Friday, January 24, 2014

Inside-out hamburgers

I do begin to think that my life's work must and shall be the investigation of The Culinary Arts Institute of America, a ghost of a place that once had a Chicago address. The good people there produced fascinating old cooking pamphlets and books only to be had now at public library cast-off book sales. I keep snapping up retro material, and when I turn to the title page for publication information, so often I see Culinary Arts Institute. What happened to it? But should I, really, devote myself to this? The best people seem to write so much grander things. Gertrude Himmelfarb, aged God knows what, has just come out with a new biography on George Eliot ... stupendous, stunning, the reviewers say.

But meanwhile, my life's path being less than Himmelfarbian, here is an example of the retro material that catches my eye.

Inside this one is a preparation which the authors, circa 1956, called Ground Meat Towers. As they are, really, sets of hamburger patties baked in a sauce with a bread stuffing between each set -- hence, each "tower" -- I have been very clever and have renamed them Inside-out hamburgers. If you wish to try them, be aware that you will make three things in succession: a tomato and mushroom sauce, a bread stuffing, and twelve seasoned hamburgers. Then you will brown the hamburgers, assemble everything, and bake it.

Mental pictures (or, hang it, real pictures) of the necessary ingredients might be helpful. Your sauce begins here.

Melt 1/3 cup butter in a heavy saucepan, and add 1 cup thinly sliced onion and 1/4 cup chopped green pepper. Stir and cook until the onion is translucent. Add fresh sliced mushrooms -- the recipe calls for only a 4 ounce can, so a handful of fresh pieces is enough. Stir and cook until the mushrooms give off a little moisture.

Add: one 14-ounce can of tomatoes, 2 whole cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. thyme, 1/4 tsp. pepper. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and set aside.

Next, a mental picture of the stuffing ingredients.

In another skillet, heat 1/4 cup butter, and again add and cook until translucent 1/4 cup finely chopped onion and 1 stick of chopped celery (the recipe calls for minced celery leaves but my batch had almost none, so I substituted a piece of celery). Put into the skillet about 4 cups of soft cubed bread crumbs. Mix in 1/2 tsp. salt and a dash of pepper. Now moisten the stuffing with something -- the recipe calls for a mixture of 1 beaten egg and 1/3 cup milk, but you could as well use broth or wine. Blend the stuffing lightly, shape it into 6 patties, and set them aside.

Phase three. What you need for the hamburger patties (ground beef not shown).

Mix together 2 pounds of ground beef, 1 medium chopped onion, 1/4 cup chopped green pepper, 2 beaten eggs, 2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1 diced clove of garlic, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Shape into 12 patties. Brown the patties in 1/4 cup "fat." I used olive oil.

Now it's showtime. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish. Place 6 meat patties in the dish. Place a stuffing patty on each, and top each with another beef patty. Pour the sauce over and around the "towers." Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the hamburgers are cooked entirely through.

I imagine you'll want to know how it tasted. All in all, good, but soupy; since I did not fully cook my hamburgers but only seared them first, they gave off so much moisture in finishing baking that the bread stuffing ended up a bit soggy. Still, it made for an interesting Sunday afternoon experiment, and it taught me to ask: why don't we think of green peppers more often, when we are grilling or frying hamburgers? We associate green peppers with hot dogs and we pile hot peppers on roast beef sandwiches, but simple green pepper in these patties was delicious.

The wine of choice was an old favorite, a California red blend called Hey Mambo. To wit: chocolate covered blueberries. And a weirdly luscious pairing.

Shall I, then, investigate the Culinary Arts Institute, and find out whither and wherefore it ever was, and why it is no more? As I flip through Sunday Night Suppers, I am distracted: here is Sausage and Spaghetti with Cheese Sauce, and there Hawaiian Pancake, which dares to combine cheddar cheese and pineapple in one recipe.

And here is the delightful introduction to the pamphlet, in which the authors kvell, shall we say? -- over how relaxed and fun all this work is. Dear me. I think the physicists are right, and time and space somehow warp each other, and 1956 was a different planet.

Sunday night suppers have a charm all their own .... Six and a half days of serious menu labors are out of the way. Now is the perfect time for a bit of frivolity, for creative experiment, for sharpening the special knack of cooking in a chafing dish.

The whole family can be included in the casual preparation of Sunday night suppers. Tie an apron on Pop. Let Sis stir up a batch of cookies or a quick bread. Invite a couple of guests or a whole roomful. Everything is easier, simpler, more friendly in the relaxed pause of a Sunday evening.

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