LAMBURGERS WITH FETA CHEESE DRESSING

Re-posting this on National Cheeseburger Day!

When it comes to grilling, lamb is often overlooked. Yet it’s a wonderful, flavorful meat that makes a great burger. The taste of lamb can be a bit strong, however, so I mix 1 lb of ground lamb with 1 lb of ground grass-fed beef.

Ingredients:

1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground beef
2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra Virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons minced Spanish onion
2.5 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon each fresh parsley, mint, and dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
.5 teaspoon cumin
1 large clove garlic, squeezed through a garlic press
1 scallion, finely chopped, green part only
1 teaspoon salt
.5 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over high heat. Add onions. Cook until browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer onions to a plate. Let cool.
In a bowl, mix onions, lamb, pork, mustard, herbs, spices, garlic, scallions, salt and pepper.
Form meat into slider-sized patties. Place on baking sheet covered with non-stick foil, and place in fridge.
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire.

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To keep the Greek flavors going, I came up with this feta cheese dressing that works great with the lamburgers.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1  cup mayo
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, like Franks Red Hot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4–5 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate. Best the next day.

Don’t let the lamburgers get too cold in the fridge…just enough to firm the meat up a bit. If it gets too cold, give it a few minutes at room temp to warm up again.  Grill burgers until cooked to medium. Place on slider buns with lettuce and tomato, and smear the bun with the feta cheese dressing.

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ASIAN BACON

Well, that’s what I call it. Sometimes the most interesting creations happen by accident, and this is one of them.

My plan was to make my Chinese Style Honey Ribs (http://wp.me/p1c1Nl-i7) for dinner. But I accidentally took a slab of pork belly out of the freezer instead. I only realized my mistake when I thawed it and started cooking it, so I decided to continue the process with the pork belly instead. The results were pretty damn tasty.

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 Ingredients:
Marinade: ¾ cup light soy sauce
                     6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
5 lbs pork belly
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 whole star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (3”)
1/2 cup honey
4 cups chicken broth
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Mix marinade ingredients. Set aside.
Cut the pork belly into pieces that are about 3 inches square. Place in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Drain.
Place pork belly on a sheet pan with a rack and coat with marinade. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pork belly pieces on foil-lined sheet pan for 30 minutes.
While the pork belly is baking, start sauce in a large non-stick pan or pot: combine lemon zest and juice, star anise, cinnamon sticks, honey and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
When the pork belly pieces have finished baking, add them to the sauce pot and simmer (covered) for at least 15 minutes or until meat is tender.
Turn heat on high, uncover pot and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze that coats the ribs. Reduce heat as sauce thickens to avoid sugars in honey from burning. When the pieces are sticky and gooey, they are ready!
Let a piece of pork belly cool…then slice to desired thickness and fry like regular bacon. Makes an amazing omelet!
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KICKIN’ CUCUMBER COCKTAIL

If you think cucumbers are boring, this drink will change your mind. Garden-fresh cukes are always best.

This drink requires a little prep. If you have a juicer, use that instead of pureeing in a food processor. Just peel the cukes and juice.

 

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Ingredients:

4 fresh cucumbers, peeled and seeded

Small ice cubes

1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves

2 teaspoons granulated organic cane sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup top shelf vodka, like Chopin

1 oz (2 tablespoons) Cointreau

 

Peel and seed cucumbers. Coarsely chop them and then purée in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Set cucumber juice aside.

To a large glass pitcher, add mint leaves, sugar and lime juice. Muddle ingredients so that mint leaves release their oils. Add 3/4 cup (at least) of the cucumber juice. Add the vodka and Cointreau. Muddle again briefly.

Fill tall drinking glasses with ice cubes. Strain cocktail into glasses. Garnish with cucumber spear or mint.

TUNA TARTARE

The key to great tuna tartare is super fresh tuna. I was lucky: I got a phone call from friends who had an overload of just-caught tuna delivered to their door! I gladly accepted whatever they wanted to give me, and made this dish…

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Ingredients:

 

1 lb. super-fresh tuna

1/4 cup olive oil

zest of 1 lime

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup scallions, minced (white and green parts)

1 avocado, chopped into 1/4″ cubes

1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)

 

Chop the tuna into 1/4″ cubes or smaller. Place in a large bowl and keep in the fridge.

In another bowl, combine olive oil, lime zest and juice, wasabi powder, soy sauce, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper, scallions, and chopped avocado. Mix gently so you don’t mash the avocado.

Add this mixture to the bowl of tuna and combine gently. Let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour for the flavors to combine. Before serving, take the bowl out of the fridge and let it warm just slightly. Taste for seasoning. Top with optional sesame seeds.

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HATZIDAKIS WINERY, SANTORINI, GREECE

We have friends on their honeymoon in Santorini right now, visiting many of the places we’ve suggested, including the Hatzidakis winery. Here are photos from our adventure in 2013…

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They don’t have a fancy tasting room. They don’t do tours. They don’t have an amazing view of the water or the island. They don’t even hold regular visiting hours. They simply have the best wine on the island.

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And that’s exactly why you need to go. Have your hotel call ahead and make an appointment.

Haridimos “George” Hatzidakis is all about his grapes. Ask anyone on Santorini what the best wine is, and you will get “Hatzidakis” as the answer every time.

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Sure, there are huge wineries with tasting rooms that overlook the water. That’s where the tour buses take the cattle that arrive in Fira on cruise ships. Why would you want to hang with them?

Hatzidakis wine is about the soil, the grapes, the climate. It’s also about the passion of the handful people who work hard to make it.

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You can’t find Hatzidakis in the United states (unless you look in my wine cellar, because we bring home as much as we can!!) Much of it is scooped up and exported to France…and much to our happy surprise, we’ve had a bottle of the Hatzidakis Assyrtyko in Paris at Le Baratin.

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But for the most part, you’ll have to go to Santorini to experience the magic of this incredible wine. And that’s not a bad thing. Because the wine is much like the people of Santorini: beautiful and worth every bit of travel hassles to get there.

 

Cheers!

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“TEN CON TEN” IN MADRID: YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PARTY

We were in Madrid at the end of August, 2014…still vacation time for most of the city, so our restaurant choices were somewhat limited. The concierge at the Westin Palace Hotel, where we stayed for 3 nights in Madrid, suggested Ten Con Ten. We were told that despite this being the place where all the so-called “beautiful people” hang out, it is a legitimate foodie destination.

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We arrived: my wife, my 7-year-old daughter and I…and immediately were the center of attention as we were clearly the only people who ever even considered bringing a child into this place. We were spoiling the vibe of the party. (We’ve taken our daughter to fine restaurants all over the world and never had a problem. She’s better behaved than most of the adults in the room.)

We sat down at our table, were greeted gruffly in Spanish by our server, a young woman who clearly disliked us from the start, and were asked if we wanted a drink before ordering dinner. I had vodka on the rocks, served promptly. My wife ordered cava, a sparkling wine, and it was forgotten. However, that didn’t stop 3 separate managers from coming to our table and asking what we wanted to eat…all in a span of 4 minutes, before I even had the chance to take a second sip of my drink. When my wife commented that she’d like to enjoy her drink first (which still hadn’t arrived), they left in a huff.

A lovely elderly couple from Denver, at the table next to us, told us that they were completely rushed through their dinner and plates were removed from under them before they even had a chance to finish…like a scene from a bad Chinese restaurant. They complained loudly as they paid their bill, in part I think, to set the stage for us to at least enjoy our dinner at a more leisurely pace. I wish I knew how to get in touch with them to thank them for that!

When a fourth manager asked for our order, that’s when we politely said we were hoping to have the table for the night. He rushed off to confer with the reservations chick with the clipboard, and he finally agreed with a sigh that it would be alright. When we told him we had eaten at 2 of the top 10 restaurants in the world, Arzak and Mugaritz in San Sebastián just a few days earlier, I think he finally understood that we were there for the food and not all the posturing.

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All this was so unlike any dining experience we had in Spain, that it really caught us off guard. But once we established that we were staying and taking our time–kid and all–they relented and started serving us with a different attitude. In fact, the manager that was assigned to us (our grumpy server now relegated to simply clearing our plates) was great, and soon we were able to establish a fun and friendly dialogue with him that really made the evening special.

We wanted to try many dishes, but obviously couldn’t eat them all. Our new manager friend specially ordered smaller portions for us. When we couldn’t decide which plates to choose from, we let him do it, much to his delight. A white wine we ordered was not available at the proper temperature, so he chose another for us–excellent. Our bottle of red came from a private stock that wasn’t even on the menu–again, his choice.

And when our daughter a hand wrote a small thank-you card to the staff for a wonderful meal, you could’ve knocked them over with a feather. The staffers literally made a receiving line toward the door as we left, shaking our hands and thanking us for dining with them…our manager friend being the very last to say goodbye.

The food was excellent and seasonal. The menu changes all the time. We had toro tuna tataki, pasta with a morel sauce (featuring a touch of foie!), pasta with a sea urchin sauce, veal scallopine, what they call “yellow” fish (it commonly is caught alongside tuna), oxtail hamburgers, and more…and wonderful desserts.

Dining in Spain starts at 8PM for the most part, and it was clear in the beginning of our night (we had an 8:30 reservation) that they planned on turning that table over a lot. Our manager friend told us that, despite the fact that the restaurant was already full, the party “really” only started at midnight! So rushing people in and out was the way to make some serious coin for these folks. And he said it got even worse once the vacation season was over and everyone was back to work in Madrid!

The secret to enjoying Ten Con Ten is to stake your claim: don’t let them push you around. Make it clear that a rushed meal is not acceptable. The staff may grumble at first, but eventually let you have your way. And then… it can be a great experience.

FRESH CORN AND TOMATO SALSA

Corn and tomatoes…when they’re in season, you just can’t beat the combination! This is a very simple salsa that takes advantage of their natural sweetness and is easy to make.

salsa

 

Ingredients:

 

1 lb frozen organic corn or equivalent fresh

2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/4 small red onion, finely chopped

6 oz mild crumbled cheese, like feta, cotija, or queso fresco

1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel

A pinch of black pepper

2 teaspoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

If using fresh corn, remove it from the ears, then pan saute  in a little olive oil, but leave it nice and crisp. If you can roast the ears of corn over some coals, even better. Let it cool.

Mix corn with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.