The Perfect Classic Cheeseburger

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

Now that the Summer season is rapidly approaching, it’s time to get our menus ready for all that outdoor picnicking and grill friendly cuisine! But what if I told you that in terms of burgers, that the best way to cook them isn’t on a grill? Would you think that I was cuckoo for cocoa puffs? Well, I am, but that’s beside the point. 🤪I’m a chef after all, and most chefs are slightly bonkers in the head to draw it mild! 😜 Most of the classic All American style burgers that I grew up eating from some of the best diners in the world (NYC, of course… ) were cooked on griddles, or flat tops, which is a solid sheet of metal heated by burners underneath them, and not on an actual grill. Don’t get me wrong… I love me the taste of a char grilled burger, however when cooking burgers at home, a well seasoned frying pan, or even better, a cast iron skillet is your best friend. The heat is evenly distributed and helps you get that delicious crust on both sides. But let’s start with the essential building blocks for the perfect classic cheeseburger.

The Meat

Let me start out by saying that when it comes to ground beef for burgers that fat is your friend. You don’t want to use meat like ground sirloin for burgers because it’s very lean with little fat content. You NEED the fat to give you that juicy, flavorful burger. Because the components of a burger are so simple and straightforward to begin with, it’s important that above all, you start with the highest quality of everything from the outset. For the best burger results you want a fat to meat ratio of 80/20. That’s 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat. If you can find it, 75/25 is even better. But let’s stick with 80/20 for now. 100% ground chuck is great, but if you have a local butcher in your area, or good butcher counter at your local supermarket,  see if they can grind up a chuck/brisket combo. It’s slightly more expensive per pound, but hot damn is it worth it!

Another important step in making burgers is the freshness of the meat itself. Don’t use frozen and thawed ground beef as it will be a lot tougher and a bit dryer. Save that for meatballs, meat sauces, chili or meatloaf  if you can 😉 When shaping your burger patties, the less you man paw the meat, the better. Try to be quick about the actual shaping process. This will yield a softer, juicier, and tender burger. If weighing the patties, I’d stick with the traditional size of between 5oz to 8oz per patty. Also, when you’re shaping the patties, try not to pack the meat and make it too dense. This will also result in a tougher cooked burger. Again, the less you handle it, the better. Season well with salt and pepper on both sides before cooking.

The Cooking Method

Now it’s time to get our trusty cast iron skillet ready! Add a drizzle of your favorite cooking oil to your skillet and get it nice and hot. Once the oil starts to shimmer and move like little waves on a lake, carefully add your burger patties, and leave it alone until you’re ready to flip it. Don’t press it with the spatula, or move it around at all. This is how you create that flavorful crust on both sides. It’s the same as if you were making a steak. Depending on how you like your burgers cooked, for a true medium burger, cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side depending on the weight and thickness of the patties themselves. This searing of the burger patties will give you a light and juicy burger because the meat isn’t over worked or over cooked. You’ll have some rendered fat from the burgers in the skillet, so be sure to spoon most of that out so as not to steam cook the patties.

** Side Note~ Grilling. Most of us do associate a good burger with the grilling method but allow me to explain the difference.  A burger usually cooks faster than a steak, and what you’re looking for is the actual browning of the protein in the meat, which creates depth of flavor. This is called The Maillard Reaction. A steak can benefit from being cooked on a grill because of its high fat content and longer length of cooking time. The meat won’t become tough or dry out as a burger would, because a burger takes a shorter amount of time to cook, therefore it benefits more from an even surfaced cooking vessel, like the cast iron skillet to cook the burger quickly and evenly across the total surface of the burger** Meow 😻

The Yummy Melty Cheese

So now it’s Queso ‘o clock for those boigahs! For the Classic All American Cheeseburger you definitely want to use American cheese. It’s melty, ooey gooey, and delicious! And don’t skimp on the amount of cheese you use! At least 2 slices for each burger so it melts all over it and adds to the awesomeness of every bite! A little trick to getting the cheese to melt is by adding a Tablespoon of water and covering the burgers for no longer than 10 seconds. This will help melt the cheese without altering the temperature or texture of the burger. It’s not a necessary step at all, but it does add a nice touch to the burgers themselves.

Buns, Buns, Buns! 

Okay… this is where it becomes a matter of preference because we all have different tastes when it comes to the style of bread for burgers. A sesame seed bun, brioche, potato, whole wheat? It’s entirely up to you. The one thing I will suggest is that no matter what type of bun you’re using is to toast the buns on both sides with a bit of butter. It just adds a richness and texture to the end result of your classic burger extravaganza!

To Sauce or Not to Sauce?

Again… pure preference here. I like my burgers pretty simple. Ketchup. That’s all I need. And that’s how I like it, so there! BBQ sauce is a close second, though… However, there’s a world of options as far as what kind of sauce to put on a burger. Most meows enjoy the ketchup, mustard, mayo combo, while other meows enjoy that secret sauce, or thousand island type of crazy sauce. All of these options add depth and flavor to the burgers without taking away from the flavor of the meat. They should enhance the flavor, not cover it. And that’s all I have to say about that… 😛

Sides, Sides, Everywhere There’s Sides!! 

Give me some lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and I am good to go! A happy meow indeed! French fries? Onion Rings? Sweet Potato Fries? Tater Tots? Cole Slaw? BACON???? Baby it is ALL GOOD!!

And now we’re ready to feast on these succulent burgers of love! I hope this helps you create the ultimate classic cheeseburger and perhaps see them and taste them a whole new way. By changing little things here and there, it makes something as simple as a burger become one hell of a mystic meal and transforms itself into another kitchen staple to be enjoyed all year round. Thanks for stopping by, dear reader! Until we eat again… Happy Cooking!

Cheers, Hugs, and Meows!

Xo Nikki 💕✨

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Images courtesy of Google 😉

Baked Rigatoni with Meat Sauce

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

Pasta, pasta, pasta! Sometimes I just get in the mood for a dish that reminds me of some of the Italian restaurants we used to go to when I was growing up in The Bronx. This is one of them. It just gives me all the feels every time I make a baked pasta dish like this. The sauce and other components are the same, although I do change up the pasta shape I use depending on how I feel or what I have in the pantry.

This time around I chose rigatoni. Ziti or penne also works for this too, but I haven’t cooked rigatoni in quite a while and knew it would turn out really nice and hearty. The overall flavor inspiration comes from a place called Mike’s Pizzeria that used to be on Bedford Park Blvd in my old neighborhood in The Bronx. I swear they had the best red sauce and meatballs! I’ve spent years trying to master that meatball recipe based on pure flavor memories.

This comes pretty flippin close, meows… It feeds a crowd and is very delicious and satisfying. Now their recipe was a bit simpler than what I decided to replicate because I had a lot of different types of cheeses on hand that I needed to make use of. That’s why I love the name Mystic Meals. Cooking is pure culinary alchemy. Sorcery. A little of this… a pinch of that, and voila! Plus over 23 years of professional cooking experience comes in handy 😉✨ Ok. Enough tooting my own horn. Back to pasta love!

Here’s the meatball recipe that I always use and any brand of your favorite pasta sauce in a jar will work just fine. However, if you make your own, even better. Just make sure you have plenty of it so the pasta isn’t too dry. AND please, please! When you’re boiling your pasta, A. Salt the water well, B., slightly undercook the pasta by a few minutes since it will continue to cook in the oven, and C., before you drain the pasta, reserve at least 2 cups of the pasta water to add to your sauce. The starch and salt from the cooked pasta water adds flavor and balances things out in case the sauce ends up on the thick side.

Mystic Meatballs

1 pound ground beef

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1 Tbls fresh chopped parsley

1/2 cup Italian style breadcrumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3/4 cup of milk

A pinch of red chili flakes

1 teas. Italian seasoning

1 Tbls salt

1 teas. ground black pepper

1. In a large bowl, mix everything together until well combined, and the meat has absorbed the milk and breadcrumbs.

2. In a small skillet, add a drizzle of oil over medium heat and grab about a tablespoon of the meatball mix. Shape into a small patty, like a little burger, and cook thoroughly. Once it’s fully cooked, taste and adjust the seasonings in the raw meatball mixture if need be. Keep in mind that you’ll be layering flavors. The sauce has salt, the cheeses are salty, so you don’t want the meat to be blandsville, but you also don’t want it to be too salty. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out. Make sense? 😉✨

3. In a large skillet over medium heat add about 2 Tbls of olive oil or oil of preference. You can either shape the meat mixture into meatballs and cook them that way and break them up later, or I just take the meat mix and drop it into the pan by spoonfuls and cook it a bit more like loose meat. I like the pieces to be broken up so there’s a bit of meat in every bite.

4. Once the meatball mix is cooked, deglaze the pan with about a cup of the reserved pasta water, stir to grab all those yummy bits of love, and add in your tomato sauce. Lower the heat and simmer altogether for about 10 minutes. Add the remaining pasta water to the sauce and adjust the seasonings.

Notice that I did not drain the fat from the pan. For me, fat is flavor unless there’s an excessive amount depending on what you’re cooking. In this case, there really isn’t a lot swimming around and what’s there just becomes part of the sauce and again, adds flavor and body to the end result.

Now you’re ready to add the meat sauce love fest to your pasta. I use a 1 pound ratio of dry pasta. It makes enough to feed four to six meows and remember that the pasta will continue to cook, expand and absorb all those flavors, so don’t worry if the sauce is a tad on the watery side. It will thicken up as it bakes. I layer it on similar to making lasagna. Sauce, then pasta, then cheese, and so on. For this I used fresh mozzarella, fontina, fresh Romano, whole milk ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses.

I emphasize fresh because it really does make a difference, and I’m bougie like that! But seriously, whatever you like to use will be fine. I baked the rigatoni at 350 degrees for 50 minutes covered with foil, and another 15 minutes uncovered. Once baked I let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving.

Serve it with some garlic bread and there you have it! Another mystic meal full of , well… lots of things but most importantly, love. It’ll come through in every bite! Thanks for stopping by, dear reader! Until we eat again… Happy Cooking!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💕✨

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Bacon and Mushroom Flatbread with Fresh Mozzarella and Fontina Cheese

Greetings, Mystic Meows!

The title says it all. However, what is the difference between flatbread and Pizza? Hmm… 🤔 The only real difference to me is texture. Flatbread is thinner and crispier. A bit more cracker like around the edges. Pizza tends to be a lot thicker and doughier. They both allow for an endless amount of toppings, and are always fun to make.

You can also use pizza dough to make flatbread by simply rolling the dough out much thinner than you normally would. Flatbreads are usually in the shape of a rectangle, where as most pizzas are round. So is it all in the name? Is a flatbread still a pizza even though we’re calling it a flatbread? Doesn’t it taste just as good?

Hell yeah, it does! I was in the mood for making this for lunch and it was insanely delicious. I’ll just list off what I used rather than an actual recipe, since it’s really up to you the kind of toppings you’ll have on hand. I did use a variety of cooking methods for each ingredient because I knew exactly how I wanted this to be. I like contrasts in texture and taste and how roasting one thing, and grilling another creates those bursts of flavor that make the ordinary, extraordinary. Here’s what I used…

Ingredients:

Bacon cut into small pieces

Button and Oyster mushrooms, sliced

Grilled spring onions, chopped

1 bulb of garlic, roasted

Spinach

Fresh Mozzarella

Fontina Cheese

Parsley & thyme

Olive oil

Salt, pepper, and chili flakes

Now, if you’re feeling wiley and want to make the dough from scratch, I suggest this Classic Pizza Dough by Martha Stewart. It’s fairly easy to prepare and works well for both flatbread style and traditional pizza making. A high quality pre made pizza crust or heck… French bread or baguette will work just as well.

I roasted the garlic bulb in foil with a drizzle of olive oil in a 400 degree oven for about 35 min. I have a cast iron grill and used it to char the spring onions. I sautéed the bacon until it was nice and barely crisp. Removed it, then sautéed the mushrooms in the bacon fat. Cause I’m crazy like that and like to extract the most out of everything I cook with. 😜

I then added a pat of butter to the mushrooms, cause the bacon fat wasn’t enough… 😛 some fresh thyme leaves, chopped parsley, seasoned with salt and pepper and deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup of water. I removed the roasted garlic cloves and put them in a small bowl with more thyme and parsley, olive oil, chili flakes, s & p, and smooshed it all together to make a paste. I then shmeared the roasted garlic love on the flatbread dough and proceeded to add the other ingredients.

I put the fontina on first, then the shrooms, spinach, chopped onions, mozzarella, and finally, the bacon. I sprinkled some more chili flakes on top, drizzled with olive oil and baked it at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. My oven runs pretty hot so things cook rather quickly, so check yours after 10 minutes and see if you need more time.

The end result for this was fantastic. From the nuttiness of the garlic, the char from the onions, the earthiness of the mushrooms and herbs, the creaminess of the melted cheeses, and the savory flavor of the bacon, with the perfect amount of heat from the chili flakes on top of the crispy, yet chewy flatbread was culinary magic.

I hope you try your hand at making some pizza & flatbread and have fun with different styles and cooking techniques to make it a mystic meal of your own. Thanks for stopping by, dear reader! Until we eat again… Happy Cooking!

Cheers, hugs, and meows!

Xo Nikki 💕✨

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All photos taken by moi! 😉