July 20, 2012

The Perfect Hamburger (part four) – It got weird

It’s been a helluva long time since I posted on this here website – over two years!


I feel shame.


Many things have happened since then; I’ve become gainfully employed (since December 2010), the laptop with the perfect hamburger pictures died, and we’ve moved house.


But you’re not interested in that.  You’re either a web-bot, interested in sending me spam comments (of which I had 18,000+), or you’re one of my few readers who has finally given up on hearing about the perfect hamburger’s outcome.

So – what happened with the MeatLog and the CheezLog and the Imperfect Burgers?  And what about the math anyway?

In a nutshell, the perfect burgers were really, really nice burgers.  The buns were great, the burgers were delicious (one of my guests referred to eating the Perfect Burger as comparable to “eating custard”, which is a bit of a strange analogy to be sure).  The imperfect burgers were nowhere near as good.  (Imperfect burger – buy ground beef, add granulated garlic, pepper, and some salt.  Form into patties, grill, throw on orange Kraft burger cheese, place in shopbought buns.  Enjoy!)  That being said, some said that my Imperfect Burger was better than any of their own homemade burgers, and the recipe was requested.

Why so long to post about it?

Things got weird at the perfect burger testing evening, and the whole In Search of Perfection process is bloody exhausting.  I knew it was a bit silly to start with, but having a three day marathon to make a fucking hamburger?  That’s lunacy.  Add in the blogging, and the pictures, and making them suitable for quick upload on the web, and you’re looking at a 7 day effort.  I have to say that I spent a lot of time golfing instead.  And then I got a job which involves long hours in the office and a great deal of travel (throughout the GCC, Africa, and parts of SW Asia).  Good fun, but the last thing I want to do when I get home is look at a computer.

How did the burger testing evening get weird?  Some of it had to do with how many guests we had… the test group had very much increased in size since the halcyon days of the perfect chicken.  One of the guests didn’t want burger – spooky Dubai chicken breasts were infinitely preferable to hand-ground, carefully prepared and selected beef.   Whatever.  Conversations were decidedly odd; one guest was more than happy to talk to everyone else, incessantly, about how much she disliked her job.  Seriously – you could be talking about cheese, and somehow she’d be able to take the cheese conversation and segue it into how her boss was mean to her.  Ketchup was directly linked to the fact she was underpaid.  Fried mushrooms = underappreciation for her great efforts at work (to be fair to here boss, after hearing some of the shit she pulled to get back at her workplace for not putting her on a pedestal, covering her in glory for her merest presence, and for not bowing worshipfully to her whenever she deigned to enter the workplace, I would have sacked her ass in a moment.)


Then she offered to manually jerk off my dog and store his semen for us.  Yes, at that point we’d thought about breeding him (even if by distance) with a Canadian lady flatcoat, but still –  my puppy did not need to get his first sexual experience (apart from his ongoing homoerotic – and mutual – affair with the cat) from a whiny woman with an overinflated opinion of her own self-worth, a poor work ethic, and no concept of when to shut up and let conversations that weren’t about her to go ahead.  Note that she wasn’t planning to pleasure him that evening (thank god), but was happy to come along with the liquid nitrogen (and I’m assuming the candles, Barry White, and whatever diverse sexual aides were deemed necessary) whenever we desired.


Yeah – it was an “interesting evening”, and one that I’m still scarred from.

Normally when a dinner party goes awry, I’m happy and able to pick up and move on to the next one.  In this case, it was so bloody strange, and so interlinked (in my mind) with the Search For Good Enough, that I had to step away for awhile.

I’m very sorry to find that “awhile” equated to 2+ years in this circumstance.


So what’s next for “In Search of Good Enough”?


I do intend to test more of Heston’s recipes, and blog about them, although on a reduced, more relaxed, and less insane scale.

I also have had some thoughts about the nature of “perfection” itself… and not just the Heston way.  To get all philosophical-like, we’re all sold the idea that we can have a perfect body, perfect career, perfect marriage, perfect fitness, perfect wardrobe, perfect teeth, perfect retirement plan, perfect savings, perfect dinner party (don’t go there), perfect… whatever, by today’s media.  As a corollary to this, we should feel shameful about anything that isn’t perfect.

But wouldn’t it suffice to be Good Enough?  And what is Good Enough in terms of body, fitness, career, marriage, etc?  And if we choose to be Good Enough, does it mean we’re settling, or are we finding balance?

I have thoughts about exploring some of these areas, through self-experimentation and perhaps through the shared experiences of my readers (if I have any left).  I’m not sure where or how I’ll start, but welcome you thoughts and comments!








April 5, 2010

The Perfect Hamburger (part three) – Wherein my Kitchen transcended the laws and axioms of Euclidean Geometry!

If you’ve not already read them, read  The Perfect Hamburger: Part One and Part Two by clicking on the links!

It was the day of reckoning.  I had finished my processed cheese slices, ending up with the mighty CheezLog, made my home made ketchup (now called “tomato concentrate”), and had also done a pre-ferment for my burger bun dough.  All that was left to do was to make the rest of the Perfect Burger components: the buns, and the burgers themselves.  I also had to get the Imperfect Burgers ready to go.  Then I had to get the house cleaned up, get myself cleaned up from the inevitable spillage, and make sure that the rest of the party prep was in order (i.e. buy beer and wine and fill the fridge with same).  It was 7:30am.  It would be a doddle.

Problem was, my house looked like a bomb had hit.  In this case, a bomb that, instead of being filled with shrapnel, was filled with approximately 100 cubic yards of black dog hair and sand.  We’d also constructed four new Ikea bookshelves the night before, which had not yet been put in their place (instead they were blocking the front door), and there were assorted scraps of Ikea boxes all over the place.  While the kitchen was clean, the bathrooms were … quite special.  Good housekeeping wouldn’t be calling any time soon, and Martha Stewart, had she walked through the door that morning, would have requested that she be sent back to jail rather than stay another minute.  My mother would have rolled her eyes in despair (but then she would have helped out, albeit with pointed comments).  It was a good four hours of cleaning, on top of the prep work for the Perfect Burger.  Guests were coming for 7:00pm.  My husband immediately fled to the golf course, but strangely I wasn’t worried.

Why not?  This is where living in Dubai is a wonderful thing.  Household help is cheap.  Many expats have their own live in maid, but for those of us who don’t, there are outside cleaning companies who are only too happy to send a maid to your home for a stipulated number of hours.  You can either schedule a regular service, or have someone come on an ad-hoc basis.  Prices are reasonable (I can get someone here for four hours for the same price as I’d pay for one hour back in Canada).  So, I had scheduled a maid to come to my cesspit and clean up while I got on with the cooking.  I felt like a genius.

So, to the cooking.  I had made a timeline the night before, so I knew that I had to start with the meat.  The recipe called for cuts of chuck, short ribs that had been dry-aged for a minimum of 30 days (bwahahahaha!!!), and brisket.  This is what I ordered from my local grocers, and I had had high hopes indeed.  Instead, I picked up “Australian braising steak” (which the butcher assured me was indeed chuck), veal short ribs, bone in, dry-aging time unknown, and more “Australian braising steak”.  I guess when the meat man smilingly assured me that “Brisket, no problem”, he really meant “Brisket no problem because I’ll just give you more chuck, and you will be grateful for that and give up your foolish desire for brisket”.  In this case, he was completely right.  I had put my order in and picked the meat up from him a week beforehand, had thought about trying to get actual brisket from him again (and was assured “Brisket, no problem”, with a huge smile), decided to take the extra chuck, and had thrown everything in the freezer until Burger-day.  (Actually I took it out to defrost the day before.)  That being said, the day before I had questioned whether I had enough short ribs, and when my husband went off to get tomatoes and other fixings for me, I asked him to pick up more short ribs and attempt some brisket from another grocery store in town that also has their own in-house butcher.

He too didn’t manage to secure brisket (I have no idea why this cut doesn’t seem to be overly available here, though it may have something to do with all of the beef bacon and pastrami that’s produced instead of the forbidden-yet-delicious pork bacon), but he did get what the butchers there assured him were short ribs.  What do you think?

Yep.  It’s a bone-in prime rib roast.  Yes, technically there are short ribs in there.  Awfully expensive short ribs, and I’d be damned if I was going to grind up that beauty into hamburger meat.  Even if it WAS for the Perfect Hamburger.

I had to cut the chuck into one inch cubes (Heston said 3cm x 3cm but whatever), add salt, mix thoroughly, and leave it in the fridge for six hours (the salt would penetrate the meat and draw out some moisture in that time).  After that, I needed to trim up the short ribs and the brisket, combine them together, grind them twice using a 3mm plate, and refrigerate that mixture. 

So, completely forgetting that half of my chuck was “brisket”, I cut up all of the chuck, and added the salt that Heston wanted me to use for half that quantity.  As per usual, I realised this after everything was mixed together.  I rationalized that I hadn’t doubled up the salt, and everything would be ground together anyway, and plunked it in the fridge.

Next, I started trimming my short ribs.  Here’s what the veal short ribs looked like in their original form:


I took the prime rib roast, cut off the roast bit (making it into a rib roast, or potentially two massively thick and delicious rib-eye steaks), stuck that into the freezer, and ended up with beef short ribs:


Before I go on, I would like to throw some appreciation my Dad’s way for showing me how to do this.  He’s probably cringing as he reads this, because of the amateurish way I lopped off the ribs from that roast (above), but I at least got the theory right.  Dad grew up on a farm and got very, very familiar with the field-to-table concept, and how to cut up various carcasses for packaging.  When my brother and I were teenagers (and ravenous ones), Dad would routinely go to the (now sadly defunct) Queen City Meats in Edmonton, Alberta, and buy huge beef and pork roasts, bone in.  The first time I went with him, I got an object lesson in how to save money by doing this:  he had me note the price per pound on the entire rib roast (essentially half a rib cage), and then the price on the various cuts that one could get from that roast (short ribs, rib eye, prime rib roast, tenderloin, etc).  Once we got home, he would take the rib roasts apart into the various elements, supervised very closely by the cats whom he allegedly despised, yet who never failed to be rewarded for their vigilance by tasty offcuts, often accompanied by words like “#$#^ing cat!  Here’s some tenderloin.” or “Stupid bloody animal!  Here, have some steak.”  (Note that he was completely busted on the whole cat-hater guise when one of my cats was pregnant and he very carefully cut up a large piece of rib eye steak and put it in a bowl for her along with some egg.  When questioned, there was much harrumphing and explaining that pregnant mothers needed good food, and he was only doing what any dutiful pet owner would do.  He also was said to have tears in his eyes when one cat, the Great Fuznovski, had to be put down.  This, of course, was blamed on dust in the air.)  To end this vignette, I will also note that he shot his own horse as a child.  And his dog.  And my mom’s cat (though not when he was a child, and there’s still some strife on that note).  To be fair, in all cases, it was a matter of merciful and timely euthanasia.  Though my mom might disagree about her cat.  Anyhoo… my Pa taught me how to take apart a large chunk of meat into smaller chunks of meat, and that there were considerable savings involved in doing so.

Back to my own butchery.  After trimming off the meat from the bones (closely supervised by an extremely interested dog), I ended up with this:

Seeing as it’s predominently veal in there, I had a suspicion that my version of The Perfect Hamburger would have a higher fat content than Heston would have liked.  But fat = flavour and I didn’t think it would be overly fatty.  I didn’t spend any time worrying about it.  Beyond that, what the hell else could I do?

Once the short ribs were all trimmed and cubed up, I threw them into the fridge (meat grinding is best done with cold ingredients, so the heat of the blades doesn’t inadvertently melt some of the fat), gave some of the trimmed bones to my estatic dog, and stuck the rest of the bones in the fridge for later use in soup stock.  This didn’t happen, because we had yet more dogs (three in total) during Perfect Burger judgement hour, and they were all very, VERY interested in the burgers themselves.  Since two of the dogs were of a height to be easily stepped on, I pulled out my leftover bones, and gave them each one.  They disappeared into separate corners of the garden, and didn’t reappear until the meal was over.

According to my schedule, the meat preparation was going to take place between 8:00 and 9:00am, at which point I would be ready to get on with the bun dough making.  It actually took a bit longer, so the maid arrived in the midst of my butchery.  Turns out that she was afraid of big dogs (this was the only time that I had forgotten to tell the agency to send a maid who was okay with dogs).  It took awhile to get both the maid and the dog calmed down (the dog thought, as usual, that a new person was coming over exclusively to play with him,  as the dog and the maid were probably about the same height and weight, she understandably less than thrilled with this idea.).  Things were improved immensely when the vacuum cleaner was brought out, as my dog feels that this is a terrifying, potentially soul sucking device that should be given a very wide berth lest it devour him whole.  (The noble beast does think that I should be protected from the same device when I use it, which causes him a large conundrum in that he has to determine the optimum distance to stay away from the vacuum to ensure his own safety, yet remain close enough to it so he can rush in and protect me should I be placed in jeopardy.)  Once the maid realised that she was invincible with the vacuum in hand, things went on apace.

So, at 9:00am, I was supposed to be getting my bun dough ready to go, having the buns formed and ready to rise by 9:30am.  All I can say is that I’m glad that I factored in a lot of lag time and started early because this was not the case.  I’ll tell you why in a bit.

I pulled my pre-ferment out of the fridge, where it had grown and gotten all lovely-bubbly and yeasty smelling:

Shockingly enough, the pre-ferment worked out to be the exact quantity that I required for the dough.  So I bunged it into my trusty KitchenAide, and started separating eggs.  Heston wanted 10 egg yolks for a single recipe.  I was doubling the recipe because I had lots of guests coming, so I needed 20 yolks.  I got a-separating.  Eventually I had enough yolks, and 20 leftover egg whites.

Again, I received no guidance from Mr. Blumenthal on what to do with the extra whites.  $%!#!!!!  I now realise that I could have made tomato egg white omelettes for the masses, and finished them with garlic-thyme infused sherry.  At the time I just swore, and stuck the egg whites into the fridge. 

I added the egg yolks to the pre-ferment, and turned the KitchenAide on to mix.  Then I sifted together some flour, sugar, skimmed milk powder, salt, and yeast.  Or tried.  My sieve was coarse, but the skimmed milk powder was coarser.  Essentially, I stirred together the above ingredients, then passed them through my sieve, magically separating out the skim milk powder again.  This got sworn at, then thrown into the bowl with the sifted ingredients and stirred in.

I gradually added that to the concoction in the mixer, and browned some butter while it was amalgamating.  I strained the butter, let it cool, then measured out some grapeseed oil (I used canola oil.  Shoot me.), and some “Trex” to add to the mix.  I have to admit that “Trex” mystified me.  It was another Britishism that required the power of Google to sort out.  “Trex” is pure white vegetable fat.  Us North American-types call it “shortening”, just as we call “Hoovers”, “vacuum cleaners”.  Then again, we call “tissues”, “Kleenex”, so perhaps I shouldn’t get so high and mighty about calling things by their brand names.  But it confused me, damnit!  Aside from that, I couldn’t find “Trex” or “shortening” in the store.  Instead I found “Flora White”.  I read the label, determined that “Flora White”=”Trex”=”shortening”, and threw it in the cart.  All in all, I would have preferred to use something called “lard”, but Heston said no.  Here’s a lovely shot of the Flora White/Trex/Shortening (FlorTrexening?) in its measuring jug:

I added all of the oils to the doug in the mixer, then let it mix for-bloody-ever as it tried to get the FlorTrexening evenly combined with the rest of the dough.  Eventually it was done, so I ticked that item off my list (30 minutes late, but who’s counting?), and proceeded to the Arts and Crafts portion of the day, where I really got behind schedule.  Note that this is not a good thing to do when you have active yeast merrily farting away, and consequently, bun dough rising apace.

The problem was that I needed to do some tinfoil origami.  See, Heston really wanted to make sure that the burger, bun and cheese slices were all the same size, so you don’t get the dreaded “too much bun for burger” result.  So, the cheese slices were to be 12cm in diameter, the burger patties 12cm in diameter, and the buns (you guessed it) 12cm in diameter.  First ye shall make the bun, then shalt thou measure to twelve centimeters, no more, no less. Twelve centimeters shall be the number thou shalt measure, and the number of the measure shall be twelve. Thirteen shalt thou not measure, neither measure thou eleven, excepting that thou then proceed to twelve. Fourteen is right out. 

To aid this, I needed to make tinfoil rings that measured twelve centimeters in diameter.  And this is where my kitchen transcended the laws and axioms of Euclidean geometry!!!!!

Heston wanted me to cut eight sheets of aluminum (though he calls it aluminium – silly Brits!) foil 50cm long.  All well and good, but my tape measure measures in inches only.  So I cut 16 sheets (I was doubling the recipe due to the number of guests expected) of foil to 19.68 inches long (call it nineteen and three quarter inches).  Here they are:

After that, I had to fold and refold the strips lengthways until I had sixteen narrow strips 1cm tall and 50cm long (call it 1/2 an inch or so):

Okay, so the rings are more like an inch thick.  What can I say?  I was heartily tired of folding tinfoil.  The stuff makes my teeth hurt.  No, I wasn’t folding the strips with my teeth.  I had my sixteen strips, I needed to form a circle with each strip of foil.  Heston assured me that it would form a perfectly sized bun ring, with a small bit of overlap (presumably so I could tape them together, without having Scotch tape touching the bun).  I had a whackload of overlap; about 13cm worth (about 5 inches).  This wasn’t the “bit” of overlap promised.  No, not at all.  I remeasured, carefull measured my circles, and measured them both again.  The measurements were right.  Then I checked my conversion of inches to centimeters again.  It was right.  And then I measured everything again.  Still right.  I got a 12cm (5 inch) circle with 13cm of overlap.  Huh?  Then I completely geeked out and checked Heston’s math on the computer.  (Between the tinfoil, the dough, the measuring tape, the swearing, and the running back and forth between the computer and the kitchen, I have no idea what the maid was thinking about “Madam” during this time.  Poor dear.)

So I checked the math.  According to my calculations, Heston was completely right.  A circle that has a 12cm diameter should have a 50 centimeter circumference.  But it patently wasn’t.  Huh???

I could only conclude that my kitchen had somehow shifted to another dimension where the rules of Euclidean geometry did not apply.  With that conclusion made, I resolved that I would work on my plans for a perpetual motion machine (somehow involving the tail of my resident Flat-Coated Retriever), and for an antigravity machine as soon as The Perfect Burger was complete.  In the meantime, I got on with making my rings.

Here they are.  Unsurpringly, between breaking natural laws, repeated trips to the computer and back, and the origami, Arts and Crafts half hour had turned into Arts and Crafts and Math hour and a half, and I was quite behind schedule.  Once again, I was pleased that I had decided to get an early start.  But the bun rings, they are beautiful, no?

If you’re anal enough to count my lovely bun rings, you’ll note that I seventeen rings instead of sixteen.  I put this down to the multi-dimensional, mathematics-corrupting facets of my kitchen, rather than any counting error I could have made.  After all, I was wearing sandals, so toes were readily available for counting purposes when I ran out of fingers.

Once I had made the bun rings, and gotten over the newly discovered nature of my kitchen, I had to fill them up.  Heston wants you to lightly flour your hands, and weight out 85g portions of bun dough.  He neglects to mention that the bun dough for these buns is possibily one of the stickiest substances known to mankind.  It was easy to weigh out 85g portions, the problem was how to get all 85g of the portion off the kitchen scale and my fingers in order to get it into the ring.  Eventually I used a whackload of flour and greaseproof paper to achieve this, but wow – this stuff is gluey:

Oh no! There's a fat lady holding my dough!

Yep – that’s me holding the dough.  The “Dubai stone” is a real danger.  My husband arrived back home in time to take these pictures.  He also figured out what the error was with the bun-dough-ring measuring, leaving me bereft, as I really thought that the anti-gravity device would be a real money spinner.  Geometry-minded readers… using the information I’ve given you (which is the same as my husband got), can you see what the mistake was?   (A mistake made not only by myself, but also by Heston and the proof-readers of “In Search of Total Perfection”.)   Post your answers in the comments, and you could be a guest at the next “Perfect” evening! 

Eventually I managed to wrassle all of my dough into the bun rings, and still had left-over dough.  Instead of chucking it out, I made bun-ringless buns, just to see how much they spread out without a containment device.  Since I have no photos of that, suffice to say that they spread out a lot, and one would have definitely had more bun than burger if one had chosen to skip the bun-ring-origami stage of this process.

I put the buns into my pre-heated oven (after pouring some water in it to make it all steamy, as per Heston), taking them out halfway through the baking time to apply egg wash and sesame seeds:


I have to say, that once they were done baking, they certainly looked like the real deal!


But how would they taste?  Would the burgers fit, or would I have the dreaded more-burger-than-bun problems?  How was the CheezLog holding up?  What about the Imperfect Hamburger?  And would I ever get back on schedule?  Find out in The Perfect Hamburger (part four)!