Sunday, 21 September 2014

Operation Scratch Burger

This idea was born in the cold of last winter, when we could only dream of backyard barbecues. My burger fan son and I grabbed some great burgers many evenings in Barrie. While seated near the window in places like the Kenzington, The Works or Midway Diner, where excellent hamburgers are served, we watched the snow come down. We wondered aloud - could we make a really great homemade burger? Exactly how homemade should our burger be? This is the story of Operation Scratch Burger.

The very first phase began in late May when we purchased some vegetable seedlings at a local garden centre. What a joy to be buying green things to plant outdoors! We got leaf lettuce, pickling cucumbers, yellow onions and bonny best tomatoes. The garlic was already in, having been planted the previous fall much like a tulip bulb. We got some peppers, cantaloupe and an eggplant just for fun too.

By mid summer, there were some cute little cucumbers ready for the pickle jar. I sliced them lengthwise and packed them into a large mason jar with pickling spices, fresh dill, and some sliced garlic. The garlic was the first to be harvested from our garden. Wow, so fragrant! Much more flavourful than the handy but blander chopped garlic in oil that I usually buy. Over all of that went a simple brine of water, vinegar and coarse salt. One month later, these pickles were burger ready. (Links to all recipes located at the bottom of the page.)

Our tomato plants grew like crazy! While everybody's plants failed to thrive, or died completely, our plants outgrew their tomato cages by twice at least and developed thick healthy stalks. Soon they had tons of tomatoes, all growing bigger by the day and weighing heavily on the branches which reached over 5 feet in height when stretched up. All they needed to ripen was the dry heat and sun typical of late August, but it never came. Rain and cool prevailed. My lawn stayed nice and green ... and so did my tomatoes. They developed late blight disease from the dampness and all rotted away, which was a huge disappointment after such a super start. So in the end, I bought three 3 litre baskets of ripe tomatoes from Bob and Judi Clarke at the Barrie Farmers' Market.

The garlic grew fine, but the onions were pretty tiny. We picked lettuce for sandwiches etc. off and on most of the summer, but by late summer it was finished. I sound like a terrible vegetable gardener! It's a learning process, that's for sure. It's also a good thing I don't live in the 1800s or I might not have survived the winter.

With my local tomatoes standing in for my failed crop, I researched how to make homemade ketchup. Gotta love Google! I found a process that appealed to me and I set to work - messy, messy work. I thought to myself - if Mad Michael (in Wyebridge) can do it, so can the Foodie Girl. So 2 large pots of water were set to boil on the stove and tomatoes were plunged in, scored with an X on both ends, to remove the skin. If that wasn't messy enough, I then had to remove all the seeds from each tomato by hand. I now have new respect for Mr. Henry J. Heinz. The tomatoes were simmered in a pot with onions, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper with apple cider vinegar added in later. All of this went through a food processor and then a sieve, then boiled down to thicken. My kitchen looked like a murder scene in the end.

Some of the ketchup got an addition of molasses and liquid smoke to create a barbecue sauce. Everything got ladled into canning jars and processed in a hot water bath. It is very satisfying, after all that work and mess, to see a neat row of house made products lining the countertop and hearing the occasional pop sound as the lids seal themselves.

Once the first shambles was cleaned up, out came the bread maker. It's a handy item that takes up a lot of space and doesn't get near enough use, but I do appreciate it for times like this. I placed the ingredients for hamburger buns into it and turned it on to a regular pre-set bread program and just let it run until the mixing and kneading process was finished, then unplugged it. I turned out the dough onto my cleaned and floured countertop and rolled it out about a half inch thick. A simple drinking glass cut circular shapes from the dough. In fact, a simple can of pasta sauce became my rolling pin as it is still missing! Where do these things get to anyway? The dough circles went onto greased baking pans, brushed them with melted butter and sat them on top of the stove for 2 hours to double in size. I turned the oven on low to create a little warmth to help with the rising. Once risen, I baked the buns in a 350 F oven for about 15 minutes, when the buns were golden. They actually turned out pretty well.

About this time, I started thinking - I took my weekend off (from my cooking job) to do more cooking? My husband was hovering around saying things like "What else can you preserve? I like peaches."

But I was on the home stretch now. Trying to keep it as local as possible, I bought Orillia based Ledbetter frozen lean ground beef. It occurred to me that the pre packaged raw meats in the butcher section of a typical grocery store never give the place of origin. Why is that?

I picked up some Schomberg Cheese slices while I was at the store. My husband and sons had taken a trip down to the 400 Flea Market in search of some artisan cheese for my project, but sadly found none. I had thought one of the deli operations there would have some, but no such luck. Silani's cheddar from Schomberg looked very nice though.

Finally the grill went on! I had mixed up a dozen 4 oz. hamburger patties and placed them in the freezer to chill, and now the big moment - the barbecuing of the burgers. With no fillers, just onion, garlic, egg and seasonings, they did shrink a bit. Near the end of the cooking time, some of my newly prepared barbecue sauce was brushed on. Aha, it's all coming together now!

And there it is - the culmination of Operation Scratch Burger, some 8 months in the making. A hand made 100% beef burger on a home baked bun, on Holland Marsh onion, lettuce of undetermined origin (ooops!), Epicure Selections burger sauce, topped with tomato from Clarke's Fruit & Veggie Patch (of Minesing) and home pickled dills made from my garden cucumbers. You can't see my slaved over ketchup, but it's on there!

Oh and yes, the hamburger aficionados, one certain son in particular, enjoyed their hamburger very much. He wasn't just being polite either - he ate 3 that I know of!

If you want to try any or all of the steps I took to create this ultimate homemade and local burger, here are the links to the instructions that I used.

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