Flavor-Bursting Mexican Burgers

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My wife Molly and I love burgers, and we love Mexican food. This recipe is all about putting those two together.

Several years ago, before we got married and I learned Molly made delicious homemade tortillas, I cooked up a batch of tortilla-wrapped burgers with taco-seasoned beef, using store-bought flour tortillas. Recently, while browsing a burger cookbook in our library I thought, “Why not make a better Mexican-flavored burger with Molly’s homemade tortillas?”

Last year, we learned from a Rick Bayless cookbook how to make Huevos Rancheros, which include a mega-flavorful tomatillo sauce and queso fresco, two ingredients that add the perfect kick and cool to our Mexican burgers, too.

So, it’s as simple as that: homemade tortilla, seasoned beef, tomatillo sauce and queso fresco. We were blown away by the burst of flavor in every bite. First, you get the taste of seasoned beef and the soft heartiness of the tortillas, which serve as your bun. Then you get the fresh spiciness of the tomatillo sauce. Finally, the queso cools you off to close.

You can pick this burger up, but we’ll warn you that it is very messy. You can also eat it with knife and fork as an open-faced sandwich. Here’s how you make it, piece by piece, to serve four people. It will probably take you 60 to 90 minutes in the kitchen to prepare, but we guarantee you it will be worth it. Just crumble your desired amount of queso fresco, assemble the parts at the end of the process and enjoy!

 

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Tortillas

2 cups tortilla flour

2/3 cup water

Directions: Put the tortilla flour in a large bowl. Slowly add the water, mixing in with your hands until fully incorporated. Form into a large ball until all the flour is absorbed. If the dough ball is too sticky, sprinkle a little more flour in and mix in. Tear off and form small balls (slightly bigger than the size of a golf ball; you should end up with about 9) and sit them on a floured surface. Take each ball and flatten between a lightly-floured burger press. Heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat and cook each tortilla until lightly toasted on each side. (Watch carefully. Tip: You may want to use a fork or other utensil to flip the tortilla over since it will be hot.) You may need to flip the tortilla a few times to get it just right. Practice makes perfect! Stack on a plate until ready to use.

 

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Seasoned Beef

1 pound fresh ground beef

1 T chili powder

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t onion powder

¼ t crushed red pepper flakes

¼ t dried oregano

½ t paprika

1 ½ t ground cumin

1 t salt

1 t black pepper

Directions: Mix your spices together thoroughly in a small bowl. Tear apart your ground beef in a medium bowl. Pour your spices over your beef and then blend together thoroughly with your hands. Divide evenly into four parts, and roll each into a ball. Smash with your hands or a burger press and form into patties. You can cook on a stovetop, but we like to cook on foil on a pan in the oven. Heat to 375 and cook until done, about 20 minutes. We’ve found that cooking burgers in the oven produces done, tender, juicy meat, while the excess grease pours off.

 

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Tomatillo Sauce

5 tomatillos

2 small garlic cloves

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup chicken broth

1 jalapeno

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ teaspoon salt

Directions: Use a food processor, if you have one, or chop your garlic, jalapeno, cilantro and tomatillos. Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add chopped ingredients and cook on medium-high for 7 minutes until sauce thickens. Add chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Stir in heavy cream. Taste and season with salt.

 

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Bonus Side Dish: Fiesta Fried Potatoes

4 or 5 small to medium potatoes

1 small garlic clove

1 tablespoon butter (for browning)

½ lime for fresh juice

pinch fresh cilantro

pinch salt to taste

Directions: Dice your potatoes and preheat them by cooking them in a microwave-safe bowl for 5 or so minutes. Add potatoes to a saucepan with butter, garlic, cilantro and salt. Stir from time to time, but don’t overstir to allow to brown. Cut lime and squeeze over potatoes to coat with juice. When potatoes are soft inside and slightly brown outside, they’re done. Serve up beside your Mexican burger!

Fresh, Simple Homemade Salsa

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Mexican restaurants used to confuse me with the phrase pico de gallo. Is it salsa? Is it something else? Now I have a simple answer: It’s salsa so fresh and unprocessed that you can still see the different vegetables and spices it includes.

I’ve recently been tinkering with options for an incredibly simple and fresh-tasting salsa that I can make to enjoy when we eat Mexican-style food at home (which is often because we love it). We aren’t big fans of incredibly spicy food, and I like such recipes to include as few ingredients and measurements as possible. It’s nice to know you’ve got what you need in the kitchen without having to make a special grocery trip to make something as simple as salsa. Here’s what I came up with, and we’ve enjoyed it a few times with tortilla chips (and I once successfully used it as a southwestern-style cheeseburger topping).

Ingredients 

1/3 cup chopped tomato

1/3 cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped pepper (your choice, mine was green bell)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

splash of lime juice

Directions

Finely chop your vegetables and mix them in a bowl alongside your salt and pepper. Splash with a couple of circles of lime juice. Mix again and serve in a bowl of an appropriate size.

This recipe yields a cup of salsa. You’ll want to multiply that by how many people you’re serving and how much salsa you expect each diner to eat.

Foodie Travels: Dutch Broad Cafe, Forest City, N.C.

EDITORS NOTE: Dutch Broad Market & Cafe moved from Spindale to Forest City following this original posting.

Farm-fresh, local food is one of America’s hottest, sustaining culinary movements. Sourcing menus with ingredients grown nearby and incorporated into dishes is quite the chic practice, and it’s a common trend across North Carolina, a state historically known for its wide variety of farms and products.

Our slice of the world, however, still seems to have a meager plate of options from which to choose a fresh-prepared meal with ingredients that are a combination of locally grown, organic and healthy. Luckily, that’s exactly what a new restaurant in Rutherford County provides, along with many other delightful features.

The Dutch Broad Cafe in Forest City bases its menu on a farm-to-table concept that accents the local, health-conscious options that more and more people are asking for. The restaurant and coffee shop along the main business district of the small town offers a perfectly simple list of food choices through its cafe, and it serves those items in what I would call a nice-casual environment. In other words, you’ll find nice tablecloths and cloth napkins, but you can be comfortable wearing your shorts and T-shirts.

The menu itself offers an easy-to-navigate variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads, along with a few appetizer and dessert options.

Molly ordered the chicken caesar salad, which delivered a large portion of fresh lettuce and tomatoes, crispy bacon pieces, tasty croutons and a heaping helping of flavorful grilled chicken, along with a delicious house-made caesar dressing. Most people could make three portions out of the salad, which also comes with a warm, soft croissant topped with honey butter.

True to my ordering form, I chose the burger option on the menu. But this was no ordinary American restaurant burger. No, this was a grass-fed patty with beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Asheville, N.C., topped with lettuce, tomato, condiments and my choice of cheese. I selected the Dutch cheese, which the chef with Holland roots brings from the country herself. All of that comes on a fresh bun, with a side of crispy-outside, soft-inside Dutch-style fries. The burger was top notch, in taste, in toppings, in size and in price.

After our entrees, we sampled the vanilla bean creme brûlée, which the chef delivered to the table herself and torched in front of us. It was a scrumptious vanilla custard, with a crispy coating top, and accompanied by two wafers on the plate beside it. We enjoy creme brûlée because it’s a nice light, not super-sweet dessert to immediately follow a meal. And this one was as good as any we’ve had in the region.

We also had a chance to sample the warm, fresh donut holes you’ll find on the menu. The soft dough pieces came with an organic dark chocolate and a smooth-sweet caramel pair of dipping sauces.

“We don’t use anything that’s day old,” one of our servers told us near the end of our meal. Based on our first visit to the Dutch Broad Cafe, I’d agree. This is not a place where you’ll find a never-ending menu or all of the heavy and calorie-packed American food items you can get at all the other restaurants.

This is a place where you will be greeted by multiple smiles and hellos when you enter. Based on our experience, it’s a place where you’ll get an ample portion of quality food that is commensurate with the price you’ll pay. And it’s a place where fresh ingredients are the basis of every item on the menu.

Dutch Broad Cafe is old-school hospitality, mixed with the contemporary fresh-food concept and a Holland-influence twist. It’s a formula that works, and it’s one we’re ecstatic to support.

Dutch Broad Cafe

654 W. Main St., Forest City, N.C.

$ (on scale of $ very affordable, $$ middle of the road, $$$ expensive)

On Facebook: Dutch Broad Cafe

Simple Caramelized Peaches

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Fresh peaches are a sign of summer in the South, particularly in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina.

Roadside stands are the resource of choice when possible, and those baskets of fruit can yield the most delicious cobblers, pies and baked goods you can imagine.

But you often get more peaches in a cheap bin than you can use in those oven-baked treats. So what do you do with the rest?

One of Matthew’s favorite things to do with fresh fruit that contains some natural juices is to caramelize it. The process draws out the natural sugars in the fruit and creates almost a sweet sauce that is delicious by itself, on top of another dessert element or with plain ole vanilla ice cream.

This recipe is a bit unconventional because there’s no need to really list ingredients or a process. Many recipes for caramelized fruits will suggest adding white or brown sugar to the pan. Some guides even suggest putting a little bit of olive oil in the pan to keep your fruit from sticking. Matthew doesn’t prefer the oil because it doesn’t benefit a sweet dish, and he doesn’t prefer adding sugar to the pan because it defeats the purpose of relying on and enjoying the natural sugars.

For fresh peaches that you have peeled yourself, it’s likely you have some juices in addition to the solid fruit, especially if your leftover fruit has had time to sit in the fridge for a few days.

How we made it:

Put your frying pan or skillet on your burner and give it medium-high to high heat.

Take a cup or two of fresh fruit, depending on how much you want to eat, and spread it out in your pan, being sure to include some of the juice. The key to having the juice is that it will help keep your fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Still, like many things you cook in a stovetop pan, you’re less likely to deal with sticking if you’re using a newer, non-stick pan.

You have to achieve the right balance of letting your peaches sit to heat and caramelize and moving them around so they don’t stick. That balance can only be determined by your pan and your burner, along with how much juice you add to the pan. I would suggest a quarter cup of juice per cup of fruit.

Your fruit will almost become a light jelly or sauce, with the chunks of peach or fruit of choice still visible in good supply. That’s when you will know that your caramelization process is done.

As we said above, you can do many things with caramelized peaches and other fruits.

Matthew chose to use the fruit he made to top a graham cracker square in a bowl. Then he added a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Molly’s Take: I love this recipe because it does encourage creativity. Caramelizing the fruit, then topping it with whatever you like (ice cream, whipped cream, cookies, etc.) can be completely different every time, for whatever your taste buds desire. And when you use fresh South Carolina peaches, the juice, the consistency and the taste is just delicious. Mouth-watering, even. I love fruit with ice cream, and caramelizing it with vanilla bean ice cream is a delightful pairing.

Matthew’s Take: I’ve caramelized fruit many times, but peaches may be my favorite. They retain so much of their juice after peeling that they are perfect for cooking in a pan on the stove. They pair perfectly with a slightly sweet cookie and/or vanilla ice cream. I give this one an A+ for taste, an A for presentation, depending on your topping, an A for cost if peaches are readily available, and a B for ease. It takes some creativity to caramelize fruit because you can’t just follow an exact recipe and expect the same results every time.

Five-Minute Summer Cherry Limeade That Rivals Sonic’s

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Both sides of our family have a history of traditions in the kitchen. In 2013, Matthew’s mom, Chris, created a cookbook of recipes from her branch of the family. The book includes a heaping of sweet and savory dishes, and amongst all the food is an almost-hidden entry for Cherry Limeade. The drink took about five minutes to make, resembles punch and it rivals the limeades that Sonic Drive-ins sell. Here’s how you make it in about five minutes.

Ingredients

2-liter bottle of lemon-lime soda

1 10 oz. jar of maraschino cherries, with juice

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice

1 cup sugar

Step one: Mix soda, cherries, lime juice and sugar in a large bowl or pitcher and stir. (The recipe suggests to chill all the ingredients before mixing.)

Step two: Cut wedges from a lime and cut a slit in each one to fix on the rim of your glasses.

Step three: Chill limeade for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Step four: Pour your limeade and cherries into each glass (with ice, as desired), and serve.

Molly’s Take: I’ve always loved lemonades and punch – and what’s better in the warm summers of the South than a delicious, cold, fruity, refreshing beverage? This is perfect for a party or just a simple get-together. The maraschino cherries give it a delightful punch of flavor. We happened to have lime soda in the fridge, cherries from a dessert we’d made and limes from a dinner we’d made. So it was super easy to put together. But it’s just as easy to pick up those few ingredients. Definitely worth a try!

Matthew’s Take: I’m a sucker for a good limeade when I visit Sonic. I’d rather get a limeade than any other drink on the menu. This limeade is as good as Sonic’s, and it reminds me of a punch you’d find at a wedding, birthday or other celebration reception. If you have the ingredients on hand, it really takes about five minutes to prepare, and it’s the kind of fancy-looking drink that would make someone ask what it is as they pass you on your deck or patio. I give this creation an A+ for taste, an A+ for presentation and an A for ease. While the preparation time is amazing, it’s not likely you always have cherries and fresh lime in the kitchen like we did when we decided to make this limeade.

Credit: This recipe is credited to Matthew’s cousin, Sherri Blanton.