The Super Bowl is next Sunday and fans are already loading up their carts with charcoal, BBQ sauce and various ground, sliced, chopped and pre-formed meats at my local market. Good thing my wedding anniversary is this weekend -- and my husband doesn't give a damn about team sports.
Still, I figured it was only fair for the Virgin to try her hand at a little tailgating, even if the closest thing I own to a barbeque grill is a plug-in George Foreman model. For this week's edition of Cooking Virgin, I was hoping for a touchdown with a slightly modified version of the famed Burger Bar's Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Sliders, straight out of their cookbook. Too bad I almost burned the house down.
16 slices (1 pound) apple-smoked bacon
2 ripe but firm pears
About 1 tablespoon sugar
3 pounds coarsely ground sirloin, chilled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces (about 1/2 cup) crumbled blue cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil plus about 1 teaspoon
24 soft, mini burger buns
2 1/2 cups baby arugula leaves
1 small red onion (about the same diameter as the buns), very thinly sliced
1 pint basket cherry tomatoes (optional)
Serves 12 [Cook's Notes: As The Virgin has no children and isn't a Big Love sister-wife, I quartered this recipe to be more manageable. I also opted out of the cherry tomatoes and onions, used Hawaiian sweet rolls instead of plain buns and replaced the arugula with less bitter spinach.]
The Virgin's DeStructions:
1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Unless your bacon is magically lean, you'll probably have to cook the snot out of it before the piggy starts to sizzle past flabby. Drain bacon on a paper towel.
2. Cut half of the bacon slices into three pieces each. Crumble the remaining bacon and set both aside on separate plates or paper towels. Bacon doesn't like to crumble unless super crisp, so The Virgin used her fingers. Just rip it apart with your bare hands and it'll all work out fine. I promise.
3. Next, I used a potato peeler to remove the skin from the pears, which worked like a charm. The real instructions say to halve the pears lengthwise and core them. This was the point at which I broke out the Cutco knife (Yes, I have one lonely blade that's not from a discount store). Unfortunately, I had no idea how to core a pear. A few strategic cuts later, I managed to get a square-shaped hunk o' pear core out from the middle with my sharp but completely inappropriate carving knife.
4. Cut the pears crosswise into thin slices and put them in a bowl. Toss with the sugar and set aside.
5. Combine the beef, thyme, crumbled bacon, and pepper in another bowl. Knead with your hands until mixed.
6. Make baby balls out of the meat mixture (48 for full recipe) and make a little indentation in half of them. The recipe recommends you waste a perfectly good egg and risk breaking it by using the shallow end to make a divot in half of the balls. Here, The Virgin's brilliance prevailed as I covered my egg in plastic wrap, made the depressions and returned it to its carton in the fridge.
7. Fill the holes with a mini mound of cheese crumbles. Don't even bother using a spoon; fingers work much better for handling these balls!
8. Here's where you crush the balls together. Take a plain ball and press it down on top of a cheese-filled ball. Flatten into a patty shape, pinching the edges of both "balls" together around the cheese. Cheese filling should not be exposed.
9. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat (or heat the barbecue grill if you're using one). Season burgers with salt and pepper.
10. Cook the burgers, turning occasionally, to your preference (about 3 minutes for rare). At this point, Burger Bar offers a few suggestions for cooking, such as not pressing down on the burgers, being gentle with them and basting them with fat. The Virgin chose instead to ignore the burgers after a few minutes and hope for the best, as I was busy with the other preparation steps.
11. As Burger Bar instructs, "While the burgers cook, toast the buns in a toaster oven or under the broiler, about 5 inches from the heat, until lightly toasted."
Try The Virgin's method and forget about the rolls until your partner exclaims, "Crap! What's that smell?" I removed the charred hunks of formerly sweet roll and tossed them aside. Good thing I bought a big package.
12. Hope you like your burgers well done, because if you haven't removed them from the heat they'll be dried out like old shoe leather by now. Anyway, take the burgers off the heat and set aside or drain fat on a towel if you prefer.
13. Get the damned rolls out of the oven before the smoke alarm goes off (again). Then, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and toss in pear slices. Cook until browned.
How to Build a Better Burger:
Place bottom bun down on plate and top with a few arugula/spinach leaves, pear slices and a piece of crisp bacon. Add burger and bun top. Skewer the whole thing together for presentation, or just dig in. This is for the Super Bowl anyway. Does anyone really give a crap if there's a skewered cherry tomato on top?
Despite the scorched bread and a few knife skills stumbles along the way, The Virgin's Burger Bar Burger was damned tasty. The blue cheese crumbles melted into a gooey, pungent filling that would be even better in a full size burger. The bacon was well-crisped and contrasted well with the soft, sweet pear slices. Maybe it wasn't a touchdown, but this Cooking Virgin at least made it to the end zone.
Check back next week for more of The Cooking Virgin's foibles...