Home Cooking

Build a Better Burger

Stacey Ballis

September 04 2012 - 12:14 PM

Don’t get me wrong, no one loves planning and hosting a dinner party more than me. Elaborate menus, beautiful table décor, finding that one perfect “wow factor” element, little favors for guests to take home. I’m all in. From Labor Day to Memorial Day. But in the summer? The heart is willing, but the body is just, um, not interested. It is 99 degrees with a billion percent humidity. My brain isn’t working the way it usually does. I don’t have the bandwidth to source Timanoix cheese and baby purple artichokes the way I do in the fall. And while my go-to slow roasts and braises are a hostess’ best pal nine months of the year, I can’t have my oven going for nine hours in August.

So how do you have a great dinner party and not fry your brain? Elevate the basics. Sure, burgers can seem sort of pedestrian, but a massive 8oz burger made of superior meat, on a perfect bakery roll, with a slice of crispy pancetta and some exciting toppings are definitely dinner party fare. If you are a small group, try our new house fave, a 6 oz burger served between two thin crispy grilled cheese sandwiches! The key is using the Pepperidge Farm Very Thin White Bread…two slices of bread and one Kraft Single griddled in butter makes a grilled cheese no thicker than one slice of regular bread. Serve with some classic dill pickle chips, maybe some onion, raw or grilled as you prefer, the new perfect food.

Some farm fresh steamed sweet corn, a gorgeous (but dead easy) Zucchini Carpaccio salad, maybe some Jay’s Wavy chips (the deep waves are SO much better than tiny ridges) and you have a surprising and fun casual dinner with pals. Try a classic icebox cake or my no-bake Banoffee Pie for a dessert that keeps the oven off and the delicious on the table.

Zucchini Carpaccio Salad
Serves 6

3 medium zucchini or yellow summer squash or both, sliced thin on a mandoline
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 T toasted pine nuts
juice of ½ a medium lemon
2-3 T extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Shingle the zucchini slices around a large platter, just overlapping. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle pine nuts, basil and goat cheese just before serving. Best at just slightly cooler than room temp, but not right out of the fridge.

Banoffee Pie
Serves 8

One pre-made chocolate cookie pie crust (I use Oreo)
One 15 oz can dulce de leche, available in the Latino section of your grocery ( if you can’t find it, put a 15 oz can of sweetened condensed milk IN THE UNOPENED CAN, label removed, in a pan of water, barely covered, and put in a 350 oven for 3 hours, checking water level periodically, Let cool completely before using)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
3 medium ripe bananas
1 t vanilla extract
1 t instant espresso powder
1 T superfine sugar
2 T chocolate syrup (I use Hershey’s Special Dark)
2 Heath Bars, smashed into bits

Heat the contents of the can of Dulce de Leche in a small saucepan over medium heat with ¼ c of the cream until smooth. Let cool slightly. Slice the bananas and put in the crust. Pour the dulce de leche over the bananas and spread evenly, should fill the cracks between the bananas. Chill in the fridge. Before serving, make mocha whipped cream by dissolving the instant espresso and sugar in the vanilla extract and chocolate syrup, and fold into stiffly whipped cream. Top the pie with the cream and sprinkle chopped heath bars on top.

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