The New Year. A speckless slate untarnished by bad decisions and weighing feelings. Our chance to start fresh and make the changes we didn’t get around to last year. Or maybe the new ones we’ve only just taken back to the drawing board.
I’ve decided, not that it’s a far stretch from years before, that I’m dropping food-related guilt off at the door this year. I don’t like hearing the term “guilty pleasure” when we’re talking about food. Food and guilt don’t belong together. It shouldn’t be your first reaction upon biting into a greasy slice of pizza. YOU SHOULD BE THRILLED. Relishing that delicious moment in time and letting yourself be fully there while you do. Not thinking about how many miles you’re going to have to run to make up for it, or how many meals you’ll have to skip because of it. Indulging should feel good and if it doesn’t, it’s not worth it. Be wise when spoiling yourself. If you’re going to indulge, make sure it’s something real. Real chocolate, real butter, real meat, REAL ingredients. Don’t waste your time on these 100-calorie snacks you don’t really want. Have that slice of chocolate cake…but make it yourself and make it with wholesome ingredients.
I know that I have to eat well to feel good. And I do just that. So when the occasional (or often, as of late) indulgence comes up, I don’t feel the slightest tinge of anxiety. I’m going to relish that moment knowing that I eat real, whole food and while I may not be 130 pounds to my 5”8, I’m healthy. And happy. And kind (to myself, most importantly). I know that I put 80% whole food in my body; that’s what I’m choosing to put my focus on this year. If I feel good, I look good. Depriving myself of what I want makes me an irritable, miserable asshole. That’s not who I want to be.
This sloppy, greasy-looking patty melt was the first dish I made this year. It wasn’t the healthiest option and it was heavy and rich, but it was real. Made from ingredients in their purest form. Locally made rye bread, gifted pickles from a friend, local beef (freshly ground), caramelized onions, high quality Swiss cheese and a good, spicy mustard. That’s it. No 40 what-the-F-is-that ingredients that promise to make you thin. Six ingredients that taste amazing and feel good in your body.
I hope you’ll join me in a guilt-free year of real food. Eat what feels good, eat what’s real and be happy with the choices you’re making.
makes 4 sandwiches
I used Swiss cheese here and it melted wonderfully. You can use any type that melts well, but the flavour of the Swiss is what really makes this melt taste as wonderful as it does.
I love pickles with my patty melt so I just added them to the beef. The sweet, briny kick helps cut the fat/richness of the sandwich. If you prefer it without, simply leave them out.
2 lbs freshly ground beef
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup diced sweet pickle (bread and butter)
salt and pepper
2 large yellow/brown onions, thinly sliced
8 slices good rye bread (light or dark)
10-12 slices Swiss cheese
4 tbsp spicy yellow mustard (Keen’s is my choice)
Using your hands, mix together the beef, pickles and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper and mix gently until combined. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions and shape to the size of your rye bread. It will shrink slightly making it the perfect size for a meat-in-every-bite sandwich. When you’re ready to cook them, sprinkle each patty with a little more salt and pepper on each side.
Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over med-high heat. When sizzling, add the patties, 2 at a time depending on pan size, and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until a deep golden crust forms. Flip and cook the other side. Remove to paper towels to absorb excess fat.
In the same pan, add a few more tablespoons of oil and add the onions. Cook, stirring up any brown bits left behind from the meat, until deep golden brown, 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400.
Toast all the bread in a dry skillet until charred slightly, 4-5 minutes over med-high heat. You can toast in a toaster if you’d like, but I love the flavour a skillet-toasted rye gets.
Place 4 slices of the rye bread down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Coat each slice with 1 tbsp of mustard. Top with the patty, then the onions and finally with the Swiss cheese. Place pan in the oven (without the second slice of toasted rye on top) for 10 minutes or until cheese is melting and bubbly. Remove from oven and top with second slice of bread. Cut on the diagonal and enjoy!
I’m a yes girl.
Saying no has always been a task that stirred my anxiety (surprise, surprise). I don’t like to disappoint people and for some strange reason, saying no made me feel like I was letting someone down or hurting their feelings. It didn’t matter the invitation, I felt wholly obligated to say yes lest I disappoint the host, the organizer, my peers or even my family.
As I travel the bumps and rockier roads of adulthood, I’m realizing more and more than “no” has a valuable place in my vocabulary. Saying yes to everything may mean meeting more people, some of them truly wonderful, attending events that I take precious information away from, experiencing things I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and catching up with old friends, but it leaves me wondering: where in all those yes’s do the invaluable people and things that are already in my life fit in? The ones who have seen me through the highest of highs and some very dark lows. Shouldn’t my yes’s be reserved for them more often than strangers and
events I have no interest in? And for the people and things that I love?
Saying yes constantly had been leaving me heavy with agitation. I knew I didn’t want to say yes to all these request but I said it anyways. I was frequently disappointed in myself for cowering behind my inability to stand up for what I wanted, and I felt angry that I now had to attend or work on something that didn’t interest me in any way. It was a double-whammy of frustration and who got to feel the brunt of it? Those nearest to me. The ones who had to listen to me bitch and moan about having to attend this or do that even though I was the one who agreed to it in the first place.
With a certain reluctance, I’ve started saying no. At first, it tumbled awkwardly off my tongue and left a bitter taste, but the more I practiced the more confident my no’s became and the lighter my shoulders got. In the end, I’m the only one who’s accountable for the decision I make - not the people who asked in the first place or my poor friends who had to lend an ear to the protests. I’m learning to save my yes’s for the people and things that bring me joy - and there are so many. If I want to say no to an event that everyone is attending so I can sit at home curled into Al watching 4 episodes of Game of Thrones - I’m going to. And I’m not going to feel badly about it, either. If it means I miss events, that’s alright too. The great thing about events is that there will always be more. Always. There is no guarantee that there will always be more nights spent on the porch with my best friend, our laughs keeping the neighbours up, or more dinners in my mom’s backyard by the pool, margaritas with my sister, baseball games with my dad or dinner dates with Al. Those are what my yes’s should be reserved for. That, and doing just this. Coming here and having the time to talk, for real, about what’s going on. Time to focus on creating dishes and photos I’m proud of. Things I was missing by being too afraid to say no.
Of course, life comes with obligations and there are times when yes is all I can say. Likewise, there are times when I do really want to say yes to the events and the dinners. And that’s ok, too. I’m learning, albeit slowly, to go with my gut and trust what it’s urging me towards.
And today, my gut urged me towards veggie burgers. Ones that I made on the fly and used what I had for. Nutty Japonica rice, a blend of medium-grain black and short-grain mahogany rice, and earthy mushrooms speckled with a Turkish baharat blend. Topped with a cool garlic cucumber yogurt that I tried relentlessly not to scoop up with a spoon and eat before the burgers were ready. These are good. You should probably say YES to them.
Black Rice and Mushroom Burgers with Cucumber Garlic Yogurt
makes 8 sliders, 4 large burgers
2 cups diced button mushrooms
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp baharat spice, recipe follows
1 cup cooked black or mahogany rice (brown rice is fine, too)
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 tbsp lemon zest (1/2 large lemon)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hot)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, to pan-fry
Ideas to serve:
4 large (8 small) buns of your choice
sprouts (I used pea shoots)
Drizzle a heavy skillet over med-high heat with vegetable oil and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until liquid has released and evaporated and the mushrooms and onions are starting to brown. Add the garlic and baharat spice and stir to combine. Cook another 1-2 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes.
Mix the cooked rice and mushroom mixture with the carrot, cayenne, egg, bread crumbs, parsley and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. If the mixture is a bit wet, add more breadcrumbs or a bit of flour to help dry them out a bit. Form into patties and pan fry on a heavy skillet drizzled with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on to bottom. Flip and brown the other side. Place on a bun slathered with yogurt sauce and topped with whatever you like most.
Cucumber Garlic Yogurt Sauce
makes 1 cup
3” piece of english cucumber, grated
1 cup Greek yogurt (must be Greek)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
Squeeze as much moisture from the grated cucumber as you can. Place in a food processor (or bullet/blender) with the yogurt and garlic and blend until smooth.
makes about 1/3 cup
"Baharat" literally means "spice" in Arabic. There are many different varieties but I prefer this Turkish style blend. If you have the time, toasting your coriander and cumin and grinding them fresh makes a huge difference in the flavour here.
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight jar.
Brace yourselves. I’m about to share something with you that I don’t divulge often. It’s something that is usually met with double-looks and wide eyes. Some conclude I’m crazy, others simply write me off as a friend. Are you ready for this?
I don’t really love burgers. [….I’ll wait for your eyes to return to normal size.]
Are we good? I hope so.
I just…don’t. They are big and awkward, messy and fall-aparty. Too many restaurants serve them with buns that are rock hard, causing the patty and toppings to spill out the back end. The same can be said for patties that are flavourless, over-cooked and resemble softballs made of ground beef. Unappetizing at the best of times. (It should be said that I have not visited Black Cat Bistro for Burger Tuesdays OR Absinthe Café for their Benevolence Burger….yet).
Upon finding some beautiful ground bison from La Maison Du Gibier, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. My goal, to make a burger that fulfilled my needs. A patty as flavourful as it is moist, seasoned properly, seared to a perfect crust on the outside but slightly pink in the center. A thin bun that is buttery and soft, with a good crunch when toasted. Toppings that compliment but don’t overpower the meat or fall out the second you touch the burger. All very simple needs, but they seem to be lacking from so many burgers these days.
I was entirely happy with the way the burger came out. The recipe came together quickly and with ease. The perfect weeknight burger, to be sure. The apples gave the bison a slightly sweet kick, while the pesto and smoked blue cheese gave it that bit of extra depth and saltiness needed to take it over the top. A successful experiment in my burger diaries.
If you have an aversion to burgers as I do, perhaps even if you don’t, you must give this burger a chance. It might be just the ticket you need to find your burgatory.
Bison-Apple Burgers with Sage-Jalapeno Pesto & Smoked Blue Cheese
Note on Bison:
Finding a quality bison is half the battle here. Choose a locally sourced meat from a butcher or market you trust.
Note on buns:
I used some thin and butter onion buns from Rideau Bakery. I like a thin bun that’s soft, but use whatever you like best. Brioche buns would be delicious, too.
Note on cheese:
If you can’t find smoked blue cheese (often referred to as ‘Blue Haze’), a Danish blue cheese will work well, too.
2 lbs ground bison meat
2 small apples (1 large), peeled
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh sage, minced
1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper
1 jalapeno, seeded, rough chopped
1 cup fresh sage, loosely packed
1 small clove garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper
Smoked Blue Cheese
For the Pesto:
Place everything but the Parmesan, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir in the Parmesan, a pinch of salt and fresh pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
For the Burgers:
Grate the apples into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Use your hands to smoosh everything together until it’s just combined (try not to overmix). Form the meat into 4-5 patties and make a small indentation in the center (this helps the burger cook evenly). Sprinkle the patties with a bit more salt right before frying.
Lightly coat a cast iron pan in vegetable or canola oil and heat over med-high until oil is shimmering. Place patties in the pan, 2 at a time, for 2 minutes on each side. They should be beautifully golden when you flip them.
Toast up your buns, place a patty on each and top with a slather of the pesto, a few crumbles of blue cheese and a slice of ripe tomato. Serve with an ice cold wheat beer like Erdinger.