Mrs. Sell's Blog of Household Management

Recipe: smashed burgers

Smashed burgers have taken the world by storm (relatively), and they’re SO EASY to make at home. This is honestly one of the fastest meals I can make.

I made these after Pioneer Woman featured them, although I saw the recipe first on Serious Eats. (By the way, Kenji’s book is available for pre-order! Buy it! Buy a dozen!)

Smashed burgers:

What you need:

  • 4 ounces 80%-lean ground beef per burger
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 slice of American cheese per burger
  • buns, with butter if you’re toasting them
  • whatever toppings your little heart desires, although these burgers are so flavorful they hardly need any!

What you do:

1) Preheat a griddle or skillet to hot.

2) While the griddle is heating up, butter your buns (using the soft butter in your butter bell)

buttered buns

and toast them before the grill gets too hot.

buns toasting

3) Measure out your beef into 2, 2-ounce balls per burger. That’s right, you’re actually making two small patties per burger.

meat balls weighed

For maximum accuracy, weigh the beef on a scale, but you can also do a good job with your hands. If you buy a pound of ground beef, you can hold it in both hands, then divide it in half. Repeat this until you have eight balls per pound. (I’ve found that my hands are remarkable good at dividing things evenly in half; I can tell by the weight and size I’m holding in each hand.)

4) Befor you start grilling the burgers, unwrap your American cheese, and stage whatever burger toppings you’re using on the toasted buns. The burgers cook really fast, and your hands will be full, so you won’t have time after.

5) Now this goes really quickly, so I wasn’t able to get good pictures of everything, but I’ll do my best to describe it: Place one ball of beef on the hot griddle, then immediately smash it flat with something large and flat (I use a giant metal spatula that I dipped in water so it wouldn’t stick, and a mug for pressing).

smashing

Do that to 2 balls of beef, then lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on each one.

patties 2

6) Cook them until the bottom is nice and brown and the top is just starting to look cooked through in places, then, using a heavy-duty, straight-edge spatula (or a metal bench scraper, or a wall paper stripper), scrape the burger up off the grill and flip it. You want to get every last bit of the browned bits that are going to want to stick to the pan. This is the hardest part; at least one of mine always falls apart, but I just shove it back together. (I need a better spatula.)

7) Immediately place the slice of American cheese onto one burger, then place the other burger on top.

burger finishing

8) Let it cook until the cheese melts, then scoop it up off the pan and drop it right onto the bun, and you’re done!

burgers done

For as simple as these are, they are SO GOOD. They are hot, flavorful, and filling, and don’t require any prep work or planning ahead (unless you have to thaw out the meat). Now if I would learn how to make my own French fries, I’d never have to get fast food again!

Lodge Reversible Pro Grid Iron Grill/Griddle on a glass-top stove

Can you use the Lodge Reversible Pro Grid Iron Grill/Griddle on a flat-top electric stove?

griddle flat

The short answer is yes, you can.

When we moved, I went from having a (very basic) gas stove to this glass-topped, electric monstrosity (gimme a ‘BOOOOO!!!!!). I could go on and on about the travesty of this type of stove (gimme a ‘HIIISSSSSSS!!!!), but for now let me focus on a basic challenge with them: usually, in order for the ‘burners’ to work properly, you need to have as much contact between them and the pan in question.

This causes problems from the get-go, because there are many pans that are not perfectly flat on the bottom. Inexpensive pans can warp slightly with use (I had a regular pancake griddle that didn’t sit quite flat; it was fine on the gas stove but I had to replace it after we moved), or, they can be shaped like this:

griddle ridges side

I’ve got a couple of grill pans; this one is the Lodge Pro Grid Reversible Grill/Griddle, or some version of that long name. The idea is that you have one side that’s flat for pancakes and stuff, and the other is ridged for steaks or whatever you want grill marks on. The problem is that, on the glass-top stove, very little of the pan is actually touching the stove, whichever way is up. With gas, it’s no problem, because the flames just reach up and heat the pan, but no, that’s not the way glass-top stoves work.

The caution is that if the ‘burners’ on the glass-top stove aren’t in contact with the pan, they can overheat, or other bad things. It also takes FOREVER to heat the pan, because first the electric coils have to get hot, then they have to make the glass hot, then the glass has to make the air above it hot, then the air has to get hot enough to heat the pan, which then has to get hot enough to heat whatever’s in it. (Whereas with a gas stove: you apply fire directly to the bottom of the pan. Much more efficient.)

You also have to be super careful moving cast iron pans around on a glass stove, because it’s easily scratched. (WHY WOULD YOU MAKE A SEARING HOT COOKING SURFACE THAT FRAGILE?!?!?!!?)

The good news is that it is possible to use your cast iron reversible griddle on a flat-top stove, as long as you use a little care and common sense:

1) Heat your pan gradually, and no hotter than necessary. You should always be doing this anyway, but I’m much more careful about it when the burners have so much air over them. I start off with the burners on 2 or 3, then gradually increase to 4 or 5, then usually max out at 6 or 7. The good thing about cast iron is that you don’t have to turn the burners way, way up in order to get the pan searing hot.

2) Move the pan around carefully. I have a pair of welding gloves that I use for moving heavy, hot pans, and I’m always super careful with this one. For one thing, it weighs a ton; for another, it gets HOT. So I carefully place it so that it covers as much of the burners as possible, then try not to move it. Once I’m done with it, I let it cool for a while on the stove before I take it off.

Next time I’ll show you the grill in action with the best burgers you can make in your kitchen!

Storage for spices

I’ve talked before about my jars for storing spices, and I want to do an update showing my new set-up!

Libbey Vibe Spice Jars:

spice drawer savory

My favorite solution for small jars of spices. These can be stored stacked in a cabinet, with labels on the side, or in one layer in a drawer, with labels on the top. I’ve got so many (and my drawers are freakishly short), that now I have two drawers! The above one is for savory spices, and the below one is for sweet.

spice drawer sweet

(Yes, I know that ‘sweet’ and ‘savory’ are relative; I organized mine based on how often I use them for each application. As you can see, I was planning on making pumpkin pie when I arranged the front row.)

Then, we have the ‘shelf-of-things-that-just-don’t-quite-work-in-the-little-spice-jars-for-one-reason-or-another':

spice cabinet

Here we have the salt and pepper grinders, extracts and food colorings, extras of things that go in the jars, and things I haven’t gotten around to putting in jars yet. I really like the little bamboo step-shelf I got for them; it fits in my freakishly short cabinet perfectly. My only caution is be careful how you take it out of the box; I had to glue mine after I pulled a fragile bamboo piece right off trying to get it out.

And last but not least (at least by volume):

large spice jars

I’ve become seriously dependent on canning jars (that’s a topic for another post), and here is one iteration: most of these are spices that I picked up in fairly large bags at my ethnic grocery in California. I originally had them in larger sizes of the Libbey Vibe jars, but the shape of those jars wasn’t efficient enough for the cabinet space I had. Canning jars come in lots of shapes and sizes, stack well, and you can squeeze a lot into a tiny space. Right now these actually live in a canning jar box on a shelf near by cookbooks because I don’t use them as often. These can also be labeled on the top or on the side, depending on how you store them. (If you look in the top of the first picture, you can see two baby canning jars in the savory spice drawer with the labels on the top.)

My rule of thumb for organizing is that if it’s working right, you should be able to forget about it completely, and these jars work perfectly for that. When I’m cooking, I don’t have to waste any time thinking, ‘Where are my spices?’ or ‘How do I get the lid open?’ I just grab and go.

Now I need to create a similar set-up for my bathroom cleaning supplies…

It’s a bell!

IMG_0595

Make your own: cold-brew coffee

I am one of those people who has always liked the scent of coffee more than the flavor. Seriously, how can something that smells so good (especially when freshly ground) taste so much like burned dirt?

So for most of my life, I got my necessary caffeine from soda, with the occasional coffee (during Starbucks holiday season). Eventually, though, I got tired of buying heavy soda bottles and cans and lugging them from the grocery store, then having them take up tons of space on my countertop.

I still needed caffeine, though, so I had to find some way to make coffee work. The main problem was that if I made regular coffee in my little coffee pot, it took way more sugar than I really wanted to ingest every morning just to make it palatable, and even then the bitterness was very unpleasant.

I’d always liked iced coffee, though, and so set about finding out how to make it myself! It turns out that iced coffee is not quite as simple as making a pot of coffee and chilling it. You can certainly do that, but it doesn’t produce that smooth, mild flavor that iced coffee traditionally has, and it still has all the acid that a turns a lot of people away from hot coffee.

I finally found the best method of making iced coffee, using a cold-brew method that I got from several sources. There are many good things about this method: each batch you make will last at least several days, if not longer; the concentrate can be used for iced coffee OR for hot coffee; the result is much less acidic than hot coffee, so you can still drink it if you have a sensitive stomach; and the flavor is so much nicer; it tastes a lot more like coffee grounds smell!

I got my method from The Pioneer Woman, with additional information from Imbibe Magazine and Serious Eats. I use the proportion from Pioneer Woman, but as always with coffee, adjust the strength to your own taste.

What you need:

coffee stuff all

  • coffee (I love Millstone’s Chocolate Velvet and French Vanilla, and I also have a bag of Marshmallow from Target – so good!)
  • a container with a lid to brew and keep your coffee in (I use this wonderful canning bottle from The Container Store. It’s an Italian brand and a little expensive, but I have several of their bottles and jars and they are SO TOUGH: I have dropped these bottles on the floor multiple times and they do not break. But you can use any container you want: a pitcher, a large measuring cup, a bowl, almost anything will work in a pinch.)
  • a funnel (if your coffee container has a small mouth)
  • a kitchen scale (if you want to scale up or down the recipe, this is the easiest way to do it. But I’ll explain other ways in a minute.)
  • a sieve and a coffee filter (or cheesecloth) for straining the coffee
  • another bowl, pitcher, bottle, or other container for straining

What you do:

I use Pioneer Woman’s proportion of 1 pound of coffee (the easiest way to measure: just buy a 1 pound bag!) to 2 gallons of water, except I reduce it to 2 ounces of coffee to 1 quart of water. Normally I just set the bottle and funnel on the scale, zero it out, then pour the coffee straight from the bag until I hit 2 ounces. But this time, I used a little bowl so I could measure the volume of 2 ounces of coffee.

coffee scale bowl

It turns out that 2 ounces is 10 level tablespoons of medium-ground coffee, or 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons.

Once I had it measured, I went ahead and poured it into the bottle as I would normally:

coffee pouring

This is what I normally get: 2 ounces of coffee, straight in the bottle:

coffee scale bottle funnel

Then I just fill the bottle with water as high as it will go. I usually end up with something under a quart, just because of the size limitations of the bottle. If I really wanted a full quart of coffee concentrate, I’d have to use a bigger container.

coffee bottle separated

When you first add the water, all the coffee grounds will float, so you want to either put the lid on the bottle and shake it, or use a long spoon to carefully stir it if you’re using some other container. The coffee grounds should all be wet so you get the most flavor out of all of them. The bottle makes it easy:

coffee bottle combined

I lidded it, shook it up, then made a little hillbilly label with the flavor and the time I started it. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the concentrate will be, but it needs to sit for at least 8 hours. (A lot of people start it in the evening to be done the next morning.) I’m probably going to leave this sitting until tomorrow morning, shaking every now and then to make sure all the grounds stay wet.

THE NEXT DAY:

The coffee has now been brewing at room temperature for about a day. I need coffee, so I’m going to strain it and drink it!

The first thing you do is take your strainer (all by itself, without the coffee filter), and pour the coffee through it into another container. I use my plastic batter bowl, because it is plenty big enough, and it has an easy pour spout.

coffee first pour

It’s nice to have a strainer with handles so it will rest on the sides of the bowl. The majority of the grounds will end up in the strainer, with some of the smaller bits passing through into the coffee.

grounds first pour2

Dump your grounds in the trash or compost, rinse and empty the bottle until there are no more grounds stuck to the inside, and rinse the strainer so grounds don’t go into the final straining of the coffee.

Now it’s time for the last straining!

If the mouth of your storage container is small, place a funnel in the opening, then put the coffee filter in the strainer and set it on top of the funnel. I have to hold mine so the whole thing doesn’t tip over, but occasionally when I don’t mind washing another bowl, I’ll strain it into something wider so the strainer stays up by itself, then just pour it into the bottle when it’s done.

final drain setup

Now slowly and carefully pour the coffee into the filter and strainer, being careful to stop before it overflows. It will take a lot longer than the first straining, so you just have to be patient and wait. Although if you use cheesecloth instead of a coffee filter, I hear it goes much more quickly.

final drain

The coffee trickles down through the filter, strainer, and funnel, and into the jar. Slowly. Once I get close to the end, I start helping it out with a spoon, gently scraping the bottom so the filter doesn’t get clogged.

final grounds

I keep going until it’s not soupy anymore, just wet grounds. The more you get out, the more coffee you end up with. See how much is left after the first strain? Trust me, you don’t want to skip the second step, no matter how long it takes. Unless you like crunchy coffee.

Then toss/compost the filter and remaining grounds, and your coffee is ready for use! I leave the label on so I know what flavor I have going.

final bottle

(The level here is lower than it originally was because I poured out some to drink before I took the picture.)

The great thing about this coffee concentrate is that you don’t have to drink it iced! Yes, you can pour it over ice with milk and sweetener, but you can also dilute it with some boiled water for hot coffee, or heat it with milk for a warm morning drink – my favorite! And it keeps in the fridge for quite a while; if I had room I’d probably make more than a quart at a time. But this way I get to switch up the flavor every ten days or so, so it works out.

Interesting things about the Northeast

We’ve been in the Northeast for about four months, and there has definitely been some adjusting to do. For example,

snow

This did not happen in Southern California. Ever. I used to have a weekly schedule for doing things like grocery shopping. However, in the Northeast, schedules are redefined as “we go out on whatever day it’s NOT snowing and stock up for the next six days we’re going to be snowbound.”

Other interesting things about the Northeast:

Polish food!!!

pierogi varieties

We got these for the last snowstorm, figuring that if we have to be stuck eating only one things for days on end, pierogies are the way to go. Here we have Mrs. T’s, probably the most common commercial pierogi brand. Most grocery stores will carry at least one or two varieties throughout the country, but we clearly hit the jackpot here. Mrs. T’s are not quite as good as homemade, but if you top them with onions sautéed in butter and remember that you didn’t have to slave for four hours to make them, they are certainly acceptable. We also found a brand called Poppy’s, but we haven’t tried them yet. The plastic baggie in the foreground is some of my own pierogies, frozen, for comparison.

More Polish food!

paczki box top

These are traditional pre-Lent Polish pastries. Despite what is clearly written on the box, they are pronounced “paunch-key” or “punch-key.” (Can someone please teach me the rules of Slavic-to-English spelling conversion? Gaelic, too; I can never figure those out.)

Paczki are a filled pastry covered with powdered sugar that Polish people eat for Fat Thursday, which is basically the same thing as Fat Tuesday/Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras is in other places. What I found interesting about these is that I normally do not like donuts, but I liked these. I think it might be because paczki traditionally have a small amount of alcohol added to the dough which prevents deep absorption of oil while frying, which would account for the difference in flavor. We got them with raspberry and custard filling, but there were stacks of them with all different fruit fillings at the store.

And last but not least, the state drink of Rhode Island:

coffee syrup bottle

 

Yes, it says “coffee syrup,” like chocolate syrup, except with coffee flavor. Apparently this stuff is ubiquitous in Rhode Island, but virtually unknown outside of this region. It’s not bad; it kinda tastes like those coffee hard candies. It’s got a different viscosity than chocolate syrup, too; this one is practically liquid. Apparently there are other brands that each have their own unique flavor, so I plan to find them all and try them! I will update as events warrant.

Essential kitchen gear

We recently moved from southern California to south-eastern Connecticut (I think the military tried to see how far they could send us without actually leaving the country). It took us a couple of weeks to make the drive, and what with waiting for our household goods to be delivered, most of my kitchen was packed for about a month.

I have a LOT of kitchen gear, and it was a little disturbing to see how little I actually needed when I only had room for the essentials – almost everything fit into one small box! Here’s what I was able to cook with for a month:

a few knives: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and an in-between for slicing

a medium-sized plastic cutting board

a smallish flat grater

a vegetable peeler

a can opener

a silicon-coated flat whisk (works on all pan surfaces)

a pair of silicon-coated locking tongs

a plastic bench scraper

a set of four Pyrex mixing bowls (Heavy, but microwave- and oven-proof, in a pinch. Plus they’re vintage and I didn’t want to risk them with the movers.)

wooden spoons: some round-headed for stirring, and some flat for scraping and sautéing

nylon utensils: a spatula, some serving spoons, a ladle, etc. (I have stainless steel, but like the whisk and tongs, I needed things that would work on every surface.)

measuring cups and spoons

a collapsible silicon colander

a large Dutch oven (My 6 3/4-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven does everything from boil pasta to roast chickens.)

a large braiser (My 5-quart enameled cast iron braiser goes everywhere the Dutch oven does, but is shorter and flatter like a griddle for pancakes and stuff.)

a broiler pan (When you’re living in a house with no furniture, you end up eating a lot of frozen pizzas and things. A broiler pan give you a flat enough surface for heating frozen pizzas and breads, but have enough rim to catch juices from roasting meats.)

I think the only thing that I really wished I had brought was my knife sharpener, although if I had sharpened my knives right before the move it wouldn’t have been an issue.

Once we arrived in our new house, I was able to cook almost everything I would normally. I couldn’t bake cookies or make muffins, but I could fix dinner every night! And then I had to face unpacking dozens of boxes of kitchen gear that I had just proven that I don’t really need…

Libbey Vibe Jars: replacement parts

I recently had a commenter inquire about replacement gaskets for her Libbey Vibe glass jars. I contacted Libbey, and while they don’t sell the gaskets separately, they do sell replacement lids. Here’s the info!

Small: $0.99 each

Medium: $1.40 each

Large and Extra Large: $1.60 each

Order by calling 888-794-8469, Monday through Friday, 9:00-5:00 Eastern Time.

They accept credit cards and ship via UPS.

Stamp tribulation

When you plan to go to the Post Office and buy a big roll of Forever stamps so you never have to worry about stamps again, do not chicken out and let them sell you 100 regular stamps, because for the foreseeable future, all of your envelopes will look like this:

stamps

Note: I bought 100 first class stamps in 2008, at 41¢ apiece. The good news is that pretty soon I will just be able to use two of them to cover first-class postage, and they will get used up that much faster.

My favorite pan

measuring pan interior

… or is it? A pan, I mean. It’s still my favorite. It’s made out of 18/10 stainless steel, just like my pots and pans. I use it all the time…

measuring pan close up

… and it always works perfectly…

measuring pan full

… even if it is…

measuring pan bottom

… a measuring cup!

This is the Norpro 2-cup measuring cup. I love it because it is a measuring cup, a tiny saucepan, a ladle, a spoon rest, and virtually impervious to damage and destruction. (When I bought it, my daughter kept hitting it with my nice new gravy ladle. The ladle is scratched, but the measuring cup is fine.) And it was only $9!

I usually use it for melting butter or making hot chocolate on the stove. My old gas stove had a mini burner that fit this perfectly, but I can use the regular burners on my new stove as long as the gas is turned way down. You can use it on an electric stove top, too, just set it on the outside so the handle doesn’t get too hot. I find myself hardly ever using the microwave anymore; to melt butter you either have to set it for too long, then it explodes and you have to clean the microwave, or you  have to stand there heating it in 10-second increments and checking it after each one, and it will still probably explode on the last one. So I prefer to just throw the butter into this tiny pan, set it over a low heat, and carry on with my cooking, glancing at it every now and then.

I love the tiny pour spouts on both sides, so you can pour with either hand. And the measuring marks make it easy to pour in one cup of milk for hot chocolate. I use it as a ladle for things like hot soup, since all my other measuring cups and ladles are plastic.

For something that wasn’t designed for stove top use, this has stood up remarkably well. It’s made out of high-quality stainless steel, but it hasn’t discolored like my more expensive pots and pans made out of the same stuff.

My favorite thing about it is that it is so small and doesn’t take up any space in my overflowing cupboards. To wit:

measuring pan hanging

I used a tiny clear Command hook (lifesavers!) and just stuck it right next to my stove and over the overflow from my pantry cabinet so I can grab it whenever I need it.

In my someday big-kitchen future, I’ll get some real measuring pans like these. But I will always have this one near to hand as a first resort.

(You can get it on Amazon for about $8, at time of writing.)

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