, if only, at least, for today.

Happy National Cheeseburger Day!

Old-Fashioned Cheeseburger

You need the best meat for this, that’s all there is to it.

Ingredients

  • 1 lbs. ground meat (if you can get a mixture of sirloin & chuck, great!)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • slice of your favorite cheese
  • fixings: tomatoes, lettuce, onion, pickles, mayo, mustard, ketchup

Instructions

  1. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until transparent, 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Place in a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Combine well. (Take off the rings and dive in there!)
  2. Form patties (this should equal out to 4-6 patties, depending on how hefty you like 'em) and place on a grill or preheated grill pan. Grill over moderately high heat until well-browned on the bottom, 5 minutes. Flip and add cheese. Grill another 4 minutes, max!
  3. Throw buns (I like brioche buns!) on the grill until warmed through (20 seconds or so) and assemble your burger with all your favorite fixings.
  4. Makes 4-6 cheeseburgers
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My Lentil List Is Not Sexy

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  1. Lentils lower your cholesterol.
  2. Lentils reduce your risk of heart disease.
  3. Lentils are great for your digestive health.

 

There’s more, there’s so much more, really. I could go on and on with this list, but, if you are anything like me, you may glaze over lists, maybe get a bit antsy, peek at your Smartphone to check what’s trending on Twitter or send a quick text. Maybe you only brake for exorbitant lists offering up 110 Hot New Sex Tips You Need To Know or Lose 50 Pounds in 50 Minutes Forever, stuff crazier than watching that merengue-dancing golden retriever your cousin Rob posted on Facebook.  How does she do that?  

My lentil list is not sexy, but it’s worthy of you, because:

 

 

  1. LENTILS ARE CHEAP AND QUICK.

 

Yeah, I capitalized that, centered it and made it bold. I’d set it up with blinking lights and all, if I was computer savvy enough.

I want to tell you more.

I want to ask you to imagine coming home at the end of the day from work/school/the doctor’s/whatever.

Place yourself there, in that moment.

That moment where your body aches, where you’re fed up (because Casey didn’t like your Instagram picture or Horace informed you the Excel spreadsheet you spent the last 5 days preparing is of the wrong month. And he wants the right one on his desk tomorrow.)

Heck, maybe you just got a pedicure and banged your toe as you got out of the car.

So now your toe is throbbing and your Passion in Pink is messed up.

Would a list really do it for you then? Would you really give a crap that:

  1. Lentils stabilize your blood sugar.
  2. Lentils are a great source of protein.

 

Probably not.

But if you were to open the door to your house and be enveloped by the aroma of gently sautéed onions and garlic, fresh tomato, and earthy lentils, man, you’d feel revived; you’d feel better.

 

I remember I did when I was a teen coming home from high school drama, the kind that required a flow chart to properly comprehend.

 

I’d shuffle into the kitchen and my nanny, Yoli, would be there, hovering over the stove. There was always a lot of stuff going on in her kitchen, numerous dented pots and pans simmering or sautéing something or other. But when the lentils were showcased, I knew instantly from the comforting smell of her tangy tomato sauce and my mood automatically shifted for the better.

I’d sit at our scratched up, round wooden table at the far end of the kitchen and Yoli would present me with a bowl of steaming white rice topped with her reviving lentils.

Life instantly improved. After that, I could tackle anything.

 

  1. Lentils increase energy.

 

Now, I realize we don’t all have a Yoli stirring in love and lentils upon our arrival from a less-than-wonderful day.

But we all dig the words cheap and quick (which is why I centered them before) and adding healthy and easy to the mix is only a sure win.

You may want to be proactive and get your lentil game on before you and your ruined pedicure grumble towards the rest of your day. The stuff keeps great in the fridge and then it’s really just a quick pop in the microwave until it is ready to work its magic on you.

But if you aren’t the planning type or are so busy you can’t even find the time to go to the bathroom, then, no worries, you can really whip this up in a flash. (And, hey, find the time to pee. That’s just not healthy.)

 

Here’s a good way to end the list:

  1. Lentils are low in calories and have virtually no fat.

It’s true! One cup of lentils = 230 calories.

 

Which makes the whole experience delicious, nourishing, quick, and, best of all, guilt free: a happy list worth revisiting on dreary and delightful days alike.

Yoli's Lentils

Ingredients

  • 2 cups brown lentils
  • ½ cup onion, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 tablespoons water or wine
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Yes, it’s that simple. Get to it.
  2. Boil a pot of water and plop the lentils in there.
  3. Simmer until tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Drain.
  5. Meanwhile, heat up olive oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and onions and sauté on medium/low heat until golden, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes
  7. Simmer for five minutes.
  8. Add wine or water. Yoli did water, I like to throw wine in everything. Either works.
  9. Simmer and stir another 5 minutes.
  10. Add salt.
  11. Serve with rice (brown rice for extra brownie points.)
  12. Hey, if you want to cheat, you can! Use canned cooked lentils- low sodium work best.
  13. Serves 4-6
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Stir In A Little Comfort

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I’ve fallen off the carb wagon.

During the summer I was pretty good. Salads were my hard-core norm. It all seemed easy enough really: I love lettuce. But once the school year started up again and I was slammed with that crazy schedule that begins at 5:00am and ends way too late with me frazzled and exhausted and wondering why I still have so much left to do, I’d let a piece of freshly baked epi loaf slip through. The one where the peaks of dough turn crispy and crunchy and could double as a weapon if I weren’t so dead set on eating it.

That, paired with an oozing slab of Bouyssou cheese is hard to resist.

Friday nights, of course, posed a challenge.

Maybe I won’t light the candles every Shabbat like a good Jew should, but, by God, I’ll eat the challah! The warm, soft, fluffy, extra-thick slice of challah! (Here skip cheese and go straight for creamy butter with a sprinkling of sea salt.)

You know once you have tasted that you gotta have more and more and more. That stuff is primal comfort.

So, maybe my hard core has some cracks in it.

Some restorative, heavenly cracks.

At that point I find myself saying, to hell with it, love handles are not so bad. And justifying, didn’t Lesley Stahl just report on 60 Minutes that it’s better to gain weight as we age, so long as we aren’t obese? Yup. It was something like that.

Have your salad, yes, but sometimes, when you need a bit of culinary love, have your salad on the side.

Risotto is the ideal carb comfort dish. You must, however, pencil it into your schedule. Don’t run away. It’s not a ten-hour ordeal or anything, but you’re in for a good 30 minutes of stirring, which is just the perfect amount of time to savor that crisp Sauvignon Blanc you’ve had chilling in the fridge.

This dish obviously wasn’t created for a multi-tasking solo mother with two starving and overscheduled teens, but maybe that’s when you have a piece of that yummy bread to throw at them and quiet them up for a bit; the challah, not the epi, as they may get hurt if you hurl a piece of that.

The premise to the whole thing is quite simple: onions and risotto fried gently in olive oil, a drizzle of white wine to elevate the flavor, and then, slowly, lazily, pour in tiny hiccups of hot broth which you will diligently stir on medium/low heat until fully absorbed. When you’re done with that, you’ll pour in some more. And then again, and again and again, until your liquid has melded with your risotto and created a creamy, slightly crunchy delight, to which you will add whatever else you wish. In this case, it will be shrimp and crabmeat and the magic ingredient, mascarpone cheese. Risotto is all about patience, none of that flash-in-the-pan business.

I can’t think of any better accompaniment to a green salad.

And a piece of bread. Or two.

Shrimp & Crab Risotto

(Food & Wine, Grace Parisi)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bottle clam juice
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio rice
  • pinch of saffron
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ pound cooked shrimp, cut into thirds
  • ½ pound lump crabmeat
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine clam broth and water and bring to a simmer. Keep warm.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, until softened, five minutes.
  3. Add rice and cook for 1 minute. Crumble in saffron and add wine to rice.
  4. Cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed.
  5. Add 1 cup warm clam juice and cook stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding juice, ½ cup at a time and stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The risotto should be al dente and thick and creamy.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and crab and cook until just heated through. Scrap the seafood into the risotto and stir in the parsley and mascarpone. Serve immediately.
  8. Serves 6
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Whatever It Takes, Please!

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I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just trying to get my kid to eat more fish.

Whatever it takes.

(It takes loads of mayonnaise.)

(And a personable, friendly chef.)

My fifteen year-old daughter and I watch a show called Check, Please! hosted by the talented, darling of Miami, Michelle Bernstein. Every week three amateur foodies sit around a table with Chef Michy discussing and rating the meals enjoyed at their favorite local restaurants. My daughter loves watching Chef Michelle’s cheerful and approachable style and is eager to point out the guests’ practiced waves and accidental blunders on television.

She also always suggests that I recommend our favorite culinary spots but then quickly changes her mind, telling me I’d make a terrible guest: I’d be too impatient with my fellow reviewers, the ones that struggle pronouncing mojito or have never tried quail. She giggles as she tells me this.

I think it’s a compliment.

Michelle always shares a recipe that runs with the theme of the show and last week’s was all about seafood so she offered up her tartar sauce.

About five years ago, my daughter declared she doesn’t eat fish, which is tricky, because the rest of the family could probably eat fish every single day. Still, she hears the word “mayonnaise” and is ready to reconsider. She loves anything slathered in the stuff, and when she learns this sauce has chopped pickles and capers (two of her favorite ingredients) and is mandatory for fish (according to her newest idol, Chef Michy) she listens and nods.

For added effect, she sends me an accusatory look, the one that screams I’ve been depriving her of nourishment by not providing her with this tartar sauce. Soon I’ll hear that this is the reason she hasn’t eaten fish. And, of course, it’s all my fault.

 

I’m impressed by Chef Michelle’s influence and wonder if she has a teenage daughter of her own. I also want to invite Michi over to my house, not necessarily to bond over one of her stellar recipes (although I’m sure that would be cool) but because I’m hoping she can work some magic on Daniela’s tepid sentiments towards neatness.

Or helping with the trash.

Or any request, really, that comes out of my mouth. Everything is up for grabs for an argument these days.

But this recipe has her quiet and attentive.

I think I even heard the word please, as in:
“Mom, you need to make that sauce. If you do, I’ll eat fish.    Please.”

Yup. You gotta listen close, but, it’s there.

I pull out my vat of mayonnaise (restaurant size tub courtesy of Costco.)

I mix the ingredients.

I bake fish.

And pray.

Dear God, I pray.

The salmon is done and the sauce is ready. It’s tangy, tart, and creamy. A thousand calories per bite, but who cares, my daughter, my daughter, is eating fish tonight.

Chef Michy's Tartar Sauce

(adapted from “Check Please, South Florida!”) Ok, I like my tartar sauce loaded up and spicy, which is why I use way less mayo than the original recipe while keeping the other ingredients pretty much the same. Obviously, if you want it more mayonnaisey, add more of the stuff, less spicy, take it down a notch with the Sriracha.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons capers, minced
  • 4 tablespoons dill pickles, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flat parsley, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • salt, to taste
  • Plop in a bowl. Mix. Scoop onto fish, fish sandwiches, salad, whatever!
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Magna Cook Laude

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A new round of high school seniors are sprouting all over high schools right about now including my best friend’s oldest daughter, whom I consider my first child as well. They will spend the last year at home relishing the grandeur of being top of the school food chain while surviving the bombardment of advice hurled out to them by their parents, who are still befuddled as to how it came to happen that they now have a kid about to graduate.

Of course, there is the matter of all the practical skills that need to be taught, steps necessary for a smoother transition flying solo in the real world, like balancing a checkbook or cleaning spark plugs. I realize I need to hit the books and learn the 2014 equivalent of such skills so I may successfully pass them along to my child, but, lucky for me, my oldest is entering the 10th grade so I still have a few more years to prepare.

The advice I do find imperative to offer now is this:

If you haven’t already started, learn to cook!

Oh, sorry, I’ll say it louder:

COOK!

It’s what one does over there on that thing in that room you enter to grab a bag of chips or to whine to Mom about how hungry you are and when is dinner.

COOK!

Don’t worry, I am test-driving this on my teenager as well.

She is very proud of her culinary tastes while bypassing the topic of her culinary skills, eagerly informing others that she despises fast food of any sort, has for years.

Some of her favorites foods are (in random order):

Sautéed foie gras

Grilled octopus

Terrine (of any kind)

Bouillabaisse

Coq Au Vin

 

It’s easy for her to like them, I know. I’ve been serving her these dishes since she was a baby. So I remind her, she’s in for a shocker if she doesn’t learn to do this stuff, on her own, or at least, get off her computer and watch her mama make it. This stuff doesn’t come out of a box. I mean, it can, I assume, pretty much anything can nowadays. But that means it will be gross, loaded with preservatives, way too much salt, and ridiculously overpriced.

COOK!

I can hear you teens out there now:

Why cook?  I won’t have a kitchen in my dorm!

Eventually, you will have a kitchen. And it will scare the wajeebees out of you if you don’t know how to use it. Start bumping around in there now, with your training wheels on and perhaps a parent gently guiding you. Start small. Make pasta. Add butter. Grate cheese.

Parents, help out. This is the time you must tell your child to use fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grasp your child firmly by the arms, look squarely into their eyes and announce: “You must never buy cheese in a green tube. Ever.”

They’ll thank you later.

 

And teens, did you know that if you boil up some farfalle pasta (Google it), add some broccoli florets, a wee bit of garlic, maybe some chopped up ham, a bit of salt and pepper and throw that all in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a dab of butter you’ve got a meal that will feed an army and keep them happy? You want a happy army, trust me, you do.

And if you want to make them really happy, grate some lemon rind over that dish and mix it in. Wowza! They won’t know what hit them.

See?

COOK!

You can do it!

COOK!

When I was in high school I found amongst my mother’s cookbooks one that would forever change my culinary life. It was an unpretentious book with whimsical illustrations and food combinations that dared my adolescent mind: carrot soup with orange juice? Chicken with raspberries? You’re on!

It was called The Silver Palate, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, a best seller that ushered in the wave of New American cooking in the 80’s, something I was completely oblivious to as a teenager growing up in Venezuela. I did the same thing Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s recipes in her book, Julie & Julia, which later became that Hollywood blockbuster, and I cooked my way through the entire book. I mean, I didn’t have a blog to record everything in (they didn’t exist in 1987) or the chance to meet Meryl Streep, so there are a few differences.

But I cooked!

How I cooked!

There were plenty of disasters along the way. I’ve chosen to forget most of them. You will forget yours too.

An enormous amount of successes are still revered. Remember the profiterole baked in that tiny toaster oven? Remember the endless rounds of strawberry mousse?   Remember how decadent the decadent chocolate cake really was?  All worthy of 3 Michelin stars!

Cooking delicious food is an easy way to dazzle potential boyfriends or girlfriends, by the way. Especially starving ones strung out on greasy pizza and Starbucks.

 

You don’t even have to visit the stovetop for a great meal.

Salads are good.

I learned this one from my Mom, who taught it to me one quiet Sunday afternoon my senior year when there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, just the two of us together. I was the baby of the family, the last to fly the coop, so on those days, there was a certain weight to the casualness of time for both of us, like if we were walking inside a frozen photograph frame. Mom whipped up the salad in minutes, while we talked about everything and nothing at all: the math test I had miraculously passed, the cover art chosen for the yearbook, the purple flowers that had finally bloomed in the front garden.

The salad was creamy and tart, fragrant and crunchy and instantly became a favorite of ours, a moment we shared regularly over the course of that year when we both knew that June was around the corner and inevitably our lives would be changed forever.

Mom gave me a copy of The Silver Palate as a going away present. It has the prized spot on my bookshelf today and I have to open it carefully nowadays, the binding is so shot, the pages so worn from so much use. I’ve mastered new American cooking and so much more over the years and I am constantly learning new techniques and dishes. But on those rare, quiet days when my teenage daughter miraculously has nowhere else to go, it’s my mother’s curry tuna salad that I like to prepare. I’ve already showed her how to do it too. We share it, just as I did so many years ago with my mother, casually, perhaps with a bowl of soup or a slice of freshly-baked bread and some heartfelt conversation: who liked whose photograph on Instagram, what are the latest dress styles for Homecoming, when would we go bathing suit shopping. Simple life moments bound together by food.

Marilyn’s Curry Tuna Salad

Ingredients

  • Vinaigrette:
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 5 tablespoons sour cream
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Salad:
  • ¼ cup red onion, minced
  • ½ cup celery, minced
  • ½ cup carrots, minced
  • ½ cup broccoli, minced
  • ¼ cup green apple, peeled, cored, and minced
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 cup cooked conchiglie pasta (a.k.a., shells)

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, mix all vinaigrette ingredients. Add salad ingredients and mix well. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.
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