Okay, I’m an emotional cook. It’s not just the amount of time I have that affects what I cook. It’s also how much space I have inside my head and how pushed I feel.
If I’ve being chased by deadlines all week—even if I get home at a reasonable time in the evenings—I’m not going to launch into making new recipes. I might even be at home for a good chunk of the weekend, but if I’ve been pushing hard on a project the week before, I won’t be experimenting in the kitchen on Saturday and Sunday.
I need a certain amount of reserved energy before I try cooking something new.
But if I’m caught up with myself, it isn’t long before I’m rifling through the pile of recipes I’ve been saving up to try. Or if we’re on a getaway, I’m soon tearing recipes out of newspapers and magazines that I want to make.
I’ve got this basic burger recipe that I often fall back on when I have zero energy for cooking. I like it for three pretty simple reasons: 1.) It’s physical. I like squishing hamburger through my fingers and then patting it into shapes; 2.) It tastes good and uncomplicated; 3.) It’s handily versatile.
Once you try this, you’ll stop buying those cardboard-y, pre-made, frozen burgers. And you’ll be treated like a wizard.
Basic Hamburger/Meat Loaf Recipe
1 lb. lean hamburger
1 cup bread crumbs (crunchy from a box works)
1 cup tomato juice
1 medium onion, chopped fine
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1. Put all ingredients into a good-sized mixing bowl.
2. Mix with your (clean) hands until thoroughly blended. Do this kind of gently and stop when you’ve gotten all of the ingredients incorporated.
3. Shape into a loaf for Meat Loaf. Or shape into 8 balls, and then flatten slightly for Muffin Burgers or Bleu Cheese Burgers.
For Meat Loaf:
1. Place 1-lb. loaf in baking dish.
2. To create a Killer Topping for the Meat Loaf, blend together ¼ cup ketchup, 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, and 1½ tsp. prepared mustard in a small bowl.
3. Spoon evenly over top of Meat Loaf.
4. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. If the glaze begins to get too dark, cover Meat Loaf with tinfoil.
5. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Then slice and serve.
For Muffin Burgers (Merle’s name for these since we were newly married—and I have no idea why):
1. Drain a 14 ½-oz. can of sauerkraut, pressing down on the sauerkraut to extract as much of the juice as you can.
2. Using a fork, pull a scant ¼ cup of sauerkraut out of the can and spread over 1 of the little burgers. Repeat for 3 more burgers.
3. Place the remaining 4 burgers on top of the sauerkraut-topped burgers, creating 4 fat “hamburger sandwiches.”
4. Cut 4 long strips of bacon in half length-wise. Wrap ½ strip of bacon around 1 of the burger sandwiches from top to bottom and back up to the top again. Wrap a second ½ strip of bacon around the same burger sandwich, spacing it ¼ turn away from the first strip. A finished Muffin Burger should look a little like a wrapped package.
5. Place two toothpicks through the burger sandwich from top to bottom, in order to hold the bacon strips in place.
6. Repeat using the remaining 6 burgers, the sauerkraut, and the 3 bacon strips.
7. Lay the burger sandwiches on a baking sheet. Don’t crowd them.
8. Place under broiler, about 3-4 inches away from the heat. Broil 7-10 minutes, being careful that the bacon doesn’t burn, but allowing the burgers to cook through.
9. Flip the burger sandwiches and broil another 5-10 minutes, or until burgers are done to your liking. Again, watch to make sure the bacon doesn’t burn.
10. Serve as is, or with each burger sandwich in a bun. These guys are pretty thick, so I usually serve them on plates with forks and knives for cutting them.
For Bleu Cheese Burgers:
1. Lay the 8 burgers on a baking pan, being careful not to crowd them. You want them to cook and not steam in each other’s juices. Plus you’ll need room to flip them over.
2. Broil 3-4 inches away from the heat. Broil 4-5 minutes, or until the meat is cooked as rare or as well-done as you like.
3. Flip the burgers and broil another 4-5 minutes, again until they’re done to your liking.
4. Top each burger with a ¼”-thick slice of bleu cheese.
5. Broil 30-90 seconds. Stay nearby and check soon to make sure the cheese melts but doesn’t burn.
6. Serve as is, or in buns.