Cooking in the time of COVID-19: And then …Tom made Smash Burgers
My husband wasn’t taught to cook, do his laundry or iron his clothes before he left home for University. When I met him, he had figured out washing colours and whites separately and when to wash in hot water and when to wash in cold. When it came to food, he ate like a student — Kraft Dinner, cereal, fast food (subs, hamburgers, hot dogs) and he lived in a condo building above a Taco Bell. Tom ate there so much that he earned himself a hat and t-shirt from the restaurant. The more I got to know him, I learned that instead of trying to diversify his palette, his parents pretty much gave in to him at meal time and proceeded to draw attention to his fussy eating habits at the table in front of their friends and in my presence as well, even though he was an adult. I always felt what they were doing was disrespectful and cruel and I was concerned that he would not be comfortable around my family at mealtime. I am a Trinidadian and my culture revolves around food. We are all about cooking and enjoying a variety of food and flavors and I was not about to dull down my cooking to accommodate his basic palette but try and introduce new flavors to him, slowly and comfortably. In Tom’s defense, he didn’t grow up eating flavorful food. Back when we would eat at his parents’ home, my mother-in-law’s food was not terrible but she certainly is a salt and pepper only cook. To quote my husband, his “DNA was screaming for something different” and so, he chose to be with me. Wow! On so many levels other than cuisine, that was quite the avant garde move for him. He chose a a Heinz 57 wife, fathered two Heinz 57 sons, and not only eats all kinds of food, he makes a repertoire of meals that are as flavourful and spicy (sometimes spicier) as anything I would cook. I made it clear to my family that he was not to be singled out at the table. I did not tolerate any verbal Trini observations about his uncertainty around our food and my family and I never forced him to try different foods and flavours in our early years together. As time went by and a trip to Trinidad at Carnival occurred, Tom tried many different kinds of food. My husband, the son of a salt and pepper cook, eats doubles, roti, pelau, callaloo, curried everything, roast beef, Jamaican patties, samosas, a variety of Italian food, fried rice, Oriental styled chicken and beef and Korean food, thus ending the running “joke” of the little boy who only ate peanut butter sandwiches and hamburgers. And while he is not versed in what are my staple Trini dishes, the food he does make are his signature meals and he keeps adding to his menu every two to three months. Not only does he cook a variety of things, he has now added kitchen gadgets to the other gadgets out there that interest him. Tom is a reader and a researcher and not only can he build his own computers, brew his own beer and dabble in making his own music, the man has purchased some tools to help him cook what he knows well and try new creations as well. It is with great pride that I add Tom’s recipes to my Cooking in a time of COVID-19 Blog Series.
When the kids were little, Tom made eating fun for them. Not wanting them to be picky like him, he not only made tasty and nutritious food, he made food fun and bestowed zany names upon everything he made for them. I remember picking up Logan from Kung Fu and Adam from somewhere else and asking them what Daddy made them for dinner. I was also giving a co-worker a ride home and she was appreciating their answer as much as I was when they both said, “Crabby Patty Explosions” with salad. They were big Sponge Bob fans at the time and Tom stole the name of the burger on the show, made their burgers with thick patties, melted cheese and a slosh of ketchup that went not only on the burger but smeared onto the plate much like if the burger exploded. He kept the top bun off and made putting the lid on the burger the boys’ job. That was just one of the many kookie meals he made for them when I was not home to cook. Adam ( albeit autistic ) and Logan ate pretty much everything we made for them and still do. Now young men, the Crabby Patty Explosion no longer exists but in honour of the important role this Daddy made burger had in their mealtimes, I give you my husband’s delicious-as-all-get-out, Smash Burgers.
As we entered our period of isolation because of the COVID-19 virus pandemic, we realized we had more than enough food for our meals. Happy that this would cut down the time we spent in public, we started cooking food pledging to use everything we had and substituting ingredients wherever we could. This also allowed us to keeping an on going list of grocery items until we ran out of until it was a long enough list to warrant a shopping trip. Just before the isolation period came into effect, Tom had ordered another gadget he had his eye on that is now an integral part of our cooking adventures.
To make smash burgers, you need regular sized hamburger buns because you don’t excess bread that will fill you up too quickly and prevent you from thoroughly enjoying every crumb of this burger. You will need 8 strips of lean bacon and about a pound and a quarter of medium ground beef (Tom uses a scale as he is a more precise cook than I am).
We get our meat from a local butcher and they taught us over the years that you need a little bit of fat in the meat in order to make a good burger. For those of you are afraid of what I just said, all I can tell you is exercise before you eat your food. get your quota of movement to balance your quota of food intake, okay? Okay, next…get your toppings ready. Sometimes we use tomatoes and mushrooms or peppers, but in keeping with our isolation rule of using all that we have before going out to shop, we just had onions and American cheddar slices. Next, form the ground beef into mid sized balls. Tom puts 2 patties on a bun so he makes a total of 8 to feed us. Tom has also made his own burger sauce which really gives the burger that Mom and Pop burger joint taste. Mix a bit of ketchup, mustard, relish and mayonnaise and set aside to spread onto the burger buns later. Tom makes a jar of sauce. He stores in it the fridge in a small, sanitized former Smuckers jam jar for future burger use. As with anything in cooking keep adding the ingredients gradually, mixing them and tasting to ensure good flavor.
Oh, another thing to remember, if you are serving fries with your meal, you have to decide how to time that out so that they are ready to be served with your burgers. We use a Tefal Air “Fryer” that takes about 25 minutes to make the fries. We also don’t use the recommended table spoon of oil when cooking with it as you really don’t need to. The surface of the pan is non stick, easy to clean and it can cook anything from fries to chicken and anything you would ordinarily fry in oil. It can even cook vegetables if you want it to. By not needing oil you get healthier prepared fries that are just as tasty and crispy as those fried in oil.
We now use a Blackstone propane griddle and really enjoy cooking everything on it at the same time. When you have a hungry 17 and 20 year old to feed, you want things done quickly and efficiently so that you can keep the hunger beasts that live within them at bay. The griddle is one stop tasty cooking because it allows us to adjust the heat on parts of the grill to accommodate what we are cooking. If you want to try this and you don’t have a griddle (or crazy husband who will wear a coat and set this thing up in the garage because smash burgers can’t wait until spring) you can certainly use a frying pan on a stove top and toast your buns in the oven or a toaster. You can also cook your bacon in the microwave to utilize your time well.
First, Tom toasts the buns and fries the bacon and sets them aside before the real fun begins.
The heat is equalized across the grill and the meat balls are equally spread across the surface. After they sear for about 20 seconds, the balls are ready to be smashed (he he he).
Look at the juiciness of the burger and the crust that forms on the surface that traps the flavor in the meat. Flip the burger and cook the other side for about a minute. The grill is hot and the meat is pressed thin so it will cook fast so be careful not to over cook or burn. Top with cheese and allow to melt.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, I spread the burger sauce on the buns.
Tom placed the burgers on the tray and brought them into the kitchen where we topped with bacon, onion rings and the buns with the burger sauce. We added the fries to the plate and served another quick and tasty lunch on another isolation day. Our time together at the table was not very long but we did manage to exchange a few words between moans of sheer delicious delight. I’m not sure I will ever eat a burger from a restaurant again. This burger was just too damn good. It was the right flavor, the perfect size and it was made in a clean environment and made out of love. With lunch devoured, digested and done, we looked towards dinner. My turn again hmmm…I’m thinking Trinidad stewed chicken and pigeon peas with macaroni pie. That should make them smile.
Feel free to try this and share your recipes as well. I like to think the more we share ideas and use the time to cook and create, the easier this time of home isolation might be. Stay healthy, stay home and try and enjoy your time at home.