Cheeseburger Salad and Deviled Eggs with Dill

Summertime is a season and a mindset for me.  It is a season to avoid being booked and busy as much as possible, to allow time to be free to savor summer’s simple pleasures.  Over the weekend, this included a trip to the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market, a meal outside on the patio at a favorite restaurant, picking a few weeds in the garden, inviting my cousin over to hang out in our back yard, working up a sweat doing yard cleanup, going to the pool for a swim and sitting in the sun porch listening to rumbling thunder and watching rain pour down, giving our garden a thorough soaking.

The summer mindset is also reflected in the food we eat.  We like to eat outdoors in our back yard on the patio as much as possible.  The availability of a great variety of fresh produce at the market and from our garden shapes our menu.  We make frequent use of the grill.  Grilling has the multiple benefits of allowing us to cook outside on the patio, avoid heating up the house and further influences our food choices toward simple, classic summer fare.

One classic summer food staple that I’m thrilled to see back in vogue are deviled eggs.  Why wouldn’t these re-emerge and get trendy?  They are perfect, tasty bites, extremely simple and they can be made with all kinds of interesting ingredients.  I’ve seen deviled eggs with crab meat, bacon, capers and even caviar-topped deviled eggs on food blogs and restaurant menus.  I like a classic deviled egg the most, and I don’t follow a recipe.  I boil, cool and peel the eggs, mash the yolks and mix in minced onion, a little grainy Dijon mustard and just enough light mayo to make them creamy.  I attempted to pipe the filling back into the egg white halves from a pastry bag, but I chose too small a tip to allow the filling’s grainy mustard to squeeze through, so the piping experience started out with a few pretty, piped deviled eggs, then an explosion, followed by me filling the rest of the eggs with a teaspoon.  Garnish is a must, especially with the teaspoon egg filling-method.  In the off-season, I’m still a fan of a sprinkling of paprika, but in the summer, chopped chives or dill are my go-to garnish.  I call the dill from our garden “Electric Dill” because it is so bright and fragrant, and the dill flavor just pops- electric!

Today was one of those days that I was half-way between two dinner ideas.  Bjorn had thawed some lean ground beef raised by his uncle, and I had a hankering for a veggie burger with all of my favorite burger toppings, but also a salad.  From what I’ve been reading, it is better not to eat bread and high-glycemic, addictive [delicious] carbs at every meal.  The idea of a Cheeseburger Salad was born.  I am sure I’m not the first to think of it.  Mine ended up somewhere in the realm of California Burger meets Mushroom and Swiss, but the topping possibilities are only limited by your imagination–avocado, fried egg, pickles, sauerkraut and crispy bacon all come to mind.  The basic premise is to deconstruct your favorite burger, up the veggie count, leave out the bun, and have yourself a great salad. 

Bjorn grilled up a burger for himself, and a veggie burger patty for me, and topped both with thinly sliced provolone cheese.  We sautéed mushrooms with some onions on the grill’s side burner, and served the burgers and sautéed mushrooms and onions on a bed of lettuce leaves with sliced tomato from the market.  As a dressing, we used a little leftover creamy taco sauce that I mixed up for another meal which consisted of smoky chipotle and garlic salsa mixed with a little light sour cream.

We rounded out the meal with a few bright red radishes from the farmer’s market.  We are both obsessed with farmer’s market radishes at the moment.  They are brighter and spicy, and of no comparison to most radishes I’ve tasted from the grocery store.  I’ve been keeping a bowl in water in the fridge so that they are ready for snacking and ready to be served at any meal, including breakfast!  I cannot wait until radishes from our garden are ready to eat.

I’m sure I’ll make Cheeseburger Salads again, and will certainly make more deviled eggs.  Even with the richness of a deviled egg, and melted provolone, the meal felt just little lighter.  After the deviled egg filling vs. piping bag incident was cleaned up, the meal came together quickly, giving us time to sit back and watch the cardinals hanging out in the grass.

Chicago Dog Days of Summer

If I were a followed blogger, I’d have to apologize for the long silence.  Some day!  For now, it’s a good thing to have zero followers.  Summer arrived, and I started filling my free moments with being outside, gardening, cookouts, trips to the lake and general summer fun and relaxation.  I got re-inspired to return to our blog by an article I read recently in the Summer Made Easy Special Issue of Everyday Food Magazine called Bask Country about a tapas party with food prepared by Aran Goyoaga, a pastry chef, blogger and cookbook author, written by Jean Lear, photographed by John Kernick.  I read the lines “She started blogging as a way to keep track of the baking she was doing at home….Soon her serene, light-filled aesthetic–captured by her photographs as well as her prose found a loyal readership.”  Now, that is what I was thinking of when I started this blog.  I immediately jumped up and grabbed my camera and my laptop.  And then I encountered a bunch of boring computer and camera problems and had to save this post for another day.  Problems solved…  Here is my first attempt at recreating a close approximation of an authentic Chicago-style hotdog.

First, I had a little shopping to do in order to top the dogs properly.  Chicago dogs come with sliced tomatoes, mustard, onions, a dill pickle spear, a funny little pepper called a Sport Pepper, and a sprinkling of celery salt on a poppy seed bun.

Its been a hot summer, so an advantage to the Chicago dog is that it can be made on the grill.  I brushed the buns lightly with butter in order to help adhere poppy seeds to the top.

The meat version, served with a side of grilled sweet corn, with butter, pepper and salt, of course, and a few strips of bacon, for good measure.

The veggie version, is a close approximation of the classic chicago dog, except with with a vegetarian dog, and of course, all of the essential chicago dog fixings.  I enjoyed mine with a cob of grilled corn, a slice of watermelon and cukes & onions with dill, vinegar with salt, pepper.  A tasty escape to the Windy City!

Sauced – Gates Bar-B-Q Shish Kebabs

We’ve heard from a few friends who may know that Gates Bar-B-Q Sauce from Kansas City is The Best Barbecue Sauce.

Bjorn’s co-worker Jason was kind enough to bring us a bottle of Gates Bar-B-Q Sauce back from a recent trip home to Kansas City.  What better way to welcome the arrival of grilling season than slather some Extra Hot Gates Bar-B-Q sauce all over vegetarian and meat Shish Kebabs on their way to the grill?

Veggies on hand included bright yellow bell peppers, zucchini, green onions, button mushrooms and heirloom cherry tomatoes.  In a matter of minutes, those can be washed and chopped into large chunks of similar size and threaded on to bamboo skewers, pre-soaked in water.  It was late and we were tired so this meal needed to be fixed quickly.  The protein selected for the vegetarian version was pre-made vegetarian “meatballs” and for the omnivore iteration, real beef meatballs from the freezer, defrosted quickly in the microwave.

After grilling, as usual, the difference between the vegetarian and the real beef version is difficult to distinguish visually.   I made a simplified parsley pesto of fresh Italian Parsley, fresh garlic and olive oil, zipped in the food processor which pulled together green peas, chickpeas and Basmati rice into a cohesive side.

The finished plate:  this happens to be the veggie version. Notice the delicious char on the heirloom yellow cherry tomato toward the top of the left skewer.  That Gates Bar-B-Q Sauce has kick!   The meal prep was quick and left flavorful leftovers that re-heated well for a tasty and easy lunch at work the next day.

Sunday Noon

I am sure that of the best home-cooked meals I’ve eaten in my life, the vast majority of them were consumed at or around noon on Sunday.  The day of rest welcomes a meal made a slower pace and consumed with some measure of reverence.  Slowing down enough to enjoy and to be aware of the activity of cooking and eating has so much to do with what makes food enjoyable, after all. 

The slow part is not out of the ordinary for me.  I’m a slow cook.  I don’t like to rush.  I like to meditate on the process a bit and I like to have most of my dirty dishes washed before the meal is served.  Most importantly though, I like things all to be hot and ready serve and to eat at the same time.  Yesterday’s noon meal was no fancy Sunday roast, but I hold that pizza is worthy of being the culinary high point of the week when it is made with love from scratch with the yummiest toppings you have available.  It takes some time to make your own dough and to cut and saute your favorite toppings.  Above, pizza dough flecked with basil and Pecorino Romano Cheese.

On the left, mushroom, green pepper, pineapple, fresh mozzarella and marble cheese (mozzarella was in short supply!).  On the right, maple syrup breakfast sausage, mushroom, green pepper, mozzarella and marble jack.  Tomato sauce seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano on both.

Char marks are one of the best results of grilling a pizza.

The vegetarian version was delicious.  Perfect char marks, delicious toppings… Only addition needed was a coke.

Punch Neapolitan Pizza, one of our top three favorite pizza shops in our hood serves some of its pies uncut with a knife and fork.  It works well for a personal size pizza with a crispy crust that is loaded with toppings.  Here is Bjorn’s maple syrup breakfast sausage Sunday delight.