Culinary frustrations

Time for a time-honored Culinary Confession … or rather, frustrations

For some time now I have found myself frustrated by a couple of things, specifically hard-boiling eggs (as many of you know) and never knowing how many cloves of garlic you’re going to get in one head

I prided myself on being able to perfectly hard-cooked eggs that would peel like a dream. This is no longer the case and I have tried everything to fix this wrong, but nothing has worked like the way I used to do it … which, again, no longer works. I am to the point where I am blaming the eggs (everything else has changed, eggs must have too)

My other frustration is with heads of garlic. It’s always a mystery until I crush the head to separate the cloves, how many cloves you’re going to get. The other day I leaned down on the head of garlic and pressed and an octodecillion microscopic cloves spilled out all over the counter. How am I supposed to work with microscopic unpeeled garlic?

These 2 things have been going on long enough now that I have already resolved to buy hard boiled eggs and peeled garlic cloves when and where I can find them and save myself the time, expense and sanity of dealing with these two things any longer

Recipe of the week: Stuffed burger

I did not make this up, I’ve seen it a few times over the last 10 or so years, but it’s my method that will guarantee the burger doesn’t ‘explode’ when you are cooking it

I don’t always put this on a bun (especially lately as I’ve been losing weight avoiding sugar) but when I do I like to brush the inside of each half with butter and toast it in a saucepan … or on a grill pan if that is the method I am using for cooking the burger

Whether or not it goes on a toasted bun, I like to dress the Stuffed burger with mayonnaise, ketchup, Vidalia onion and soft butter lettuce leaf/leaves

Quantities here make 1 Stuffed burger

Ingredients
8 ounces ground NY strip steak
1/2 teaspoon House salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce strip crispy bacon, chopped
1 ounce flat slice Fontina cheese
Pinch of cumin

Special equipment
Lid of a peanut butter jar (see Method) or other mold
Plastic wrap

Method
Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

Season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently form into a ball and then divide in half

Line the peanut butter jar lid with plastic wrap that extends 4 inches beyond both sides. Press one half of the ground steak into an even layer on the plastic wrap inside the lid. Add the bacon and the cheese to the center of the meat (avoid the edges). Sprinkle the cheese with cumin and then add the second half of the ground steak. Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the mean and press firmly into an even layer and to seal the ingredients into a burger. Remove the burger from the mold and remove and discard the plastic wrap

Cook the burger in the desired method: 1. Pan-fry in 2 tablespoons just-smoking canola oil, 3 minutes on the first side and 1 to 2 minutes on the second side OR 2. On a lightly oiled hot griddle pan for the same 3 minutes on the first side and 1 to 2 minutes on the second side

For both methods, transfer the burger to the oven and let it set for 5 minutes. Remove to a board, tent with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes

Serve immediately after the Stuffed burger has rested

Clam & fennel chowder

Mother Nature must like Chicago in the world of winter, so the idea of a big bowl of chowder remains a great weeknight option even as we approach the middle of April

The foundation of any good soup is a mire poix (onions, carrots and celery) that is well-cooked to bring out the flavors which in turn flavors the soup

In my version of Clam Chowder, fennel bulb replaces the celery, but less you think “Mr. Celery” has gone mad, fresh celery leaves are included in the saute and the chowder is garnished with the same

If you don’t have rendered bacon fat on hand, cook 3 slices to get 4 tablespoons of fat; then, if desired, garnish the chowder with the diced bacon

Ingredients
4 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
2 cups diced onion
2 cups diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup diced carrot
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
1/3 cup fresh celery leaves, plus additional for garnishing
4 cups peeled and diced boiling potatoes
1 quart clam juice, warmed in a saucepan
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
2 cups Half & Half
3 cups cleaned and trimmed chowder clams, about the same dice as the potatoes
Pinch of cayenne, optional

Method
Heat the bacon fat in a large Dutch oven until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent. Add the fennel, carrot, thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the simmering clam juice and celery leaves and stir to incorporate. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan, sprinkle in the flour and whisk to combine and cook for 3 minutes. Add a ladle-full of the stock to the roux (the butter-flour mixture) and whisk to incorporate. Add the roux to the soup and stir to incorporate and simmer until the chowder has thickened, 2 minutes

Add the Half & Half and the clams (and cayenne if using), stir to incorporate and simmer for 2 minutes. Taste for salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne

Ladle chowder into bowls and garnish with fresh celery leaves

Tip of the Week

Ganache

When making a ganache it will come together more quickly if you melt chopped chocolate with the cream rather than chocolate chips. Chocolate chips have stabilizers in them that actually prevent them from melting; therefore you will spend more time waiting for them to melt than if you chopped an equal weight of a quality chocolate bar … or use chocolate buttons (available in kitchenware stores and online)