This was our Independence Day menu, and, as in any democracy, we were split along party lines.
Meal No. 28: Pancetta Cheeseburgers; Balsamic Mushrooms; Tomato, Basil and White Bean Salad; Coconut-topped Cupcakes
(Again, this menu and all recipes are available on Martha’s website here)
Grilled Polyface Farm ground beef! Pancetta crisped in the oven! Melted fontina cheese!
Sounds amazing, yes?
Well. I thought it was actually a smidge odd. The meat was seasoned with chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper, all things I like. Yet, something about it tasted kind of off. The pancetta was lovely, as always, but I couldn’t taste the cheese. I have a couple of better burger recipes (chipotle turkey burgers, and kefta burgers) that I could have made instead. It’s pretty hard to mess up a burger, and yet, they were not quite right.
On the other hand, The Husband quite enjoyed them! He liked that they were seasoned, but not so much that it interfered with the taste of the meat. Go figure.
The buns, made by Kolache House Bakery and sold at local produce stand, were delicious, if a tad too big.
These were simple enough: mushrooms were sautéed in olive oil, then cooked with balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper for one minute.
They were good–the amount of balsamic (2 T for 8 oz of mushrooms) was not overwhelming like it often can be. Because Martha’s dishes have so often lacked seasoning I was slightly heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes, but then I kept choking on the pepper as I ate them. Ha!
Although tasty, we felt they were somewhat incongruous with the rest of the meal. They were heavy and “dark” tasting, if that makes sense. And even if it doesn’t. The Husband got a bit philosophical about mushrooms in general, wondering if they ever really have a lot of flavor or pack a punch.
Bean and Tomato Salad:
This is Martha’s take on a mozzarella/tomato/basil salad, substituting white beans for the cheese. That’s alright in my book, as I love beans.
I think this was my favorite dish of the meal, but mainly because I used some amazing local heirloom cherry tomatoes (Martha had suggested plum tomatoes), and basil plucked fresh off my plant. I sautéed two cloves of garlic in olive oil, and that served as the dressing.
I thought it had a ton of flavor; the tomatoes and basil were very fresh-tasting– the epitome of summer food– and melded well with the creamy beans. I only made a half batch because we only had one can of beans, and I so wish we had leftovers. It would be good with some grilled bread and salad, while sitting on a patio with a glass of sparkling white wine.
The Husband liked it, but he thought it needed more garlic and basil. He always thinks that, though.
I made two batches of these. I saw that the ingredients called for coconut extract, and I made myself bananas running all over town trying to find one that wasn’t artificially flavored. The closest I came was at Ellwood Thompsons, but they were charging $7 for a tiny bottle of cottonseed oil and ‘natural flavors.’ I have read Omnivore’s Dilemma, so I know that ‘natural flavors’ are often anything but, and not even food, necessarily. So, what could I use instead?
I thought about cream of coconut, but the ingredient list looked suspiciously like that of toothpaste. While you can ingest toothpaste without dying, you probably don’t want to eat a lot of if. So, no cream of coconut. I could have used the coconut milk in our pantry, but that would have been too easy, and I was worried about adding more fat. So, I got a can of coconut water.
In the first (half) batch of cupcakes I tried to infuse the cake with some coconut flavor by substituting the coconut water for the milk. They didn’t puff up as much as regular cupcakes do, but they were ok in terms of texture and moistness. There were very vague hints of coconut flavor in the cake, but not a lot. The Husband thought they were good. Instead of using the extract in the frosting, I used a bit of vanilla extract and some coconut water. It tasted like your average cream cheese frosting.
Since I wasn’t bowled over by the coconut flavor, I decided to make the second (half) batch according to Martha’s recipe, with the fakey fake extract in the frosting. It was fine, and tasted like coconuts. Better living through chemistry, right? The cupcakes made with milk puffed up more, and were pleasant. All in all a good cupcake, topped with flaked coconut, but nothing that will change my life or anything.
Everything went together well with the exception of the mushrooms. The meal was relatively easy to make, but it did take longer than an hour.
Burgers: Mr. SP says they are an A, I think they are a B at best, so B+
Bean Salad: A