Friday, July 5, 2013

An Al Fresco Fourth

As Fourths of July go, this one wasn't overbearingly hot. Though it got fairly miserable during the height of the day, morning and evening were pleasant enough and found us outside working in the yard and relaxing over dinner, respectively.

Our local plant nursery has its big sale the week of the Fourth and looking forward to this sale all year, we save our pennies and our ideas about what we'd like to do to the yard. Inevitably, we come home with flowers and shrubs that need to get planted. I have a rule: no more than about a dozen plants. Not only is that about our budget, but you try busting holes in pure shale with a pickaxe some time. See if you aren't ready to quit somewhere long before a dozen!

Knowing that I was going to spend a lot of time busting rock in the morning on a potentially very hot and humid day, I planned dinner really carefully, doing the majority of work on Wednesday and planning something that could be executed in 15 minutes.

I asked Ann earlier in the week what she wanted for dinner on the Fourth and she replied "lamb burgers!" I was able to get a pound of ground local lamb from Merrymoon Farm and season it with lots of garlic, fresh oregano, feta, fresh dill, hot pepper flakes, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, a splash each of heavy cream and water, and a touch of pimentón. Little if any salt is necessary because of the feta cheese. I just love the crunch that the pine nuts add to the burgers.

Lamb Burgers
The cream and olive oil are to add fat to the burger. The key to any good burger is fat. Burger is not a low-fat, low-calorie affair. I only eat one or two burgers a year and I rarely eat red meat, so I am not worried about fat content. I prefer to eat fewer, more awesome burgers to more, less good ones. The water is to add fluidity to the meat so that you can mix and shape it without mauling and compressing it. A compressed burger is a bad burger. I have been known to use red wine instead of water.

Fluidity of the meat is something you have to get a feel for. It's not rocket science but it does take a little practice to feel it. This burger was particularly stiff, so I added a fair amount of oil, cream, and water. Your mileage will vary.

I also wanted some simple summer garnishes for the burgers, so I scored squash, black cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers at the farmers market.

Grilled Squash, Tomato Salad, and Cucumber Salad
The squash I sliced and tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper, then grilled, just before grilling the burgers. The tomatoes, I ended up slicing and tossing with olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and fresh basil from the garden. The cucumber salad I made Wednesday, it needing a day to come together.

The basic idea for the cucumber salad was to slice a cucumber and a little bit of red onion very thinly, then sprinkle them with a little bit of salt and sugar and let that extract the water from the vegetables. After a couple of hours of draining at room temperature, I added fresh dill, Greek yoghurt, a tiny bit of rice vinegar, and re-seasoned with salt and sugar. It couldn't be a simpler salad and I don't know a better condiment for a lamb burger.

This is the Way a Burger Should be Cooked
Lamb burger, just like hamburger, should not be cooked all the way through, FDA and the Health Department be damned. The one you see above is perfect.

Noisy Goldfinches Amused Us
And during our time dining on the back patio, we had continual visits from our bird friends, two of which you see here. At one point, a robin strafed the table and the mockingbirds were making regular visits to the trumpet vine on the pergola, no doubt getting ready to raise brood number two. The first set of babies left the nest about three weeks ago, a nest that was built on the roof of the nesting platform that I put in one of the wisteria! Perfectly good nesting box and they use the roof!

Silent Hummingbird Loves the Monarda

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