The Beauty of Mistakes. . . Discovering the secret to the perfect burger

Recently a friend and I uncovered the secret to a jaw-droppingly delicious burger. This glorious masterpiece came to be after I poured way too much brown sugar into the caramelized onions and mushrooms. While the mixture its self tasted more like candy than anything else, when paired with our spicy barbeque sauce, pretzel bun, Red Dragon cheese and fried egg, the super sweet onions were the perfect compliment to all that salt and spice.

The Red Dragon cheese was something we found randomly at Whole Foods and added a whole new dimension of flavor to the burgers. It’s a cow’s milk cheese with mustard seeds and ale, great on burgers and on its own.

One of the best burgers I've ever eaten in my life.

Here is the recipe for a fantastic burger– maybe the best you ever had.

Burger
1 pound grass-fed ground beef (I used 85/15, but 80/20 is best)
cayenne pepper, salt
Spicy Barbecue sauce

  1. Mix the meat with the seasoning
  2. Shape into burger patties and  let them rest for 3o minutes
  3. Cook the patties on a grill (we used a George Foreman) and once they are almost finished, slather some bbq sauce on both sides and place a big slice of cheese on each patty.
  4. Once the cheese has melted, add the toppings and FEAST.
Toppings
Baby Spinach
Fried Egg
Caramelized Onions & Mushrooms
1 onion
8 ounces of mushrooms
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp garlic paste
salt, pepper
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Melt butter and olive oil on a pan and add the onions
  2. Once the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and let them sweat over low heat. Stir occasionally.
  3. After about 5-10 minutes, the onions will become super soft and caramelized. Add the sugar and garlic paste and continue to let the onions sweat for a few more minutes. If you have any excess liquid in the pan, let them cook out (don’t dump it out!) over low heat
  4.  Add salt and pepper to taste — but don’t add to much salt. The secret to the burgers are the overly sweet caramelized onions.

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Four years later. . . High School Reunion

It’s amazing how much and how little can change in four years.

Four years ago, I was graduating high school. I was packing for college. And I played Cranium with my friends multiple times a week.

Fast foward to 2011, I am about to graduate college. About to start a new job and haven’t touched Cranium since I got to Northwestern. But this past week, two of my best friends from high school and although it’s been almost four years since I’ve seen them, it was like nothing had ever changed.

We laughed just as much as we did four years ago, if not harder, sung our hearts out at a Backstreet Boys concert, reflected on how much we’ve changed in four years and, of course, ate our way through Chicago!

In two days, we discovered new favorites (Big Star!) and lounged around old favorites (Molly’s Cupcakes. duh). We ate. We drank. We talked. A great weekend for the books. 

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Fiesta!

While digging through pictures in my camera, I uncovered pictures from one of my favorite places in Chicago. Xoco.

Xoco is Rick Bayless’ take on traditional Mexican street food, offering Tortas, Caldos and ridiculously good churros and soft serve. I’m not really sure how to describe Xoco other than mind-blowingly epic. Yes, I am aware ‘blowingly’ is not a word. But that is just how good the food at Xoco is.

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My usual dish at Xoco is the Ahogada– pork carnitas, pickled onions, a spicy chile sauce, black beans served on crunchy bread and baked in a wood burning oven. The best part of the Ahogada, though, is the spicy tomato broth you dip the sandwich in. It will change your life.

But the last time I went to Xoco, I fell in love with a new dish– Pork Belly Torta with a dark salsa negra glaze, bacon, arugula and queso anejo. This torta is definitely my new favorite but is unfortunately, only available on Wednesdays.

My friend ordered a slightly healthier, meal-in-a-bowl Vegetable and Black Bean Caldos. It’s served in a piping hot bowl with Woodland mushrooms, zucchini, potato-masa dumplings, black bean broth, greens, avacado, serrano chile. Also amazing.

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Spring Jamming

In high school, after watching an episode of Good Eats, I became obsessed with making jam but stopped, for obvious reasons, when I got to college.

Two weeks ago, with two pounds of ripe strawberries, I decided to pay homage to my favorite Food Network chef, Alton Brown, by making fresh strawberry jam! Even though it’s been almost four years, the jam turned out even better than expected!

And the best part? Strawberries are naturally high in pectin, a key gelling agent in making jam, so I only needed three ingredients–strawberries, sugar and lemons.

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Here is my Strawberry Jam Recipe (adapted from Alton Brown)

2 lbs strawberries
2 cups of sugar
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tsp lemon zest

1. Mix all ingredients in a pot over med-low heat

2. Place a plate in the freezer. Once your jam mixture begins to foam (approximately 10-15 minutes in), start testing your jam by placing a little bit of it on the plate. If it turns into gel, your jam is done! Test about every 5 minutes or so.

3. Germs are a big concern when it comes to making jam. So make sure you properly sanitize everything you use to make it. Boil your jars in hot boiling water for a couple of minutes before you use them.

4. While it can be tempting to eat your jam immediately, let it cool for at least 2-3 hours before eating. This will give it time to develop the perfect consistency–otherwise you’ll end up with a delicious strawberry sauce.

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Eight Fantastic Chicago Restaurants under $15

Wings at Crisp. Life does not get any better than this.

Check out my article about eight of my favorite places to eat in Chicago, all under $15!

http://www.poortastemag.com/chicago/tourist-on-a-budget-eight-places-to-eat/

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Limes. The best part of spring.

Limes are one of my favorite foods. Yes food. It’s become such an important part of my life that rarely a day goes by when I don’t consume a lime. I put it in everything: water, dessert, on rice, chicken and sometimes even in my yogurt.

I attribute this obsession with the first dessert I ever made — a delicious key lime pie that my friends and I demolished in an hour. Since then, every spring, I find every excuse to make my favorite dessert. It’s a recipe I’ve perfected after several years and today, I’m sharing it online!

Key Lime Pie

Crust
5 ounces animal crackers
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
Pinch table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly

Filling
2 ounces cream cheese , room temperature
1 tablespoon grated lime zest , minced
Pinch table salt
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup fresh lime juice , either Key lime or regular
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut , toasted until golden and crisp (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  2. Pulse animal crackers until fine, add brown sugar and salt
  3. Drizzle melted butter over crumbs
  4. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan.
  5. Bake until deep golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes
  6. While the crust is cooling, stir cream cheese, zest, and salt until thoroughly combined
  7. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk until there are no lumps of cream cheese and add the egg yolk
  8. Add lime juice and mix until slightly thickened
  9. Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatula
  10. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15 to 20 minutes
  11. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours and then chill for at least 4 hours

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Return to the motherland.

About a month ago, I took a spring break trip to China with my mom. This was my fourth time going back to the motherland but the first time I was truly able to appreciate the rich culture and history associated with China.

It was also the first time I went somewhere within the country, other than Beijing and Henan. During the first week, I took a tour of Shanghai, WuXi, Hang Zhou, Sou Zhou and NanJing. Because China is so big, each city felt like an entirely different country–the only similarity being the massive amounts of people everywhere and the great food.

Here’s a recap of my trip in pictures:

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Spontaneous

The best moments in life happen are usually unplanned.

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Rock concert with three bands I had never heard of before (think British rock invasion). Followed by Tacos and Horchata on whim (right after we went to Subway). Delicious food and lasting memories with a great friend.

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Burger and Beers in Hipsterville

Last weekend, I adventured out to Wicker Park with a few friends. It was a gorgeous day and after walking around for a couple of hours, we ended up a cozy beer garden called Northside.

We all ordered a Great Lakes Dopplerock (delicious!). Naturally, I also ordered and proceeded to demolish a bacon burger with a fried egg on a pretzel bun. Since our food was delayed for almost an hour, the waitress offered us some chips and guac, FREE SHOTS, and dessert–all on the house. The food was decent, but the atmosphere made the night even more enjoyable–especially the music–one of the perks of being in Hipsterville. No top 40, just great indie bands like Arcade Fire, Band of Horses and Freelance Whales.

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Free food, free alcohol and four hours to just relax with friends–a pretty sweet deal. Unfortunately, we ate so much we didn’t make it to iCream! But that just means I’ll have to make another trip soon.

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Four dinners. One night.

My friend Steph and I both love eating. So on Thursday, we ventured out to my favorite part of Chicago, Lincoln Park for some delicious Korean-style wings from Crisp.

There is nothing like the taste of crisp fatty chicken skin and moist, tender meat that makes me happier–that is unless you smother it with a delicious sauce.

At Crisp, they double fry their massive wings, once in a presssure-fryer and once in a normal fryer. Then they drench the wings in their trademark sauce– “Seoul Sassy.” It’s a sweet, savory and tangy mixture of garlic, soy and sesame, basically perfection.

Right before we got to Crisp, we randomly stumbled upon a frozen yogurt opening off the Belmont stop. Like Yogurtland in Cali, this place had about 8 flavors ranging from Butter Pecan to Root Beer and Blackberry fro-yo and topping bar where you served yourself and paid by the pound. Overwhelmed by my choices, we both ended up eating almost 1/2 pound of froyo each. Great start to a delicious night.

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We ended our night with Spam Musubi at Aloha Eats and cupcakes from Molly’s Cupcakes. Words cannot describe how much I love both of these places.

Molly’s has a special place in my heart not only for its delicious cupcakes but also because it is named after the owner’s 3rd grade teacher, Molly, who baked him cupcakes on his birthday. Even more adorable is the entire store is made from furniture and old supplies from old schools.

Right next to Molly’s is Aloha Eats which I love because it reminds me so much of my childhood in Hawaii. They have amazing macaroni salad, great saimen (aka ramen) and of course, a Hawaiian tradition, Spam Musubi. Essentially a piece of pan-fried spam on rice and wrapped in seaweed, there is something so deliciously simple about Spam Musubi–even Obama loves it.

Walking around Lincoln Park reminded me of why I love Chicago so much. The people, the fresh air and of course the endless options for good food. One of these days, I plan on eating my way through Lincoln Park and Lakeview–from Armitage to Belmont, and it is going to be the best day of my life.

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