Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Healthy Start to the Memorial Day Weekend

Did you know May is National Burger Month? With Memorial Day just around the corner, I imagine that whether or not such foodie devotion is exhibited as much as the link above, grills and pans will be cooking up a storm this weekend if they haven't already started. And while I am a self-proclaimed meat-atarian, I couldn't seem to pass up the prospect of an organic, local, and vegan veggie burger. Indeed, another gastronomic reason to celebrate is the start of the farmers market season here in Granville (which runs from May-October, with today marking the season's second week), and I definitely purchased some great finds earlier this morning to apply in the kitchen this afternoon.

With myriad locations throughout Ohio and the Midwest, Luna Burger is dishing up a variety of cooked and frozen veggie burgers that are certainly worth the price. And from 8.30am-noon since May 19 - August 25, you too could get your hands on the surprisingly [that would be the meat-atarian in me talking] filling and satisfying patties. As you peruse their website, it's abundantly clear that these burgers do more than fill your stomach; they infiltrate the cultural economy and connect farmers with local vendors via Luna Burger and altogether, they reach our tables. A true representation of farm-to-table, the approach is not only healthy but personal. At the market, the burgers sell for $4 for two 4-oz patties or a package of 6 "kick start" breakfast veggie patties, or you can mix and match and buy 3 for $10. I went for a package of the breakfast patties, the vendor's favourite (peanut cilantro) and the BBQ.

As I walked through the market, I had thought to myself that I needed some eggs for baking and was on the hunt for some. Thankfully, one vendor--Olde Village Meats, located in Frazeysburg, OH, just 30 minutes away--had just what I was looking for and I got a dozen farm fresh eggs for $2.50.

Finishing up my tour, I had the idea in my head I would be cooking up one of the Luna Burgers for lunch and settled for some lettuce. Though still very early in the growing season, Hoover Family Garden Market based in Millersport (about 22 minutes south of Granville) had some iceburg lettuce which I bought for $1. To check out what will be available as the season progresses, click here.

Back in my apartment, and away from the unusual Midwest May heat, I decided to make homemade hamburger buns (and why not?) for the BBQ Luna Burger. Additionally, I felt prompted by the fact there are smoked onions (as well as jalapeño, brown rice and sunflower seeds) in the BBQ burger to cook up some caramelised onions since I just so happened to have half a medium onion sitting unused in my refrigerator. With a plan in motion, I sat down to a series of homemade hamburger bun recipes (1, 2, 3 and 4) and picked out common ingredients, averaged quantities, and settled on a final recipe to work with. I'll put a disclaimer that following the recipe exactly as I have it laid out here won't yield the fluffiest burger buns, but they'll certainly work with bringing out the finger licking goodness of this meal.

Since I am only one person, I aimed for a recipe that would yield just four hamburger buns; and if my calculations are correct, the total cost of the used ingredients comes out to less than $1 (if even that). For this preparation, you'll need three bowls. In the first bowl (and I don't know why I took the above photo as I did..), microwave 1/4 c (60 mL) water for 20 sec. Get a packet of instant yeast ready and add half of it into the water bowl; the water should be just warm but not steaming to activate the yeast. To this, add 1 tbsp granulated sugar and let everything veg out. In the second bowl, microwave 1/4 c 2% milk and 1.5 tbsp unsalted butter for 30 sec. Continue to microwave this lot in 10 sec intervals until the butter has melted (it took me 20 sec in total, with the residual heat melting the rest of the butter). In a third bowl, beat very well one egg.

Into the standing mixer with the hook attachment, stir together the yeast and milk mixes and add just half the beaten egg (save the rest). To this, add a medium pinch of salt and get the mixer going. Add 1.5 c all-purpose flour; after a few minutes, the dough should look like the photo on the left. Continue to add flour, 1 tbsp at a time, until you get your desired consistency--pliable and not incredibly sticky, having some give without collapsing on itself. Make sure not to over mix (and if you do, give the dough plenty of time to rest) and don't add too much flour (or else you'll end up with tougher bread like mine turned out to be). The dough consistency on the right hand side would have been a perfect time to bring it to the kneading board, but I didn't trust it all that much and in the end added to much flour. Don't add more than half a cup of flour this way; instead, rely on hand kneading to tell you when the dough is ready (but have plenty of flour nearby to help in the process!).

Eventually, your dough should hold its shape rather well. Get it onto a floured surface and shape it into a single, smooth mass. Next, cut the dough into four equal pieces and reshape each into a ball. You may find that the dough still sticks to the board. Before you go ahead and add too much flour, just know you need enough flour to coat the exterior so it doesn't stick to your hand. Work quickly with the dough when shaping it and gently press the dough flat to the shape of your burger before transferring the dough.

Get the dough onto a baking sheet with cornmeal (no need to butter the pan, though I'm sure that'd be tasty) and cover it with a slightly damp sheet of paper towel. You want to give the dough time to rest (at least 20 minutes, longer if possible so that it could essentially double in size, if not at least turn out super tough). Preheat your oven to 375°F and get your onion ready for chopping.

Before you start slicing your onion, get a skillet heating with a few tsp extra virgin olive oil. Ideally, you want to hear the onion slices start to sizzle as soon as they hit the hot oil. After the onions have been coated in the oil and start to brown, add in a pinch each of salt and granulated sugar. For those who have already read it, two posts ago I caramelised onions without sugar; here I've added it because of the much smaller quantity of onion I'm cooking, and the sugar will help the caramelisation process. After about 15 min, the onions should be tender and on their way to being completely browned; bring the heat down to lo-med and continue to keep an eye on the onions until they have turned deeper golden in colour. To finish these off, bring the heat back up to med, wait for the onions to start sizzling again and add a splash of sherry cooking wine (another difference from the previous process). Turn off the heat and, keeping the pan in contact with the heat source, move the onions around until most of the liquid has evaporated along with the alcohol. Set the onions aside in the pan until you're ready to use them.

At any point in the process your dough should be ready to be put into the oven. Again, I think a mix of low resting time and a bit too much flour yielded slightly denser and flatter hamburger buns than I would have liked but they still taste quite good and bready. But wait! Perhaps you may be wondering what I did with the other half of that egg? (Well, maybe now you are.) I added a splash of water to the egg and used that as my egg wash on top of each dough round before putting it in the oven. Also, to finish off the browning process, I switched my oven from bake to broil and left the buns under close supervision until they turned golden brown.

With the majority of the components now ready and cooling down, heating up the BBQ patty was the last thing I needed to do. Reheating instructions may be found on the back of the packaging; I ended up heating up a few tsp extra virgin olive oil and on a med-lo setting heated up the burger on each side for about 7 min in total. After then reheating the onions slightly for some added warmth and moisture, it was time to finally build the burger.

Of course, you can build the burger any which way you want. Had I had barbecue sauce, I definitely would have tried the burger with that; alas, I went with my staple, ketchup. With a relatively soft interior and tougher exterior (which is not to say crunchy), each bite into the burger meant onion and burger goodness smashing and falling all over the place and onto my plate. Luckily I had a fork and again, didn't mind the finger licking combination of the saucy ketchup, sweet caramelised onions, filling veggie burger (and its spicy nuances) and fresh lettuce. Thankfully, I've got more hamburger buns and more veggie patties to go. Not bad for a few meals under $15! For the entire album, including photos from today's farmers market, click here.

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