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Flavour Guy: Lazy days, radio baseball and burgers

Summer dazes, summer phrases: a Pilsner of beer, bar-b-que (drawn out, slowly), picnics in the park, lawn sprinklers, shaded porches, vinho verde, spritzers and shandies, balconville. To paraphrase the Lovin’ Spoonful: hot days, summer in the city, feet up, bum down, who needs to get around town…

We do live in a great city. I am thankful that our politicians have deemed it wise to supply us with an endless series of summery events. Rome’s offering of bread & circuses had nothing on Montreal’s food trucks & festivals. There is so much to do. If I were a tourist, I’d be exhausted. But as one who lives here, it would mean subscribing to summer’s antonym — work: planning, navigating bars, crowds, booking reservations, buying tickets, making arrangements with friends, going by car, by bike, by metro, with an umbrella or without, meet to eat or hit the streets… I’d be exhausted.

More often than not, the joy of summer is about staying home. I am not a big sports fan, but there is something appealing about sitting on a porch, listening to a baseball game on the radio. Baseball and its older cousin, cricket (just check out the Atwater reservoir, the Douglas Hospital grounds, or Jarry Park on weekends) are true games of summer: no physical contact, a minimal amount of clothing, the slow pace of the game, a ball, a bat, folks having fun. With TV, we know what we see; there is no room for imagination. On radio, there is the announcer’s sonorous quality, the thwack of a bat, that unique pulsing murmur of a crowd in an open-air stadium and, in those pauses, we may enter a more vivid field of dreams.

So a perfect summer day doesn’t need much: something to read, to drink, to eat, maybe a ball game. I am not going anywhere and I don’t need to get there fast.

Basic hamburger

Go to a butcher. Have a human being grind up a kilo of meat from left-over beef cuts: a chunk of chuck, maybe sirloin, some of that marbling too, whatever is in that container over on the side. A kilo feeds 8 people. Even if it is just for you, get that kilo – you can’t ask a butcher to grind a quarter pounder. Besides, I’ve got a good idea for leftovers.

You want the meat fresh, not too finely ground, and with fat speckled throughout. Form it into patties at home, about a half-inch thick and bun-size. Salt and pepper both sides. Let these sit in the fridge, stacked in a container between layers of parchment or waxed paper.

Bring them out of the fridge an hour or so before cooking. They should be cooked at room temperature, broiled on a fire or in a pan. Sear them to form a crust and then let them cook over a lower heat as you would steak. Some like them well done, others rare. Consider that hamburger is just steak in another form. Instead of having a steak with a side of salad, the lettuce, tomato and dressing get stacked on top.

What isn’t cooked makes meat loaf. Take the leftover meat and add a hefty squeeze or two of ketchup, a dollop of Dijon mustard, a beaten egg, a half cup of cooked chopped onion and garlic, a few shakes each of salt, pepper and whatever spices you like – these days I favour smoked paprika – and just enough beef or chicken broth to soften everything. Do not add breadcrumbs.

Mix it all together and firm this in a loaf pan. Spread the top with a thin layer of ketchup mixed with a little apple cider and a dash of Worcestershire sauce or with your favourite barbecue sauce. Cook at 325 for about 45 minutes or until it is firm and a knife inserted into the center comes out very hot. Let it sit, covered loosely with foil, for about 15 minutes before serving. Pour off any liquid, strain and serve that as gravy. What? You don’t eat meatloaf? Then serve it cold the next day and call it a terrine.

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