cheeseburger cheeseburger

Living in San Francisco, one encounters many smells.  Some good, some not so good.  But one that always excites is the smell of charring ground beef getting ready to be made into a hamburger.  Unfortunately, this pleasant smell isn’t always followed by delicious food.  As a matter of fact, it can be quite hard to come across an exceptional burger.  This is obviously a problem for us, so we took things into our own hands.  Before I explain how we achieved burger satisfaction, I must thank our friend and neighbor Robin for getting this whole burger movement started.  She purchased a small grill and has provided us with some fantastic cheeseburgers in the past few weeks.  It had been a while since I had made a proper cheeseburger, but with the right ingredients and tools, making an excellent cheese burger is fairly simple.

classic cheeseburger:
1/3 pound ground beef (per burger)
caramelized onions
cheddar cheese
good quality buns

Before I explain the technique, a quick note about ingredients.  Obviously, we care a great deal about quality and sustainability when it comes our food, and a cheeseburger is one of the few places where very high quality meat, cheese, and produce can really shine (and only for a little more cash).  For these burgers, I used 16 % fat, grass-fed ground beef and seasoned them with salt about an hour before cooking.  The onions came from our csa and cooked up delicious and sweet with butter, olive oil, and plenty of time.  The aioli is homemade and leftovers get turned into a terrific buttermilk dressing perfect for coleslaw.  And the buns, while not homemade, are from Acme Bread; they have a great texture and a nice, yet mild taste.

So, how does it all go together?  We’ll start with cooking surfaces.  As far as I’m concerned, you can either grill your burgers or cook them on a flat surface (preferably cast iron).  Since I don’t have a grill, I use a flat cast iron surface that covers two burners.  There are a couple advantages with this method: you can cook more food on the large surface (either more burgers, or onions, like I did), and by cooking the burgers on this flat surface, the juices kind of self baste the meat as it cooks.

As I said earlier, I formed and seasoned the burgers about an hour before cooking so the salt gets a chance to season the center of the burger.  Around this time, I also started caramelizing the onions over medium-low heat with butter and olive oil.  Once those are at the desired consistency, you can turn the heat off and just warm them as the burgers are cooking.  To cook these magnificent burgers, turn your burner up high and get that pan smoking.  Carefully place the burgers over the heat and leave them for 2-3 minutes, until they are dark brown and you can see the it’s half way cooked. Turn down the heat to medium-high (cast iron has will just keep getting hotter and hotter, so you really have to keep an eye on your temperature). Flip and leave for a couple more minutes and add your sliced cheese.  Cover for thirty seconds to one minute, until the cheese is melted and the meat is finished cooking (medium-rare, please).  Set burgers aside and toast those buns.  Slather on some aioli, then the burger, caramelized onions, some sliced pickle, and a little ketchup.  Serve with some coleslaw or a salad and a nice beer.  Heaven.



braised duck legs

The answer is always pork … except when it’s butter … or when it’s the topic of today’s post: duck fat!  I’ve been wanting to experiment with duck for quite some time, so I rode down to the Fatted Calf, picked up 2 duck legs and got to work.

I began by scoring the fat in a cross-hatched pattern so that it can render out.  I then seasoned the duck with salt, let it rest, and prepared mirepoix (half an onion, a carrot, and a stalk of celery, all finely diced).  Once everything was ready, I got to rendering. Just put the duck skin side down in a skillet over low heat and you’ll see the lovely fat fill the pan.

The picture above was after about 20 minutes and there was no fat in the pan when I started!

After you’ve rendered off most of the fat and the skin starts to brown (about 3o-40 minutes), flip and repeat on the other side.  Since there is much less fat on the other side, it will render much more quickly (maybe 5-10 minutes).  Remove the fat from the pan and save it; don’t throw it away!  Increase the heat to get good browning on both sides of the duck.  Remove the duck, lower the heat to medium, add the mirepoix, and cook until the onion is translucent (2-3 minutes).  Deglaze with about half a cup of wine, add a cup of broth, and bring to a simmer.  Put the duck back in the pan, cover, and place in a 300 degree oven for 2.5-3 hours.  I also added a sprig of rosemary, some fresh oregano, and a couple cloves of garlic for good measure.

Once the duck is tender, remove it from the oven, set aside and keep warm.  You can make a sauce from the braising liquid if you’d like.  When you’re ready to serve, just throw those legs under the broiler skin side up until it’s brown and crispy.

This was delicious and a simple sauce made from the braising liquid added some nice flavor.  I just took out the herbs and then blended, strained, slightly reduced it, and adjusted the flavors in accordance my current mood.  This dish was also quite easy because you leave it alone most of the time; while the duck was rendering I was in the kitchen reading for school, and the rest of the time I simply ignored it all together.  One final thought: the same rendering technique can be used for duck breasts as well if you feel like being fancy, just render the skin side nice and slow until it’s brown, then sear the other side over high heat until medium-rare.


Recipes Uncategorized


There’s something really special about good sushi that Emily and I both enjoy.  When you’ve got perfect rice and super fresh fish, you get something so amazing that you almost forget there’s no bacon involved.  Unfortunately, maintaining an addiction to sushi can easily get out of control, and before you know it you’re deciding between paying rent and going for that extra plate of chirashi.  What does one do in such a dilemma?  Well, I’ve been making it myself about once a week since our hiatus began, and I think the results have been pretty tasty and relatively cheap.


Making perfect sushi rice is a craft that is mastered over many, many years.  Seeing as I’ve made it about half a dozen times, I’m not going to pretend that I’m doing everything right, nor am I going to pretend that I can teach those reading everything there is to know about sushi.  I will give some basics that have helped me make rice that is at least as good as a decent sushi bar.  First, you need rice specifically for sushi; this means short grain.  Short grain rice has a lot of starch, so it needs to be rinsed so it’s not too sticky.  I like to put two cups of sushi rice in a bowl, add about four cups of cold water, and run my fingers through the rice to separate all the grains so each is rinsed.  Then you run it through a sieve and repeat.  You’ll see a lot of cloudy water come off at first, but after about 4-6 times, the water becomes much clearer.  I know this seems excessive, but this is crucial to have the proper texture.  Next you let the rice drain in the sieve for about 20-30 minutes, then you throw it in a heavy sauce pan and add enough cold water to cover the rice by about 0.5 in.  Let the rice soak for 30 minutes, then heat until it boils, lower to a bare simmer and cover for 20 minutes.  Then it’s done right?  No way!  Don’t open that lid during the 20 minutes, or for 15 minutes after because the steam continues to cook the rice.  Once the rice is done cooking you cool the rice quickly by putting it into a large, non-reactive container and stir it gently with a wooden spoon.  Having a friend fan the rice helps cool it faster.  As you cool the rice, add  the sushi-zu to taste.


Sushi-zu is the seasoned rice vinegar used to give sushi rice that delicious balance of sour, sweet, and salty.  I’m sure there is some perfect balance of the ingredients, but I mix them according to my preferences.  In a small saucepan, slowly heat 0.25 cup of unseasoned rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 teaspoons of salt.  As soon as the salt and sugar dissolve it’s done and you can let it cool before adding it to the rice.


Now that you’ve got your rice under control, it’s time to get some good fish.  As long as you get fresh, quality seafood from a reputable fish monger you should be safe.  I tend to trust Whole Foods, Sun Fat Seafood, and Nijiya Market.  Nijiya Market is a pretty awesome store in Japantown; they carry really obscure ingredients as well as high quality seafood.  So far I’ve only bought salmon, ahi, and octopus and all were excellent.  I’ve also been tempted by their uni (sea urchin roe) and toro (fatty tuna), but that’s when the habit starts getting pricy.  This place is really cool and worth checking out even if you don’t buy anything.


Fish and rice.  That’s all you really need.  If you want to get funky and make some rolls, that’s cool too; that’s just not what I like about sushi.  My favorite thing to make is chirashi (sashimi scattered over rice) as it’s really easy to make and eat.  Overall, making sushi is really fun as well as a bargain; it’s also easy to tweak what you’re doing to keep improving.  If anyone out there is even remotely interested in making their own sushi, I highly recommend it.



lobster day

Lobster is one of those rare foods for special occasions.  Sadly, Emily has never had lobster before and I only once.  With no birthdays or anniversaries in sight, we thought we would create our own special day called “lobster day” that would be held every October 15th in celebration of … well, nothing really, aside from delicious crustacean.  (As a side note, it is now also a celebration of Willow, a new member of our family; she’s a greyhound we rescued on October 16th, but more on that in a separate post).   So with this idea planted in our minds, we got things started.  I rode my bike down to Sun Fat Seafood (the same place I got the shrimp and scallops in “paella, per se”) and picked up two live lobsters and transported them home in a cooler strapped to my back.  Needless to say it was an awkward ride home, but the thought of sweet lobster kept me going.  Cooking them couldn’t be easier.  Simply rinse them off, throw them in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water, and wait.  There are a few signs lobsters give you to let you know they’re ready to be devoured: their shells turn bright red, the legs come off easily, and the fat starts to ooze out of the torso right in front of the tail.  We ate them with butter and bread.  I think there was a salad and some wine involved too, but all I really remember was the lobster.


There was a salad by the way, I made a simple yet classic caesar salad.  It was a really nice and salty counterpart to the sweet and buttery lobster.


consider the oyster

Oysters: the weird things that look like rocks in the seafood section of the grocery store.  Nobody actually buys those, right?  Wrong.  If you’ve never had a raw oyster, the first thing you must do is go to Swan Oyster Depot, which is located on Polk, between California and Sacramento.  It’s a great place to have your first bite of briny goodness.  This place is terrific; all the shellfish is awesome, but the oysters are the reason to go.  Swan’s only has seating for about 15 along the bar, so the line is usually out the door (fortunately, the employees tend to offer those waiting a beer or glass of wine so they have something other than the oddities of Polk St. to take in).  Swan’s tends to have about 6 types of oysters at any given time; most are local, but some are from Canada, the East Coast, etc.  I recommend getting a variety because you can really taste the difference when you have them side by side.  The service is great and it’s a really fun place to grab some seafood.  Unfortunately, the wait is usually pretty long and it’s a little pricey, about $12 for 6 oysters (note that Swan’s is a great deal compared to other seafood restaurants), and they only take cash.

So, now that you’ve followed my advice, gone to Swan’s a couple times, and fallen totally in love with oysters, what do you do?  Clearly, it’s a bit unreasonable to pay $2+ for an oyster and the novelty of Swan’s is wearing off.  Here’s my advice: buy an oyster knife.  They’re easy to find and pretty cheap too (I got mine at Whole Foods for $8).  There are plenty of reputable seafood mongers in san Francisco (Sun Fat Seafood, Whole Foods, Bi-Rite, etc.), so buy some oysters and get shucking.  So far, Emily and I have only bought from Whole Foods, but that’s just because the prices are actually very reasonable and they’re convenient.  On our last trip, we got a few Kumamoto for $1.3 each, some Blue Points for $1, and some Tomales Bays that were on special for $0.9 each.

Now that you’ve got your quality oysters (which are definitely alive, right?) and your oyster knife, you’re ready to shuck.  First, rinse the bivalves in some cold running water, and be sure to keep them cold during this whole process, i.e. shucking, sitting around prior to eating, and eating itself.  For safety’s sake, hold the oyster in a towel and use your dominant hand to gently insert the knife into the oyster.  I’ve found that finesse is better than force when shucking oysters; if you’re too aggressive, you’ll likely break the shell which will leave shrapnel in your pristine oyster.

This is probably a bit too aggressive.

After you’ve separated the shells, carefully scrape the oyster from its shell leaving as much of the briny liquor as possible.  Place the halved oysters on a chilled plate and eat plain, with some lemon, or with mignonette (recipe follows).  Some crusty bread with Emily’s homemade butter and you don’t need anything else.

Mignonette (Makes about 1/2 Cup)

One Small Shallot, minced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

About 1/2 cup red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients and let sit until ready to use (a couple hours ahead of time is best for flavors to meld).